I chose to take Grace to the seminar because motivation has always been our issue. Grace is not driven by her various drives. Although food is a motivator for her, it’s not always a reliable one. Grace really is a dog who simply eats when she is hungry and doesn’t when she is not. We have had periods in her life where food just isn’t her priority. As in she would eat 6 kibbles if I hand fed her otherwise, no thanks, not now.
I have tried to play with Grace since she was a puppy. As a baby dog, Grace would play with Magic, but not with me. She has never been one to join Magic when we play ball, or want to get in on the wrestle sessions that Magic and I have. I tried to offer her the tug, she saw Magic tug many times, but it had no interest for her. Grace is also a pretty independent dog. She is not one who feels the need to be at my feet, or on me. Across the room where she can supervise, oh yeah, that is her preferred position. She wants her daily face scrubbing, but that was the closest thing I had found to play that she enjoyed. So my goal with this seminar was to find ways to get her excited. I want her to light up for something (other than sheep, I haven’t yet found a way to get one of those in my pocket to surprise her.)
Denise talked a lot about drives in dogs in the seminar In thinking about Gracie, I realized that her favorite game really is to chase. When playing with the other dogs, she wants to chase them, she wants to chase the sheep. Even in agility, her preferred place to run is slightly behind me, not really chasing in this instance, but it’s a behavior closer to chasing than to being chased. Prey Drive. Not kill or fight, but chase. OK we can work with this.
So to teach Grace to play and maybe tug, I needed the right toy. Denise had several different types and styles of toys, from a hard stuffed fire hose toy to linen, cow skin, sheepskin, hard and soft styles. For Grace the toy that caught her interest is a bit of rabbit fur on the end of a four foot handle. According to Denise, the toy needs to simulate a rabbit and not a suicidal one. In other words the toy needs to be on the ground, zipping around front, back and sideways. Rabbits don’t run up in the air and they don’t stop to get caught. And when they are caught they do fight to get away.
So I started with Grace on the floor with the toy close to my hand, I tried making it wiggle, jump and slide along and although she looked at it, it wasn’t quite right. But when I got up and the rabbit made big runs across the floor, zipping this way and that , she was interested. Very quickly she was chasing that rabbit and occasionally even catching it. I learned quickly that if she does catch it I can’t stop moving it. Once it dies, she drops it. So Graces rabbit needs to be a wiggler, always in motion. Grace does play WOOHOO!
Denise also asked us to play with our dogs without the toy. Taking what I learned with the toy, I realized that if I gently tag her and run away she will chase me, She has always loved having her face scrubbed, where I vigorously rub her cheeks and ears, so I incorporated that rubbing her face, pushing her away and dashing off. She loved that. I can now sort of tap the sides of her muzzle and push away and she comes back for more. And I can use that while heeling to get her fired up. I love it, she seems to love it.
By Sunday night, Grace visibly brightens when she sees her rabbit tug. David was eating dinner and Grace was begging-laying next to him on the couch with her head in his lap. I pulled out her tug and she actual left him for a moment for it. He's a soft touch though, so she did go back, but it does show some attention to the toy. Last night at agility class I decided to try to reward her agility practice with the tug. She seemed to enjoy it. She does not yet have a big hold and tug reaction, but if she is happy and excited by the catching and chasing aspect, then chase she will get.
My girlie can PLAY!