Monday, May 23, 2011

teaching roxy to play

Roxy has never been too interested in playing with toys. In the beginning, it was as if she was afraid to touch anything for fear it wasn't "hers" to play with.  Over time, I discovered she enjoys de-stuffing stuffed toys, chewing sticks to bits, and chasing the flirt pole in the yard.  But that's really it.  Unless it was stuffed with food, the toy had minimal value, or it was only valued for a short amount of time.  Her signature move is to grab a toy and lay down with it, mouth it for a few moments, then lay her head down on it with a big sigh.... "Well, now what?"


Since we've gotten Buster, the ball-obsessed, 3-legged fetch machine, Roxy's been attempting to play with toys more.  She'll get excited when I get home some days and grab a tennis ball.  She'll toss it to herself, or nose it off the bed, watching intently, before pouncing on it.  During this time, she'll chase a ball I throw, but doesn't quite bring it back.  I can grab it and toss it and she'll chase it again, but still not bring it back, no matter how much fun she has chasing it.  This typically only lasts a few throws, and then it's back to laying down with the toy or looking for snuggles.

So I've also been working on clicker-training her to tug and fetch.  She's expressing some interest in chasing toys, and she seems to want to play tug sometimes, but she doesn't have the confidence to tug back for any longer than a few seconds.  I am really eager to see if I can get her to tug and fetch so that her and I have another game we can play together.  I'll take either tug or fetch, but will pretty much go with whatever she seems to enjoy.  And even if she doesn't enjoy the two games after she understands them, she enjoys the training and learning piece of it now.

Now, her repertoire of behaviors involving toys is pretty small.  She chews nylabones, destroys soft or stuffed toys, and she chases the flirt pole.  Anything else is of interest for a very short amount of time and usually ends up in her crate graveyard until Buster or Sonny discover it.  So, I started out with a lot of waiting:  waiting for her to throw out new behaviors involving the toy I placed in front of her.  Once she started interacting with the toys a bit, I began rewarding her for mouthing the toy.  Now we're up to grabbing the toys with her mouth (video below).  I had tried doing all of this with the toy on the ground, but she kept pawing at it and wouldn't go beyond targeting it with her muzzle.  She never took the next step to mouth it while it was on the ground, so I tried working with the toy in the air and making it "dance" a little to get her interested, and we had a lot more success.

The behavior we are working on is going to be the basis for both tug and fetch.  She's got the idea of grabbing the toy, but she's letting it go fairly quickly so I want to work on holding the toy for a longer period of time.  I'll post more updates and videos as we are making more progress!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

progress is as progress does.

Sonny is doing fairly well.  He's learning to relax a bit more and playing a bunch more as well.  He's also recovering from scary events much quicker than he was before, which is huge progress in my book.

We've been playing a lot outside, seeing as he hasn't tried to climb the fence or shown any interest in climbing the fence in just over 3 months.  And since his new default behavior when he's scared outside is to run to the deck and wait to go inside, before recovering and coming back into the yard to play some more, we've been spending a lot more time outside playing.

About 2 weeks ago Sonny started breaking out of his crate a bit, and that's about the time he started showing more interest in playing, so I put two and two together and guessed that he was just letting me know he was ready for more exercise and interaction.  So we've been playing a lot more, him with me and him with Roxy and Buster, and he's been eating every meal out of a work-to-eat toy.  His favorite one right now is the Atomic Treat Ball from  He likes to move it around in his crate and watch the treats fall out, and pick it up in his mouth and drop it so the treats fall out.... it's really cute to watch him, I can actually see his brain working to figure it out.  I also tried the Tricky Treat Ball from Omega Paw, but he had a much harder time with it.

Anyway, here he is, playing in the yard, leaping and hopping around like a bunny and enjoying the fresh air.

I briefly started clicker training with him, as well.  He's surprisingly not afraid of the noise the clicker makes, but he's still a bit hesitant in general so we haven't had a lot of success yet.  I usually spend just a couple of minutes a day when he's really excited and interested in approaching me to work on some hand targeting.  I just sort of capitalize on his excitement and playfulness because I've found if he's exploring quietly and I try to engage him, he gets a bit suspicious and wanders back to his crate.

So, all-in-all we are seeing some progress.  It's minimal, but progress nonetheless.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

all-around update

Roxy's leash-walking skills are getting better and better.  We're now able to do most of our walk with minimal stopping.  We're actually down to walking in a heel position without any treats when there are minimal or no distractions -- and when she screws up, I can mark "oops" and she'll come back into a heel because she knows we don't go anywhere until she's next to me.

She still pulls when she sees something moving (a person, a dog, a leaf, another animal) but we're working on that.  It's tough because once she notices whatever it is moving, I mark "oops" and stop but she stays at the end of the leash, pulling. So I have to come up with a new strategy for handling that because it's not working.  She'll just keep pulling until the moving object is out of sight, or close enough for her to recognize. Then she'll come back into a heel position.  So, we need to work on heeling with distractions.  I need to up the ante with rewards for not pulling with distractions.  So I'll probably start in the house, then in the backyard, then the driveway.... all before working in the street.

Roxy's agility class is also going fairly well.  She still gets really excited when I ask her if she wants to go to school.  We've been learning left and right turns, rear crosses, and we've been working on the teeter, which Roxy is doing wonderfully on.  I thought she'd be spooked by it, but she's really doing great.  She'll jump up when it's at the highest height and pull it down, then climb on it with all fours.  We haven't worked up to walking across it yet, we're taking it slow to make sure it stays happy. I'm debating what we'll do after this class, though.  The class is really for competitive agility and although Roxy enjoys agility, she isn't as driven as I think she might need to be in order to actually compete.  I think I need to work on some crate games with her to build her drive a bit and see if that helps.

As far as Sonny goes, his behavior continues to fluctuate.  He came out of his crate once last week and zig-zagged his way towards Rob, who was laying on the couch.  He got close enough to sniff Rob's legs before retreating to his crate.  That's how he started interacting with me, so albeit it's slow progress, but it's progress nonetheless.

He's been playing with Roxy and Buster a lot more, and Roxy is becoming more tolerant of him.  He had been licking her muzzle feverishly and she let him know she didn't like it and he's getting better.... he's down to a drive-by-licking instead of a full-on make out session with her face.  Roxy's also been instigating play with him more, and her and Sonny tear through the backyard, running in circles after each other some days.

Sonny has also been playing and interacting with me more.  He has such personality; there is so much spunk and puppy in him.  He is really a goofy dog and he makes me laugh.  I'm fairly certain he learned to play fetch from Buster because he keeps coming up on the couch with the ball in his mouth, allowing me to take the ball and throw it for him, and then taking a flying leap over me after the ball...  When he comes out of his crate in the morning, he wags his tail feverishly while play bowing and grabbing toys to carry about.  It's nice to see him acting like a dog a little bit.

He is still pretty scared of men.  He's been sneaking about and snatching Rob's stuff and running to his crate with it, and that has helped me devise a plan.  I'm going to start desensitizing and counter-conditioning Sonny to smaller parts of Rob... i.e. his smell, his voice, etc. One piece of Rob at a time.

And Buster is, well, Buster.  He's wonderful.  This morning he was watching me do something on the counter in the kitchen and he turned around quickly to go elsewhere, and in the process he smacked the whole side of his face into the cabinet and then sat down with this pathetic look on his face.  I crouched down and he buried his face into my body and let out a big sigh.  He's a silly dog, but he's really such a sweet, sweet dog.  He loves to just climb right into my lap and snuggle. 

We spent a few hours at the park on Sunday and later on, I caught him sleeping on the couch with his tongue sticking out...