Retrieves to hand. Such a useful skill
Video: Zora the corgi picks up and hands me a sock, then picks up my sneaker by the shoelace to hand it to me
Video: Zora the corgi carries my shoe and delivers it into my hand
I remember it being so challenging learning to whistle as a kid. My dad can make a very distinct sharp whistle sound of the side of his mouth. I’m not that talented. But once I did learn to whistle, I’m functional at it. Certainly not incredibly musically talented with it like Roger Whittaker:
But I can reliably recreate certain pitches in a set series. Hence my whistle recall.
I love training a whistle recall because for me it is the hardest one to dilute and therefore risk lessening criteria on. In order for me to whistle, it takes more cognitive thought than for me to just call out “come” or “here” or “Zora.” So once I’ve made the decision to whistle, it’s easier for me to follow up on reinforcing the dogs appropriately, and the whistle over time gains a really high importance for the dogs, good things always happen when they find me after hearing the whistle sound.
Video Description: Zora out of sight and sound in the woods down a trail. I whistle. You hear her bell start to sound as she runs to me, then into the picture, coming to tap my hand with her nose.
I introduce the whistle recall early into my relationship with any of the dogs in my life, especially those who will potentially gain off leash privileges at some stage. I pair the whistle to mean “good things (most often food, but depends on the dog) will occur at Katrin when you hear this sound, so get to her as fast as you can.” Starting with no distractions, then as the strength of the conditioning builds, in increasing distraction environments, until I feel confident if I whistle the dog will stop what they are doing immediately and seek me out.
I will admit occasionally (most often when the dogs are at an age of thinking they don’t need no stinkin humans), if I whistle and get no response, I leave and let the dog get “lost.” (me leaving often means I hide behind a tree). When they finally “find” me we have the biggest party ever. This only happens after I’m sure the dog has had a previous ton of conditioning on whistle = run to me as fast as they can for an awesome time. As otherwise I wouldn’t have taken them off leash. And then they earn a long line (and a lot more training reps) for a while longer until once again I feel confident they will come when they hear me whistle.
The whistle recall is valuable for me because a. I have to think a lot more to do it, b. it’s a distinct sound, and c. the sound itself seems to travel farther than just me calling out.
What’s your favorite trained recall cue?
Max is getting quite the education this week. As an adolescent intact 11m old Golden retriever with raging hormones, and apparently a belief that of course everyone will think he’s as awesome as he knows he is, he’s learning more appropriate ways to talk to girls (and dogs in general!)
1. Be cool. Let the ladies come to you. Let her know you’d like to chat by occasional glances, a bit of a waggy tail, and sniffing the ground. Don’t stand there staring at her drooling. Or even worse don’t race right up to her! Be cool man, be cool!
2. Keep it short and sweet. When she decides you’re being cool and comes up to you, keep it short and sweet. Couple of sniffs, then take a break. Girls don’t appreciate it when you stay up in their business. Just because she decided to come up and say hi doesn’t mean you now have full access permission! When you keep it short and sweet there is a higher chance the girl will ask you to chat more. And then maybe decide you’re cool enough to play with. Wait for her to ask once more, see rule 1. Be cool!
3. No means no. No matter how much you wish they wanted more, how much you think they just don’t realize how awesome you are and you need to keep at it until they realize they were wrong, you really are the best, no means no. If you don’t respect the first level of no, ie being ignored, you’re being a rude dumbass. The girls will quickly make sure you are fully clear on just how much of a dumbass you’re being. No doesn’t mean give a play bow. No doesn’t mean keep sniffing. No doesn’t mean hump her. No doesn’t mean whine, or drool, or paw at her. No means walk away and go back to rule 1. Be cool!
3 simple rules to have a chance with the ladies. Max says, “so many rules, so many rules!” But he’s starting to grasp following the rules leads to higher chance of the outcome he wants, so maybe there is something to them. Learning to be a gentleman is hard work!
All of my dogs learn how to wear basket muzzles, cloth muzzles, Elizabethan collars (the cone). They learn how to have their teeth brushed, ears cleaned, eye drops administered, nails trimmed. They learn how to be restrained a multitude of ways. How to take pills in various ways, and liquids from syringes. They learn how if feels to have things on their bodies, on their feet, on their tails, on their faces.
They are exposed, taught coping skills, taught how to say no safely and how to feel comfortable with all of these things long before anything medically is ever wrong with them.
Because after getting tear filled panicked calls from owners where their dog absolutely has to have eye drops, ear medications, take pills, etc and the dog is so upset about it that their vet said,”either the dog will need to be sedated or you need to find someone to help you with this,” (hence the referral to folks like me), I’ve learned, the extra thought, time and energy it takes to teach these skills before the need arises, is always worth it. Less stress on your dog. Less stress on you. And more effective means of treating your animal’s medical concern.
Plus, your vet and their staff will love you.
“Your dog does a chin target and hold still and tilts his head back when you ask him to and we don’t have to wrestle him into a corner and hold him down? All we have to do is stop when you say so you can give him a treat then? For real?! Why don’t all of our clients teach this stuff?!”
“Wait, your dog will stand there when you ask and we can just stick this fluids needle in and he won’t move? Awesome!”
“Your dog will shove his head into the cone when you ask him to wear it? Nice! So much easier!”
“Your dog is so relaxed in that muzzle! I don’t think we need to sedate him, local should work to pull this broken toe nail out. Wow! He just sat there and ate treats! That was the easiest broken toe nail removal I’ve ever done!”
“I did like you said and asked your dog to lie down once we got him on the ultrasound exam table. He did! That was the easiest ultrasound I’ve done in months!”
(all true statements I’ve heard from vets and their staff in reference to my various dogs over the years)
Being a vet and vet tech is hard, physical work! Anything I can do that not only benefits my dog but also makes my vet’s day easier and safer, is a win for everyone.
the pipes the pipes are calling
from glen to glen, and down the mountain side…
Been singing this tune all week because we have Danny visiting!
Isn’t he adorable?! His family has been doing an awesome job with him, making my job as easy as can be this week. Which is wonderful.
Danny is a 3m old lab pup. His owners say he’s a “silver” lab, but really as silver is just a genetically dilute form of the chocolate coat coloration in labs, he’s a chocolate labrador retriever.
As most lab pups who have come through my door for training or boarding, Danny has benefited from learning about balanced reciprocal play and that dogs don’t enjoy having their heads jumped on as a way of greeting. Zora is, thankfully, a great puppy teacher and has been enjoying making Danny her minion. She tells him what he can and can’t do with her, and with some consistent reminder’s he’s steadily grasping the realities of dog social interactions. Just yesterday, for the first time, I saw him actually ask her politely if she would play with him, and it worked! She obliged. This morning, on the other hand, he forgot and tried the classic lab jump on her head, which yea dude, that’s a no go, she no like that.
He is a sweet moose of a pup. And a labrador in every sense. Sweet, a bit slow on the uptake, needs loads of consistent repetition, and is currently a puppy version of Jaws. Seriously, he tried to eat my concrete garden statue, ignoring the antler lying right next to it. He is for sure all lab.
Zora’s been on R&R for the past 10 days or so for a foot injury. Not sure how it happened, the most likely is either A. I stepped on her and let’s be honest, rather a high chance of that. or B. She really jammed it either chasing chipmunks or a ball in the woods, and let’s be honest, also high chance of that with the intensity she races after either of those.
After a visit to the chiropractor, about 5 days of snoozing on the couch and being left home from walks, her foot was clearly starting to feel better but she was still really low energy. I thought to myself, something else is going on here. My gut says she’s having a tick borne disease flare up as last year she came up positive for both lyme and anaplasmosis. Sure enough 3 doses of doxy later, she’s back to her normal energy demanding I let her DO SOMETHING!! Which of course is tricky, as her foot is still healing.
Mid week, after another chiropractor appointment, we got the go ahead to start doing bits of exercise. Can I say how thankful we all are that she can now be a bit more active?
Yesterday she got to do a bit of an on leash walk in the woods through the pine forest. Walking on the soft bed of pine needles. Watching for chipmunks she couldn’t chase. And was sound after that.
Today, we’ve added in some treadmill work. With the treadmill I can more easily observe how she’s moving and more easily control the speed she is moving at. Also, she loves the treadmill and asks me to turn it on every time we go in the cellar, so as she can’t play ball or run around like a nutter for the near future, if the treadmill is allowed and makes her happy, treadmill it shall be.
Suffice to say, this morning she was very happy.
This spring I’m working with a number of agility teams specifically on contact obstacles. Some of the teams are with young dogs that the handlers want to set a solid foundation for contacts on, some are dogs who are nervous, insecure or otherwise uncomfortable on contact obstacles, and some are dogs with inconsistent or non-existent behavior in the contact zone. These dogs are all learning how to move and keep their body safely on the obstacle
Over the years I’ve found, dogs who have been taught how to move their bodies and save themselves on the contact obstacles, rather than simply how to go across the boards from start to end, have increased confidence and in the long run more reliable consistent performance of the obstacle.
So, we start with a board. For these early exercises I like to use a 10″ wide 8′-10′ long board.
I do these below stages 1-5 with the board in various positions. Part 1 we work through these stages with the board flat on the ground. Part 2 with the board elevated on both sides so it is a flat elevated plank up on cinder blocks. Part 3 with the board as a tippy board with a moving fulcrum (piece of 1.5-2″ diameter PVC) under it. Part 4 with the board elevated on 1 end so it is a descending or ascending ramp (then vary the height starting with cinder block, working way up to various pause box heights and finally if available propping 1 end up on an a-frame ramp). Depending on the dog we may spend ample time at each part, or so a few simultaneously. Most dogs we do these exercises for a couple of weeks before moving on to competition style equipment, but we move forward at the pace of the dog. The dogs comfort, confidence and attitude tell me when we are ready to move forward.
Yes, I do the tippy board work before I do the ramp work. Why? because I want a dog confident in understanding how to control movement. When we start to eventually teach actual contact obstacles, I teach the teeter before the dog walk. I do NADAC agility, we have no teeter in competition, yet still I teach my dogs and students dog’s how to safely understand and operate a teeter totter, as I feel it’s important in a dog’s understanding of how obstacles work and how to control their bodies. Dog walks can flex, and shift, and make noise, teeters help a dog learn all about those variables.
Once the dog is comfortable with the exercise of each stage and each part, I then add in various speeds and obstacles into the board. Practicing each piece coming into the board at speed, and from other obstacles such as tunnels, hoops, jumps, allowing the dog to further learn how to control and manage their bodies on a narrow board.
Stage 1: Mark and reinforce any contact dog’s feet make with the board as you move up and down the board. Reinforcement is delivered while the dog is still on the board, and handler works to center the reinforcement over the board (either food reward or tugging is ideal in this situation over throwing a toy). Build value for feet interacting with the board.
Stage 2: Mark and reinforce when dog has contact with board with 2 or more feet, progressing criteria as dog is comfortable to all 4 on the board, as you move up and down the board. Reinforcement still delivered while dog on the board and handler works to center the reinforcement over the board. Build value for coordinating all 4 feet interacting with the board and maintaining interaction with the board (as opposed to tap and move off)
Stage 3: dog is now comfortable and has built value for getting all 4 feet on the board. Dog gets on board, and is cued to do a position change, sit, down, stand. Criteria is dog to keep all 4 feet on the board during the position change, once in position and able to hold the position. Handler adds in release cue (verbal) or another position change after reinforcement is delivered. Vary where on the board the dog is cued to do various position changes. At this stage also vary where the handler is in relation to the dog when they cue the position changes ie: ahead, behind, beside, a few feet away, etc
Stage 4: Dog is all 4 feet on the board and learns to turn around 180′ to start then building up to a full 360′ on the board while keeping all 4 feet on the board. Working on the dog being able to move their body in even more ways on the board. This is an especially important exercise for larger dogs.
Stage 5: Dog learns to back up keeping all 4 feet on the board.
By learning progressively how to move their bodies, move forward, move back wards, change position, turn around with moving, stationary, level and angled boards once we finally move to actual agility contact obstacles the dogs have an understanding and confidence that makes teaching the full height equipment so much easier.
There are loads of games you can (and I do) use to teach and reinforce the come cue (aka Recall). Round Robin, Restrained Recall, Tag, The Stalky Stalk Game, Hide & Seek, Treat Toss, The Bowl Game, and more. But relatively simple game my friends and I often play with the dogs on our walks is calling them back and forth between us.
The “rules” of the game are pretty simple:
The “if they want it” is because we’ve learned some of the dogs prefer to only gets treats from me, or from my friend. But they learn they will only get those treats if they actually complete the loop of run to the opposite person, then run back when called. So they race away when called to the other person same as the rest of the dogs, don’t really care or want that person or the food, but are thrilled to then be called back and get their treat then. Race away, race back, race away, race back.
How far apart we are to start depends on the dogs in the group at the time and where we are (ie what distractions are or aren’t around), and as the dog’s get into the game we gradually move further and further apart. Sometimes if we’re playing the game on the trails (vs in a field) the dogs end up racing around corners, over fallen logs, up and down hills and generally having a great workout.
The dogs quickly figure out in order to get a food treat they have to A. Go all the way to the human calling them, B. Actually go from Person A to Person B if they want a treat when Person A again calls the group, (except for Tom, he’s special, and as such his version of the recall game involves a sit stay and me moving away) and C. Ignore the other dogs around them. I’ve found this a great game for teaching dogs the value of not focusing on the dogs around them, I’ve done this game with dogs that have a tendency to want to chase or body block, and by the end they’ve stopped fixating on the dogs running around them and instead race as fast as they too can to get to the human calling them. We’ve even been able to time our calls with some of the regular dogs to build up to dogs passing each other without a second glance. It’s great fun for us all! (note, if a dog has a tendency to want to grab other dogs, they don’t play the game while other dogs are also running, safety first always)
Another piece we often add into the game is the dogs not leaving the present human until the other human actually calls them OR the present human sends them to the other human. This teaching of the send has proved useful on a number of occasions. The dogs all learn that if they hear the word “Katrin” and race to me, good stuff will happen. Or “C—” and they race to her, good stuff will happen. Or “J——” and they race to him, good stuff will happen.
We do this game close to every walk in the woods as it really helps to remind the dogs that coming to us when we call is a good thing, doesn’t mean the walk is over necessarily, and helps increase the dog’s value for the humans in the highly stimulating environments of the woods, fields and ponds.
A bonus of the game? The dogs get additional running time and end the walk really tired.
I’m a rather routine, predictable person. I find routines comforting and reassuring. I like having plans. It’s harder to get lost, lose things and be forgetful when life is orchestrated with many patterns. It’s no surprise I have any number of patterns I tend to follow when it comes to agility trials. Everything from how things are packed in our car, to setting up or breaking down our crating space. And of course pre and post runs.
Zora and I have what I call our Corgi Warm Up and Corgi Cool Down routines. She recognizes each phrase and the predictions of behavior it means. As I feel warm up and cool down is important with the canine athlete I thought I’d share our routines
Our Pre-Run Corgi Warm Up Routine
We have 2 types of corgi warm ups. One involving handling warm up and one involving stretching.
The handling warm up we do first thing of the day before the general briefing at the trial, and depending on the courses then set may or may not do it at other points before certain runs. During the handling warm up we find an open area, might be where the club has the practice equipment set up, might not, and we review various motions and cues. Switch, out, here, go, tight, wait, and so on. Get as in sync with each other as we can. If a particular course has a spot that looks rather tricky, we will practice the motions so that when we actually get on course there is a better (but not guaranteed as yesterday’s trial proved. LOL) chance I’ll handle it correctly. During our handling warm up I try to vary type and positions of rewards to further reinforce where on course I’d like Zora to be relative to me when we do that motion or cue once on the field.
The other warm up we do, this one we do before every single run, is our stretching warm up. Which includes portions for me and for Zora. We start off with some walking and trotting, then some moving in figure 8s to the left and the right. Next we do some leg, neck, tail and back stretches, and light muscle massage. From there we move to the ring as either we are first dog or last and there are now about 4 dogs to go. We jog to ring side for a bit faster movement. Once ring side we do some pivots, sit down stand position changes, hand touches, and turns to the left and right, working to ensure our muscles are warmed up before running the course.
By then it’s our turn, we walk to the line, Zora moves into her down, I cue her to “watch” which means look down the line my foot is pointing to show her where she’ll be going on the release. We get our “Good luck” cue to remove the leash from the judge. Leash off, I move to my starting position, and off we go!
Our warm up stretching routine usually takes about 3min. When we are first dog on the line, I have to time my walk through so I’m done with a minute left in the walk through. That way I have my 3 minutes as it’s usually about 2 min after the walk through ends to first dog, us.
Our Post-Run Corgi Cool Down Routine
Our Corgi Cool Down routine is similar to our warm up stretching routine, only done in reverse with an addition that makes Zora’s eyes sparkle. Aka Squeaky Ball. Squeaky ball doesn’t actually squeak. Maybe it does still now that I think about it. But Zora doesn’t squeak it. She holds it, carries it, and fetched it, no squeaking. She loves loves loves Squeaky Ball. It’s her special post trial run toy that she only gets now a days at agility trials. Oddly enough at home she likes it ok, but she loves it at trials. I think she’s associated it with trials hence it’s value there. At home she’d chose a tennis ball, at a trial she wants Squeaky Ball all the way. It’s a soft plush fluorescent orange or yellow (we have one of each so just depends which I happened to pull out of the bag) ball with a squeaker in it. Squeaky Ball is always part of our Corgi Cool Down routine.
We finish the course, the leash runner hands me Zora’s leash. I hold it out, Zora shoves her head into it, and we leave the ring together. Head on over to where we left our treats and Squeaky Ball ring side. She gets a couple of good girl treats then I say the magic words, “Let’s go play Squeaky Ball!” And she starts prancing. We jog together to the exit door or open area to play a little game of Squeaky Ball fetch. After our game, we do some body stretches, figure 8s, trotting, walking, light massage, Zora gets a drink and then quiet time until we do it all over again for the next run.
Do you have a pre or post exercise routine? Please share, I’d love to hear them!