Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Putting it into Practice

Since attending that fantastic behavior seminar, I've been trying to put a few new things into practice with my lovely foster dog.

First with Sinatra, I wanted to tighten up a few rules I've been slack on.  While I think Sinatra will be a great dog for a very lucky someone, he does have some resource guarding tendencies that really take away from his adoption potential. 


The first change was to teach Sinatra "sit to say please."  If he wants something, he sits for it, end of story.  All I have to do is wait until he sits, then reward him with what he wanted in the first place.  If nothing else, it helps pushy dogs learn impulse control.  And he's 72lbs of pushy dog.

Please give me pie.  I like pie.

The second addition to our routine is a short round of the trade-up game each day.  I'll admit I'm really not that great at turning good ideas into a daily routine, so I'm hoping to stay on top of this one.  If any of you have a dog that is reluctant to give up something in their mouth (aka not aggressive, but a little more possessive than you'd like) I'd definitely recommend playing this training game.

What you need:

A stubborn dog


A toy/bone/shoe that is somewhat valuable to your dog.  The value of the resource determines how unwilling your dog would be to trade it in.  Never start with the highest value resource for your dog; it is easier to start with something that they value enough to want to hold on to, but would be willing to give you for something better.

Gross muddy toy: check.

Something better than the above item.  I use food rewards whenever possible, because this keeps the game fast paced and controlled.  I choose a high value treat, so something soft and meaty... like hot dogs... that will get your dog's attention.

How to play:

First, get your dog engaged with the toy/object of your choice.  If tug is allowed, then tug away for a minute, so that your dog is very intent on the toy. 

Next, let go and grab a treat.  Hold it in a closed fist where your dog can smell it, and wait.  I keep quiet, and allow the dog to investigate the tasty smell coming from your hand.

Eventually (if the toy's value is less than the treats') your dog will let go of the object in their mouth to attempt to retrieve the food.  When this happens, open your hand to give them the treat, praise them to high heaven, and retrieve the toy while they munch.

As soon as they are done with their treat, resume play with the toy!  Nothing sets a dog back faster than dropping their toy once for one treat and having the toy never return.  The object of the game is to teach them that quickly dropping an object results in an added bonus item, in addition to the object they had originally.

I typically play 6-10 rounds of play-treat-play before ending the game.  When I'm all done, I drop 3-5 treats on the ground and while Sinatra gobbles them up I put his toy away.  We have done 2 sessions without any verbal cue, but he's at the point that I can add one.  He immediately releases the toy when he sees my hand approach, which means I can use the word "drop" (my personal preference) as my hand comes forward.  Once you master drop with one object, move on to a new object of slightly higher value.

If you play this game often enough, your dog will readily drop anything in their mouth on command.  I usually start holding the closed fist farther from the dog after a few sessions with a verbal command, so that I can phase out treats.  Skye is very good at drop and no longer needs a food reward, since she is more excited to get the toy back after she drops it.  However, we still play this game every once in a while as a refresher that dropping an object is better than holding on to it.

For Sinatra, I'll slowly begin to play the same game with rawhides, which are his biggest value item.  He has growled at a co worker over a bone and shows clear signs of possessive behavior around the other dogs.  At home he only gets bones in his crate or when Parker and Skye are napping and will not disturb him.  Even then, he will take a bone to his crate and avoid the dogs, rather than showing overt aggression.

Can't we all just get along?

Bottom line?  Be proactive.  I could do nothing with Sinatra and he would pass a SAFER test right now, and be fine to go to a new home.  But in 5 years, this somewhat minor behavior problem could turn into full blown aggression, and while I'd love to think that none of my foster dogs will ever end up in a shelter again, it would be a long shot.  I'd rather do everything in my power right now to prevent any future issues for my big hunk of dopey pit bull. 

I see a bird.  BirdBirdBird.


  1. I am sending my Lily over to you for training
    Benny & Lily

  2. Ditto on that. Except I'll trade ya - Hurley for one week and I'll take Sinatra! Hurley has zip zero nada interest in anything except food, food, food. Great for loads of different training but not so much in practicing the drop it with toys. He won't even take a toy from me when there are treats in my pocket. What toy? I smell chicken!

  3. Sarah -- you can make toys interesting by pairing them with treats! When he looks at the toy, C/T; when he moves toward the toy, C/T; when he touches the toy, C/T. Take it step by step, you'll have a toy-crazy Hurley in no time!

    Ahhh -- Jenny! Elli's super great about surrendering toys to me and to any human, but food/toys/bones that aren't even hers/STICKS, she can get super possessive of to other dogs. It doesn't matter who the human is, they can take it away easily... how would I practice sharing without another dog present?!

  4. Is it weird that I have the opposite problem with Pallo? He won't hold something solidly in his mouth, instead mouths and tosses toys around.

  5. awesome.


  6. Wow, he is gorgeous. That last picture is great. Good luck with the trading - it sounds like he's already "getting it" - handsome AND smart! Gotta love that in a dog!

  7. Awesome tip! I might have to try the 2nd technique as my Titan doesn't like to give up certain play toys. ;-)

  8. Sinatra is so very lucky to have landed at your house! Hope his training continues to go well.

  9. Thanks for that explanation. Sinatra is fortunate to have someone so devoted to improving his habits not just to find a home, but a forever home.

  10. Great training tip! I'm going to try it with Tommy. Thanks!

  11. Love this post - thanks for the link back to it! I've been working on this with Fae for awhile and it's going well - she sees me coming and drops whatever is in her mouth. We're getting there! But the issue I'm having is more resource guarding with other dogs. Right now we are working on "drop" AND "away", where she spits out what she's got and takes a couple of steps back. Getting stronger every day, and I'm hoping that within the next 6 months (because we're being realistic here, haha) it'll be ready to go somewhere where there are actually dogs... but do you have any other dog-dog resource guarding tips? I'd love to hear them!


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