I start playing and training new tricks at safe and known places with my puppy with as little distractions as possible. That helps the puppy to learn things faster.
But after some training sessions it’s time to test playing and some learned things at new places. To generalize training is important to me, and new places shouldn’t be uncomfortable or scary for my dog.
Tadaa always joins for trainings with Halli, competitions where I compete or and Jan Egil judges. And I always take the opportunity to play with her there.
Ask as many different clubs, owners of training places or friends as possible if you can book an hour or find a little time to play. And if you are competing for example with an older dog, take your puppy out in the breaks and play with it.
There are different ways to reward your dog. Playing, treat with food, treat with voice or treat with physical contacts. Not every dog is into all of it and not everything has the same value. Halli is a really good player, but when he was young he wasn’t into food. Tadaa is much into food but playing is not so interesting.
Not every dog is a natural born player, some dogs need to learn it. So this for sure the first thing I test with my puppy. How is it playing? What kind of play does it like? Is it more a chaser or a tugger?
Tadaa likes to run after balls, but she doesn’t like tugging with me with the ball. She also liked chasing the long tuggy toys but again, not tugging.
What I did:
Find out what she likes. She likes balls but nor tugging them. So I used a long tuggy toy from havohravo.com which has a soft part and a ball in the end. She got interested because of the ball, but likes to bite in the soft part more. After some time she realized that it was really fun to tug.
Find secure surroundings and have at least distractions as possible.
Separated training and just playing- No expectations, just having fun.
Be interesting. Running like crazy with the toy from her, make her wanting it. Maybe even using a squeaky toy to get the attention.
Separated playing and food (in the beginning). Once she got food she wanted that for sure more.
Give the play a command. It helps getting in excited mode.
Let her win.
Cheer cheer cheer. It’s for sure exhausting running, cheering and playing at the same time, but she loves it.
Choose your weapon
There are many different kind of toys for different kind of players. The hard part is to find out what kind of player is your dog and what he likes most. The favorite toy can also change.
Chasers like to hunt and run after toys. I recommend rewarding with long tuggy toys which can be dragged on the floor or just throwing balls. It will get the dog in hunting mode. You can try to make a tugging game when the dog has catched the toy or you let him win it.
My recommendation: Holee rollers. Because you can also tug a little. Long tuggy toys with soft (faux) fur.
Tuggers like to pull the toys and have a little fight with you. Even though rumors say a dog should never win this tugging game otherwise he will be the «leader», I think this is bullsh*t. Some dogs loose motivation if they never win. Some dogs like to tug hard with you, others like more personal space. It’s important to make the tugging comfortable for the dog. I recommend short tuggy toys or holee rollers which you can grab.
My recommendation: Tug toys with a ball in the end. It’s easier for the dog to grab.
Healthy playing is more fun
Always make sure you are playing so it’s physically not harming the dog. Try to have the toy on the dogs height, so the head is not getting pulled up. Be careful with playing while puppies are changing the teeth. If playing is uncomfortable it’s less fun.
One of the first lessons I teach my dog is a strong hand-target. This is a basic lesson for many different techniques. I for example use hand target for teaching an «in» command or to teach rear-crosses.
This is how I want my hand target to look like. The toy in my other hand has high value, but Halli learned that he only gets it when he keeps his nose on my hand.
To learn the hand target I make it first easy for my puppy to touch my hand with putting food there.
I only treat from the hand the dog should touch, even though I later might hold the toy or treat in the other hand to try to make a «distraction». I also try not to put the hand toward the dog, he needs to find it.
The concept of trainsmarter.no is to build a strong understanding of tasks/behaviour outside of the agility field and to transfer the skills into the agility field. You don`t need to be an agility professional with a lot of equipment for this. No agility venue, no own garden, no obstacles. All you need is a little bit of creativity and patience. You have so much time to connect the behaviour to obstacles when your pup is old enough. The goal is to minimize repetitions in training as well as physical and mental stress on your future agility partner.
One example is teaching left and right. I started teaching left/right when Kairi was 15 -16 weeks old and we are still working on it. Teaching left/right to perfection is quite a mission. That’s why I am starting when the puppy is quite «young» (15-16 weeks) and why I want to proceed in small steps.
1. Teaching the movement Kairi learned to turn left and right without any objects with 15 weeks+. I use «Twist» for turning left and «Dreh dich» for turning right – two very unlike vocals to make discrimination easier. If your dog is not offering any twisting, you can use a treat and try with luring, but take care you don’t help too much and for too long. We want the pup to figure out the task. Goal is to teach the puppy the movement of turning the head. That’s why I’m clicking the head movment, this is the keypoint of the exercise. Head turns first and the body follows. I’m starting with just one direction. After understanding the task and connecting it with the vocal, I introduce the other direction. I wouldn’t start with both directions at the same time, this makes shaping/understanding harder and the dog will focus more on luring than on thinking. I have very little video material from teaching twisting, unfortunately. But here is a short video of testing the directional cues and training with distractions.
2. Introducing an object Now the real fun begins! After teaching twisting without objects, I introduce an object to the movement. So, Kairi got already an idea how to use her body and her pretty head, and she learned to love the twists and turns. That’s when I introduced an object, in my case an empty bottle. First, I rewarded steps close to the object. Then I rewarded her passing the object, going around the object. On the next steps, I was shaping the full circle with rewarding first every nanosteps, then two, three and more and more steps. Remember that you can influence the steps of your pup by throwing the treats to the direction, you want the dog to start again . After Kairi got an idea about what I expect of her, I introduced verbals. In connection with a object, I use different vocals and not the cues for twisting. In Kairi’s case it’s «Capcap» and «Ciiiiiik» (inspired by Silvia Trkman) with a long iiiii . Again, I try to make the vocals sound different to help with discrimination. And also here, I start with one direction and add the second later. See the video below for the first steps of shaping.
3. Generalising and adding movement Take your object and move to other rooms. Use the same rooms but other objects (trees, cones, barrels). Sit, then kneel and stand and sit again. Use toys instead of food. Add slowly movement, restrain and weightshift. Do whatever you can think of to generalize the behaviour. If you have been patient enough in the previous steps and your puppy knows what to do, all of this will be a piece of cake. On the following video, you can see Kairi’s first time training left/right on the agility venue with restrain and some speed. And she just knew what to do. Nevertheless, we will use the next months to gain even more understanding, more confidence and independence. And I’m quite sure it will be as easy when moving to «real» agility obstacles, when Kairi is old enough. I am not going to use an agility wing in the next few months, but that’s ok. No stress at all. 🙂
Playing – the most important lesson of puppyhood. Playing is fun, healthy and useful. It helps building a good relationship, improves body control and adds a lot of excitement into training!
Here are some thoughts how to make playing to the highlight of the day:
If you have a dog which has a lot of playdrive – big congrats, it‘s a jackpot and so much worth! Just keep the attitude and keep playing, playing, playing. If you have a dog which is naturally not 100% interested in playing, I highly recommend to invest some time and energy NOW. Playdrive doesn’t come for free (okay, sometimes it does). Always remember that dogs are individuals and every puppy has it’s favourite playing style. Some are born as alligators and love to tug. Others love to chase but rather want to destroy the prey on their own instead of tugging with the owner. Some love distance while playing (Liv), some dogs love a real life wrestling combat (Kairi). I want my dogs to love all facets of playing, preferably with me. This includes tugging, chasing, running, retrieving and playing with different toys on different environments.
1. Choice of toy: My first choice is an easily visible toy (sheep wool! ❤️) on a loooong string. I want the toy to be on the ground to invite the puppy to develop a flat running style with the head “down”. Especially Shelties (and other breeds with an anatomical steep chest) tend to get “airy” while running. Some puppies don’t agree with our first choices. Maybe your puppy loves balls? Put it on a string. Socks? Rubber toys? Fluffy toys? Squeaky? Be flexible and creative. And have some extra 💰💸 for toys, it is totally worth it. If your puppy is comfortable with playing, you can gradually change the toy.
2. When to play: Be sure that your pup is not dead tired and be sure you are in the right mood to put enough energy and effort into playing, especially with less motivated dogs. Playing should be the highlight of the day!
3. Where to play: Start playing on a familiar place. We want full focus and don’t want the pup to worry about the environment. So better to start playing at home than on New York Times Square – this will be homeworks for later!
4. How to play:
Verbal cue and restrain Introduce a verbal cue which promises »HEYYOUCANGETYOURTOYANDTHISISSUPERFUN” and use it constantly when you are sending your dog to a toy. Start with restrain training as soon as possible.
Re-what?! Restrain means to hold your pup back on the collar/harness and build focus on the object of interest (OOI). This can be a toy, food or something abstract like a agility obstacle. Start with releasing your dog when it is looking at the OOI and we take what we get at the start. Release after your dog is looking at the OOI a nanosecond and gradually increase the duration. Make this to your dog’s favourite ritual! This sounds really weird but just try it.
Tugging I love to start with tugging because puppies love to use their sharp puppy teeth to destroy you, the world and everything else which comes in front of those tiny cute faces. Be smart and start tugging at this point, that means ASAP. Keep in mind if your dog prefers distance or proximity. Move the toy away from your pup with speedy and unpredictable movements and never put the toy into your pup`s mouth, forcing it to bite. Don’t be too aggressive, try to have a good mixture of adding and releasing pressure. Your puppy deserves to feel like Schwarzenegger and needs to know that it has a chance to actually WIN the toy. Don’t dominate the game and be fair.
Chasing Is super fun and almost comes for free. All you need are fast legs and a good friend. Ask your friend nicely (we need that friend in future too) to hold your pup on the harness. Take the pole position and start running! Use restrain and your release word and have a big party party when your pup is catching up with you. Start with 1-2m and gradually add distance according to ability to concentrate and age.
Sending to a (dead toy) It`s very important to use a good visible toy, so get out your most colourful gigantotoy and find a flat place, preferably a golf course. Or at least, avoid jungles. Start with short distances (max 1m) and short restrain. Add distance gradually and according to ability to concentrate and age!
Retrieving I want my pup to prefer to play with me rather to play solo. Lazy as I am, this is easiest when the pup is retrieving the toy. 90% of all pups will take the toy and run off to Neverland. Solution – just do the same. Put on your best pokerface, run to the opposite direction with another toy and pretend that it is SUPERFUN over there. Go bananas and play, play, play if/when your puppy is coming after you.
Explain to your neighbors later why you are standing alone in the corner of your garden, high-pitched and clapping like a circus monkey, throwing grass/dog toys like it’s the funniest thing in the world. It’s important with priorities.
5. Rule no 1 – there are no rules! Always start playing the way your pup loves to play and build all those other “playing abilities” on those your puppy knows and likes already. Enjoy the quality time. ❤️
6. Ring a friend, if you need help! You can find a zillion good online courses regarding playing. A recommendation of puppy online courses will follow as a seperate blog post. 🙂
This blogpost is a to-do-list from 3-6 months. I’ll upload some videos and training tipps in the next weeks.
1. Our main goal/aim is to get to know the world. See and meet different people, dogs, animals, surroundings, buildings and Kairi is doing a really good job. It’s so important that dogs learn to be confident on unknown environments. So we are having city walks 2-3x per week and just watch children playing in the park, sit and relax on benches, take the bus and play at different places.
Tipp 1: If you have a confident grown-up dog, let your grown-up dog join for the first walks. It’s amazing how much dogs can learn through observation. But have the same amount of “lonely” walks that the puppy is not getting too dependent of the “big sister/brother”. Enjoy some quality time alone with your puppy.
2. Playing, playing and playing. This includes tugging, sending the pup to dead toy, chasing and retrieving.
Tipp 2: Use different toys and combine with city walks.
3. Shaping – I don’t know what but we will see what we get. 😂
4. Self-control. This is really important for me, especially when it comes to every day life due to safety reasons. I don‘t want my dogs to jump out of the car, out of the door, running to dogs/people/food and endangering themselves our other people/dogs. That’s maybe why this is the most important life lesson for the time being.
Tipp 3: Introduce a release cue as soon as possible and BE CONSISTENT. Inconsistency makes every task hard to understand – not very fair. ☝️