Friday, February 11, 2011

Getting Those Reinforcers in Place

Sunny at 10 weeks old

She is just full of herself!
Slap sticks made from nylon rope and wrapped with duct tape - they are about a foot long

The first reinforcer that I want to get into place with my puppy is toy drive.  I am not interested in teaching her stationary behaviors right now like sit and down - there is plenty of time for that.  The first things I want in my performance dog is to build the desire to play with me.  Several times a day I play with Sunny and get her tugging and chasing me.  She is even retrieving the toy already!  I started playing the two toy game with her.  I use two toys of equal value.  Slap sticks work great and puppies just love these things.  Cheap to make too!

Take two toys that are of equal value - in other words two toys that are the same.  You do this because the dog may choose one toy over the other as a preference.  Slap sticks work perfect for this game.  I hold one stick in each hand and get down on the ground with Sunny.  To start, I slap the stick back and forth on the ground and get her tugging on one.  When she is really latched onto one stick I just stop tugging with that stick and let it be "dead" while still holding onto it.  Then I start with the other stick (in the other hand) slapping and swishing it back and forth and getting her interested in the other one.  Sunny will jump on the live one right away and that is a good thing!  Then I go back and forth from stick to stick. I want her to switch to the toy that I want her to play with and leave the other one.   I get her all excited about the game and then I quit.  It is important in all your training to quit while the dog is having fun and wants more.  I never want my dog to decide to quit me.

Sunny caught onto this two toy game really fast - she has a lot of prey drive and loves the game!  Now I will start to toss one of the sticks a very short distance.  When she  goes and picks it up,  I will start to slap the other stick on the ground and get her to come right back to me and the live stick.  The idea is that she comes running back with the stick in her mouth and then drops it to get the one that I am slapping on the ground.  Eventually I will be able to throw the stick a long way and she will run out to get it and come flying back to me with the stick in her mouth, we will tug and then I will throw the other stick out for her.  The progress you make with your puppy will depend on the individual.  You don't want to move to the next step until they are going from stick to stick with a  lot of enthusiasm.  And you don't want to throw the stick and have the pup run off with it!!  If you have the type that runs off with a toy you need to keep them on a leash so they don't get in a habit of that.  

Sunny is tugging really strong right now and to encourage her even more I pat her sides and get her all riled up and growling while she is tugging.  I keep the tug at a low angle and let her win a lot.    Sunny does not run off with the toy, but if she did I would just put a leash on her so she couldn't leave.  We have a lot of fun playing together. 

Sometimes a puppy's mouth will get pretty sore from teething and they may quit tugging for a while.  This is common  (when they start to lose their baby teeth) and a good time to start training with food.  Of course some puppies will tug right through teething.  The drive to tug will come back when their mouth feels better.  That is one of the reasons it is so important to start the play training right away.  Another reason is that sometimes a dog is so food motivated they don't want to play with you - they just want the food.  In my training I want to be able to go from using toys as a reinforcer and then food and be able to go right back to using the toy.  Believe me, this is not natural for the dog and you have to have your reinforcers in place to be able to do this.