A Very Large Toolbox

Dog training is not a prescribed course. There is no, one way to teach a dog anything. There might be an easier way, a quicker way, a kinder way, or a more thorough way, but as we all know, what works well for one dog may not work for another. The art of dog training is not only to have a large tool box filled with a variety and range of tools, but to be able to think outside of the box: to assess the dog, to read the dog and to work with the material available to you. – or, give up and buy another dog!

Having struggled and failed miserably to teach the Golden Wonder to play retrieve I was looking outside of the box for ideas. It is true that I had taught him to retrieve and he will do that to a decent standard. He will pick up and present to hand most articles that would normally be encountered in trials, but he does this to earn a reward, not because he enjoys doing it. It is my experience in dog training that using toys and games as rewards increases the drive and therefore produces a better performance, particularly in demanding exercises such as sendaways and tracking. However, if a dog does not enjoy toys and interactive games then they provide no reward at all.

I really want my dogs to enjoy playing tug and fetch so I can use these as rewards to increase enthusiasm in certain exercises as required. But now aged ten months, I still could not get him play with me.

My daughter has a Yorkshire Terrier called Oscar. Oscar plays. He runs after the ball with my collies and sometimes even gets the ball. With great speed he brings it back to me and hangs on for the tug whilst I swing him around on the end of the ball on a rope. He loves it. However if the Golden Wonder gets to the ball first he runs past it and lies down to wait for a proper dog to come and pick it up. How useless is that! The toy dog is more trainable and more fun than my collie (but mine is prettier).

I had to sit down and think outside of the box. He will learn to play fetch. Thinking about what happened when the Golden Wonder went manwork training I realised that he enjoys loud noises: that he becomes excited when things bang and people shout and make loud noises.

I thought if I can get him excited through noise I might be able to coax him to play. This idea mulled around in my head for a few days and a plan materialised. We have a large mobile home that is only used as overspill bedrooms when we have events here. It is empty and therefore makes a lot of noise when you jump around and bang the wooden internal walls. I took the Golden Wonder in and tested it. He thought it was great as I gradually increased the noise I made, jumping around bashing the walls and shouting. In fact he became so excited he wanted to hump me, as I pointed out that was not a good option he tried to bite me! Great - my pretty rag doll has suddenly shown some life!

I collected a knotted rope ball style ragger and returned to the mobile home for a noisy game. As I did the banging and shouting I gave him the toy to bite in preference to me! He accepted that and we played a rough tugging game. So far so good. As long as I kept up the noise he was keen to play. I ended the session whilst he was still mad keen and pocketed the toy and exited the mobile home. We repeated this three times that day and again the next day. By this time as soon as we went into the mobile home he was ready to play. Now I thought it is time to start fetch. I stood in the narrow bit between the kitchen area and the bedrooms where it is so narrow I can have a foot either side of the passage and bang both walls at the same time. The only way through the passage now was between my legs. I started the tugging game with the noise as before and then snatched the toy from him and threw it way (bearing in mind there was only several feet of space either side of me he could not go far from me). As expected the Golden Wonder rushed to get the toy (this was the first time he has access to it without me tugging the other end, I kept the banging noise going and he did several celebration laps of the caravan with his trophy. He had to go between my legs as he ran and I just kept up the noise making no attempt to touch the toy. The noise kept him high and he wanted to do the tugging game so he started jumping around in front of me with the toy in his mouth. I ruffed up his coat and pushed him around but did not try to touch the toy. Off he went again running and enjoying himself. Each time he had to go between my legs as there was no where else to run and I simply pushed him and ruffed him. He loved it. Back he came to be ruffed up some more, this time he really wanted me to play the tugging game so he thrust the toy into my hand. We were playing now on his initiation. As long as I kept up the noise and he could not run off and lose interest the game kept switching from tug to fetch. He was playing for the fun of it. There was no food involved. A breakthrough at last. A miracle has occurred. The Golden Wonder can play fetch and tug.

The size of my toolbox has grown exponentially and now an essential piece of equipment for teaching lethargic puppies to play tug and fetch is - a mobile home!