Thursday, February 14, 2013

BRINGING UP PRESTO! Taking Stock, Part 3

This winds up our little journey through the hits and misses I've encountered as I've begun Presto!'s competition obedience education (and mine).

Retrieving  Until recently, if, when playing word association, you challenged with, "retrieve," my response would have been, "What Presto! doesn't."  It hasn't been my first experience with a non-retrieving dog.  My first instructor and long-time friend Debby Boehm likes to say, "Anytime someone brings me a dog that has retriever in its name I can be certain of only one thing:  that dog won't retrieve."

Indeed, Cheddar, my now-retired golden retriever, drove me crazy for a year as I tried to teach him to retrieve.  He then became a solid, dependable retriever in the competition obedience ring.

So Presto! hasn't panicked me; he's just frustrated me.  I'd throw a ball.  He'd take off after it.  When he caught up with it he'd lie down  and chew it.  If it was a tennis ball, he'd begin to strip the fuzz off  . . . and eat it.  I jettisoned all tennis balls.

He likes to play with Kong toys -- the black Kong toys and bones are the only toys he can't demolish in record time.  We have two large, round dog beds on the floor in the master bedroom.  Presto! likes to settle on one of those beds and play with a Kong toy.  One afternoon I got down on the bed with him and we both played with the Kong toy.  Pretty soon I tossed it across the room.  Presto! tore after it . . . and brought it back to me!  I was stunned, but not too stunned to toss it again.  Same result.  At that point I quit; I didn't want to stretch my luck.

But we did it again the next day, with success.  I soon learned that the little rat would retrieve, if the following parameters were in place:  we were in the bedroom, the game emanated from the dog bed, the retrieve object was his Kong toy, and I didn't press my luck beyond three tosses.

Pretty soon I was feeling my oats.  I moved the game into a hallway that dead-ended at a closed door.  That gave me a restricted area in which to play our little retrieving game.  From my knees about four feet back from the closed door, I tossed the Kong toy.  If Presto! brought it back, he received a treat.  Initially I was successful about 50 percent of the time.  On the unsuccessful reps, Presto! would run out to the toy, then without picking it up hustle back to me, anticipating a treat that didn't materialize.

By the third day he had caught on .  He was retrieving the toy every time and placing it in my hand.  Then I switched to a Kong ball.  He snatches it up and brings it back.  Now I've worked my way back to the end of the hall, about 20 feet.  He's still snatching the Kong ball and hustling back.

Recently I tried it in the backyard with a tennis ball.  He settled down and began to gnaw the fuzz off of it.  We still have plenty of work to do.

Distracted Recalls  Competition, schmampetition!  The most important thing you can teach a dog is to turn on a dime and come when called.  That "exercise" can save a dogs life when an 18-wheeler is bearing down.  I put Presto! on a flexi and walk him in the neighborhood or in the park.  Anyplace where he'll go to the end of the line and get really interested in something else.  Then, "Presto! come!"  Pop!  And when he gets to me he jumps for a treat and hears, "Good come!  Good come!"

Presto!'s response to coming when called has improved since I've been doing that.  But I need to do a lot more of it.  Typing this post has given me a kick in the pants.

One caveat:  This doesn't work well when done formally in a training setting.  The dog catches on to the game quickly.  You are where the treats are and he won''t leave you or go far enough to allow for a substantial recall.  It works best on an informal walk with natural distractions.

Household Manners  Oh, why ruin a perfectly good series of posts about obedience training?


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