Saturday, May 25, 2013

Day 1 - Assessment and Making a Start

Every morning and afternoon, I play fetch with my dogs.  It's great exercise, and they love it.  So to determine our starting point, I took Dancer out with Wyatt, Neena, and Raff to see what she did.  I threw Wyatt's ball first, and no surprise, Dancer chased after him when he ran for it.  In the next round, I restrained Dancer while I threw for the other three, and then I tossed a ball for her.  She ran after it with enthusiasm, sniffed it where it landed, and then ran back to me--no retrieve.  We repeated this for the remainder of the morning round, same pattern each time.

This exercise told me two things:  1) we could have a chasing problem if I'm not careful; and 2) I'd need to start with Retrieving 101.

My version of Retrieving 101 is based on Shirley Chong's excellent article, Shirley's Retrieve.  I've modified it for my own purposes, of course.  Because I'm training for a ball retrieve, I use a ball.  And because I'm a lazy cheater, and I'm dealing with a dog who didn't come out of the womb believing that tennis balls are THE BOMB, I cut open a tennis ball and put treats into it.  This makes it a ball even a Kees will love!
I make a straight cut so that it can be pinched open like an old fashioned coin purse, and then I take a notch out of one side so that it's easier for the dog to smell/hear/access the treats inside.

Then, armed with my clicker, I take the treat ball and the dog into a very boring place.  I want this ball to be the most interesting thing in the room--I don't want to fight to gain her attention.  So Dancer and I headed into the bathroom, of course!

Because I'm ultimately working toward a dead ball retrieve, I started by training Dancer to pick up the ball from the ground (Shirley's article has you start with the dog taking the object from your hand.)  And because I wanted to emphasize the awesomeness of the ball in the beginning, I rewarded her with treats from the ball itself.

My criteria heading into the bathroom for our first session was to click and treat any interaction with the ball.  So I set it down in front of her, and of course she nosed it, and she got a treat.  When she was deliberately and reliably nosing the ball (after about 10 reps or so), I started delaying the click a little bit, to see if I could frustrate her into being a bit more aggressive with it.  And it worked!  By the end of our first session, she went from quick nose touches to open-mouthing the ball.  We were in the bathroom for probably less than 5 minutes.

That afternoon, we went back for round 2.  This time, I wanted to see if I could get her to pick up the ball, even for a second.  She did very well!!  Here's video of that second session (the barking and whining you hear in the background in Neena, upset at being left out.)  Later that afternoon we went out for our second round of fetch with the whole gang, and boy did I get a surprise!  You can see that surprise at around 3:31 mark on the video.

She brought the ball back to me about 2/3 of the way!  Huge jackpot, big party!!  I felt really good about our first day.  She's a little smarty, and being Judi's dog, she's already clicker-savvy, so that makes things ten times easier.  And it doesn't hurt that she's cute and very fun to have around!


  1. I love watching the learning happen in that video. She keeps looking from the ball to you. :) I'm also enjoying Neena's background complaints- "I WANT MENTAL STIMULATION TOO!!!"

    1. That's one of the really awesome things about clicker training--you can literally see the little brain wheels turning. And no worries about Neena...she's still spoiled rotten. :)