Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Company's Coming

O Happy Day. Today's the day that my Anna is coming for a long visit. I'm as excited as a five-year-old child at Christmas.

My grandmother was from the coal regions of Pennsylvania. Part of the culture there was to put a possessive pronoun in front of any family member's name. Therefore, it wasn't Uncle Ken, it was our Ken. I knew my friend Janice was accepted when my grandmother referred to her as our Janice. She's family now! Anna is like that; she's not related to us, but she's our Anna.

She's bringing her Boston Terrier with her. What a lovely little dog--no trouble, well mannered, playful, sweet tempered. So you can see that I'm having a double-blast of fun when our Anna comes to visit. She told me that she'd like to begin some agility foundation work on her dog, and that got me to thinking about some of the fun exercises we do to prepare our dogs for working with us.

Here's one of my favorites. It's a game called Rule Outs. The "goal" of the game is to have the dog ignore what he wants (a fist full of treats) and give you his attention (eye contact) instead. It's great for teaching attention, impulse control, and is practical at an agility trial. People often feed dogs before they go into the ring, and sometimes the smell or litter of tidbits is everywhere. Instead of having Fido sniffing and scrounging for leftovers, you can play Rule Outs. My dog Mike is the master of the Rule Outs game.

Here's the process: Take a handful of small treats and sit in front of your dog. The dog's position is irrelevant--sit, stand, lie down, whatever. Present your *closed* fist to the dog. He'll sniff, perhaps paw at your hand. The bank of treats is closed. The key to open the bank it is to look at me. You are QUIET--not a peep. When he looks at you (sometimes as if to say, "Come on! Help me out here!), open your hand and give him one of the treats. If he comes towards you, simply close the bank (fist). He'll quickly learn that to look at you is the key. To up the criteria, keep your hand open and put it close to your dog, on the ground, anywhere. He'll ignore what's in your hand (it's ruled out) and look to you for a reward. NEVER let him eat the cookies from your hand. He only gets treats from you as you give them to him. Then you can put treats on the ground, on his paw, anywhere, and he'll ignore them. My agility instructor used this game to teach her dog to back up. She'd toss the cookie between his front paws. When he backed up, he got a second reward. Fun stuff!

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