Falka – IPO starts

On the day of Falka’s 0.5 birthday we have officially joined one of the best IPO Clubs in the UK. Of course, we will not be doing any serious work for a veery long time, but I am very keen on Falka learning that the Club is the place of greatest fun.

We have had 4 sessions now and what a ride it has already been! I am extremely grateful to our trainers, there is nothing better than experienced guidance!

Session 1: A complete and utter disaster L Despite all the time put in the play at home, and all the great attitude to play that Falka has had in other situations, when placed on the new turf she was not interested in the play at all. Of course, the fault was entirely on my part, as I did not fit in her comfort zone on that day. First of all, this was the first time she was asked to play with a strange man. Second – the toy was a puppy bite pad on a lunge line, which she has never seen before. To that date we only played with “fluffy” toys. Third – new place, though we have played in variety of other locations so here I think it was more stacking of issues than the location alone.

Session 2: A complete and utter success J We have changed pretty much everything. I took her out to the field and I was holding the flirt pole. We changed the toy to a rabbit skin, still stinking the “original” smell. The results were amazing.

Session 3: Progressing further. The decoy is slowly taking over the flirt pole. She is now starting to positively react to his verbal praise, even when she hears it from outside of the ring, directed at other dog. A little slower, but still devoted.

Session 4: Not a particularly great session in terms of the play, but still made me happy. She was pretty distracted with the spectators and a few times disengaged from us to have a good run around, saying hello to the crowds. After winning she also took the toy to show off in front of the fans rather than come back to me. But, as she is now going through a fear period, with some worries about other people, I was very happy to see her just having fun and being open and cheerful about the crowds. Still, it was not all lost on the play part, as she is now consciously playing with the helper and even tugging a little bit.

A cautionary note. Playing with flirt poles can be dangerous for growing joints. It is a heave form of exercise, so should always be done with care and responsibility. We do not play too much. A few minutes 2-3 times a week is plenty. I also run with her on a straight line, rather than stand still waving the flirt around, making her do tight turns. I am still working on my mechanics, but I feel that the length and intensity of our game does not exceed the levels she chooses for herself when running free.

Cardboard solution

Watching Falka develop is absolutely amazing, but can be also frustrating at times… Unfortunately the changes she goes through are not always in the direction I would want! Tugging is a great example of this. As a baby pup (i.e. pre-teeth change) Falka was playing great, with vigorous and engaged tug. I chose to stop tugging, or at least limit it significantly, during the teeth change. And it appears that during these 2 months something switched off in her head. She is still very happy to play with me, both directly and with toys, with no signs of stress or conflict with me. In fact the problem lies in her pushing into (or under) me, rather than tugging on the toys. At the moment it feels to me that she doesn’t want to “fight against me”, even if it is just for fun.

As I noticed this drop in her attitude, I went first with the popular method of increasing her confidence by rewarding even very small steps toward tugging, e.g. pawing at the moving toy, grabbing it, putting even tiniest amount of resistance… I know that this is a great method and works well, but… I am a little impatient 😉 I also feel that as she enjoyed tug before (not like Yarpen to whom tugging had always seemed like a futile exercise) the proble lies more with her attitude, so there has to be a trick which would explain to her that even when tugging we can be one team…. I feel that in her head tugging is somewhat of a fight where we both try to win the toy. I would like her to think of it more as us ripping a prey into parts together (not necessarily the same thing as we will need for decoy work in the future, but at this stage I want her to actually enjoy tugging first).

A breakthrough in our tugging came about quite unexpectedly a couple of days ago while playing… with junk mail. A little backstory: both my dogs enjoy ripping cardboard into pieces, something pretty common to many dogs. I hold a piece of cardboard, they grab it, rip a piece off, spit it out and immediately come back to rip more off, until I have the tiniest of pieces in my hand, which of course they win. They don’t really play with the pieces on the floor, the game is in ripping it apart with me.

A few nights ago, I was cleaning up junk mail off the floor (in one piece, as it flew down the letter hole – another proof that cardboard and paper are only cool in my hands!) and just by chance, I rolled the ads into a baton of sorts and invited Falka to rip it apart. The paper was quite strong, so it gave her quite a bit of resistance. And…. She pulled! She tugged!! Admittedly, after winning she did lie down with the intention of disintegrating it, but luckily, Yarpen was at hand. I immediately rolled another one and invited Yarpen for the same game. I didn’t have to ask twice, and of course, us having fun acted like magnet on Falka. I let her win quite easily and was praising her with a lot of genuine happiness in my voice. I am now thinking of going back to cardboard first, which gives me the confidence she will succeed in my expectations, and giving it a cue, most likely “get it”. When I see she starts to recognize it, I will start cueing her to tug on stronger paper and gradually move to toys of various types. Hopefully it will work as planned!

Socialisation – continued

One of the most amazing, and at the same time annoying, things about dog training is that everything is fluent and changes over time. Most so with puppies!

In one of my first posts I wrote about the changes I am introducing to my socialisation for Falka, as compared to what I did with Yarpen. And it appeared to work beautifully… for a while. My continued effort to reward her for redirecting to me made her into a polite, mildly interested in other humans puppy which is very happy and confident to say hello.. and nothing more. This would be perfectly sufficient if I wanted her as my pet and companion, but is not good enough for an IPO prospect! The first time she was play-bowed by humans, she didn’t like it. At all…. She was sending very mixed signals: play bowing, barking with head close to her paws, both indicating playful indication, but her bark was too low (more defensive than playful) and she had an “offensive pucker” (I love this expression, it comes from a book by Jean Donaldson For the Love of a Dog, and relates to the muscles in the corner of dog’s mouth). After discussing this with our trainer, it appears that her attachment to me became a little too strong. She doesn’t understand that other people can be “fun” too. So, we have started a new chapter which sees me sitting in back seat and her having a ball with my friends. Not easy for a control freak! At the moment we are at a stage where she is quite happy to play with a new friend with a toy, but physical contact during play is still off limits.