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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Positive Training - A New Game

For this month's Positive Dog Training Bloghop, I want to tell you a little about the retrieving games that I play with Shyla, trying to make them more challenging than simple retrieving. It was very easy to teach Shyla to do a simple retrieve because it's written in her genes!

In our new game, I place Shyla's toy between her and me. Of course, she expects that I'm going to ask her to "bring it" to me.
 And, sometimes I do.
But, other times, I ask her to "come". Over the past two years, I've trained her that "come" means to ignore everything else (like that red toy) and come directly to me. At the start of this new game, I'd have to say "leave it" as she got close to the toy because she really wanted to pick it up.

You can see that not retrieving is stressful for her. A tongue flick, like she did as she passed the toy in the next photo, is a subtle sign of stress in a dog.
She showed that stress signal even though I never punish her for making the wrong choice. Rather, she gets treats if she makes the right choice, and I happily ask her to try again (without giving her treats) when she makes the wrong choice.

On a later repeat of our game, she was already tongue flicking while she waited to hear what I'd ask her to do. She wants to do the right thing so much that she worries while waiting for my command.
Her innate tendency, even when I say "come", is to gallop toward the toy. In the next photo, I caught her quickly correcting her course to avoid the toy when I'd said "come".
In this repeat, I had her stand over the toy for a moment before I said "come", and she was already flicking her tongue.
Seeing this small sign of stress even though my training method involves rewarding the right choice and ignoring mistakes tells me that Shyla would wilt under more traditional "dominance" or "punishment" based training. This is a dog who needs positive reinforcement.

The stress signals also tell me to keep the training games short and fun. Now that's a happy looking Shyla!
I thought up this game simply to help reinforce the difference between a recall and a retrieve. I also wanted to make our training games more mentally stimulating for Shyla. I have no doubt that I succeeded in that part!

I think that Shyla is a poster dog for the type of personality that absolutely needs to be trained by positive methods rather than by harsher methods. I believe that a lot of Shyla's growth in confidence comes from the positive training games that we play. However, I think that most dogs flourish with positive training. Indeed, I have to pose the question: Is ever fair to teach a dog something new by punishing them for making mistakes? My heart says "no".



  1. Wonderful post! I have to say that I really admire your patience. You know I'm completely force free with my dog, but having to tread so carefully with a more sensitive dog would be trying for me. I really enjoy seeing you work with Shyla!

  2. I agree with you totally! You have done a great job with Shyla!!

  3. Look how happpy Shyla is!!!!!


  4. Completely agree with you. And no doubt Shyla is a BIG fan of your training method.

  5. I love your training methods. I always learn something from you. Sasha isn't quite as adaptable, but I do try. Thanks for the lessons.

    Anne and Sasha

  6. Great game for a smart doggie! I also love how you documented all the steps with photos.

  7. I've never had long training sessions with the pups - unless I have actually gone to a class. I do the same thing with my horses too. Ask a few times, make sure they understand, and walk away. It works so much better.

    Monty and Harlow

  8. I also completely agree with positive reinforcement only. A dog that does what it does for a treat and to please is better than reacting out of fear. As I look at Shyla I know that our Molly can do it too!

  9. Shyla is so smart and sure appreciates the care you are taking with her training!

  10. Awe!! Shyla is such a good girl! Both of my girls are very sensitive as well. Yay for PR! :D

  11. Sorry but I can NOT allow mom to see this post cuz I MUST retrieve. I would go crazy! Yay for Shyla obeying!

    Your Pals,

    Murphy & Stanley
    Mayorz For All Paws
    "Use Your Noodle & Vote For A Doodle!"

  12. You are a wonderful trainer, KB, and Shyla is a very smart girl!

  13. Great photographs and good training tips.


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