Working Your Dog: Body & Mind

There are some days that you just don’t have the energy to take your dog on the walk they deserve, or it’s raining and your dog claims they can’t walk, but they still have the energy to berserk around your house. If you have a dog that can fetch, playing fetch indoors is a great way to work off some of that excess energy. However, Ayla doesn’t fetch. She understands “go get it,” but as soon as I say “bring it here,” she gives me a look, “No. You come get it.” The only way to get her to return things is to sit at the end of a hallway, toss the toy down the hallway, and then attempt to pull it out of her mouth when she tries to run past me for her bed. I even tried to teach Drop It for a treat while she went running past, which works, but only once because then Ayla won’t go get anything else. “Ayla, go get it!” “But you have treats.” “Go get it!” “TREATS.” “You can have a treat if you go get it.” “I cannot focus on anything but the treats.” Subsequently, we’ve amended the fetch game into one that involves treats and which I call “Upstairs/Downstairs.”

I also teach Ayla tricks. We’re up to about 40 unique commands. Some are obedience, some are agility, but a lot are just tricks that I have seen other dogs on YouTube or Facebook perform and which I decided that Ayla could learn. Teaching tricks is also good mental stimulation for your dog and as a bonus can be done while you’re cooking dinner. Woot, multitasking! Some took us a while. Teaching Ayla to spin left and right took no less than three months. Teaching her to jump through my arms actually required following a YouTube video on teaching cats to jump through your arms, because she could do a hula hoop just fine, but couldn’t translate hula hoop to arm hoop. Likewise, it took several days to teach ‘Bang’ or the equivalent of play dead because Ayla will not let me shape her into position and it was a multi-step process to train the down, then roll onto your side with your head flat. No, you have to stay dead for a few seconds, love, you can’t just immediately pop back up for a cookie.

My agility instructor also taught me the concept of teaching dogs “Yes/No” in response to questions like “Do you want to go outside?” and also Copy. I find Copy intriguing as the premise is that you train your dog to copy movements that your dog already associates with verbal commands, and then in the future, you can just do a new movement and ask your dog to Copy. The challenge that I discovered in teaching copy was that almost all the commands that I had given Ayla up unto that point had a hand signal associated with them. Since you want to introduce the copy command by voice “Ayla Copy Spin” while also performing the movement (eg. I would spin in a circle), I actually had to rework a lot of tricks without hand signals and that took a little practice. Once I had a couple that we knew without question: Sit Pretty, Spin, and Praise, I was able to shorten the command to “Ayla Copy” and then perform one of those three actions myself to trigger her to copy. We’re currently still working on extending this to Back It Up, but it’s counter-intuitive to Ayla to back up when I back up because typically she wants to come forward if I back up because I am the holder of treats and she wants to be ready for the next command. However, she has done it once or twice, so I know it’s possible!

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