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Monday, October 5, 2015

Positive Training Blog Hop - The Power of Play

Today is the Positive Dog Training blog hop, and we have some new things to report. We've been following a Susan Garrett program, much of which is outlined in her book, "Ruff Love" and her DVD "Crate Games". She breaks training into specific "games" that you play with your dog, always keeping things fun and happy. Each training bout is very short and is followed by a fun play session with your dog.

Indeed, Susan Garrett even suggests playing with your dog before you begin a training session, to get your dog excited about what will come next. Tugging is Susan Garrett's favorite form of playing and reinforcement. It took some experimenting for me to figure out how to tug with Shyla but not hurt my surgically repaired spine, complete with titanium rods and plates. For me, the key is to tug a little, toss the toy a very short distance for Shyla to retrieve it, and then tug a little more - never letting the actually tugging get too intense. Shyla is not a very aggressive tugger which helps me a lot.

I think that the emphasis on playing as part of training has made a huge difference for both me and Shyla. It puts me in a happy state of mind, ready to reinforce good behavior and not get negative about bad choices made by Shyla. For Shyla, it makes her super enthusiastic about training because the reward is so great. I also think it's making our bond even stronger.
We've been playing games that involve reinforcing self control and then a recall toward me when I release Shyla. I've seen an incredible difference in Shyla in just a short time. Even when there are animals rustling around in the forest that catch her attention like in the next photo...
I am able to pull her attention back to me very easily and have her do a recall directly to me.
Prior to incorporating so much play into our training, I was occasionally seeing some apathy in Shyla's recalls. Now, they are full blast, sprinting straight to me!

Presently, we have a number of moose living near our house in the places where we mountain bike and hike on the trails. It's moose mating season, one of their most aggressive times of year, so I am relieved to see Shyla so responsive to me and also exercising more self-control when exciting animals pass close to us. In some cases, I don't need to say a word - Shyla sees the animal and returns to my side automatically.

I am a "crossover trainer" who trained my first dogs using traditional corrections and punishments for bad behavior. I honestly think that "sensitive Shyla" would retreat into her shell if I used those techniques with her. I think that she came into my life at the perfect point in my dog training experience. I was ready to use all that I had learned about positive training to pull her out of her shell and cultivate her self-restraint and drive.
We're going to continue on with the program we've started in the past couple of months - short self-control and recall games interspersed with rowdy play sessions. It's perfect for Shyla!


  1. Playing is such a huge help! Pike is my timid, unsure dog, and if we play before a training session his confidence and willingness to try new things sky rockets. It's so interesting to see.

  2. That's very interesting. Rita and I rough-house, and I always wondered if that would be frowned upon by a trainer. It's good to know that not only can we continue to play "ruff" with each other, but I can incorporate it into her training! Will check out that book. Thanks!

  3. Great post KB! I need to look for this book because Hunter is sensitive too; though if you walked by with Shyla you'd think he's aggressive with is growling(he would flip on his back if a big dog came at him). Thanks for sharing-great job to the two of you.

  4. I'm so glad you found some "tools" that work with Shyla! We play a lot of games, too. I do wish my dogs were more toy driven, though!

  5. Apathy in recalls? Yikes, better not let mom see this post!

    Your Pals,

    Murphy & Stanley

  6. I've been meaning to try Crate games. We've been playing impulse control games too and it's been good for him. Thanks for joining the hop!

  7. Your amazing KB... just amazing..
    just look at how Shyla,,,does whatever you ask!

  8. I think you are absolutely right. No one training method is right for every single dog. Interestingly, all of our trainers discouraged tugs except between the dogs themselves. The idea being that the winner of the tug (human or canine) was felt to be dominant. So now that Ellie is gone, we throw the tug for Lucy, but we never pull to take it from her. It is clear that whatever you did with Shyla was definitely the right thing for her. Way to go.

  9. I just love hearing about your training techniques and how wonderful Shyla is doing. I have also been trying to incorporate play with training time so Mabel has fun. I even got out a toy at class tonight and we played a little tug while the teacher was talking and we all were in chairs. I wanted her focus to stay on me. You inspire me to try to be a better trainer - thank you!
    Mabel & Mom
    Bailey Hazel too

  10. Be careful out there with the moose!

    I wish my girls were more toy-driven too, but they do like to play games!

  11. Shyla has come such a long way. Your training methods with her are perfect, KB!

  12. I'll look into the Susan Garrett book. Maybe I can teach Toby how to play. We've been told he has a low play drive, but he does enjoy playing with other dogs.

  13. So glad you've been having such good results with Shyla - she has made remarkable progress thanks to the good hands she is in.

  14. Even dogs like to have a fun time. Torrey is very play oriented. She responds better if it's a game for her.

  15. We can sure see the positive and happy energy in the beautiful Shyla face!

  16. It's such a good feeling for mom and us when we 'get it' and learn
    Love & Peas,
    Lily & Edward

  17. I've incorporated tug into so much of Ruby's training. We use it for tricks, crate games and impulse control. Like you, I do a combination of tugging and fetch.

    I have recently started playing tug with Boca too - she is much stronger and required a different approach. The very first thing I did was install some manners so I didn't lose a finger. She now has an auto-sit and wait if she loses her grip, rather that lunging for the toy.

    Thanks for joining the hop - it's always a joy to see what you're up to with your special girl.

  18. Shayla is such a smart girl and so happy. Maggie plays better now at bringing her toy back to mom to throw it again for her, she is the only one of us that will do that.
    stella rose

  19. I am starting to work with Ziggy and he is doing pretty well. I always love your training tips.

    Anne and Ziggy

  20. I love Positive Reinforcement training. Rufus is surprisingly sensitive so it's the only way I've ever trained him and it's really helped shape him into a confident dude. I know you have the same experience with Shyla.

  21. Playing before training is a great. Thanks for the tip and as always the great pictures.

  22. I've never been able to use tugtoys for training or playing because of my back. I tried it with each of my dogs, but even years ago it was just too much "jolt." And none of my hounds have been interested in toys or retrieving though some would do it with that "if it makes YOU happy" face, which defeats the purpose. I am not a very intuitive dog trainers, I'm afraid, but I do use Susan Garrett's simple "It's Yer Choice" exercise with Piper quite often, and she really enjoys it! We do it sometimes at the start of a walk in the woods, and it gets her excited but also paying attention, even later when she is off-lead. It was what I used when I was doing those DrawingAugust sketches:)


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