6 Ways to Take Fetch to the Next Level

A fun article on playing fetch with your dog by John Gilpatrick

Dogs go crazy for fetch. For some, not even an unwatched roasted chicken on the kitchen table can bring as much excitement as the feeling of the breeze rushing through his fur while clasping his teeth around a soft, plush toy thrown to him.

“Dogs find playing fetch so fun, in part, because it releases dopamine in their brains,” says Angelica Steinker, a certified dog behavior consultant and founder of Courteous Canine Inc. in Tampa, Florida. “It’s one of the few recreational activities that’s fun in and of itself without requiring food or some other external reinforcement.”

But ultimately, fetch can be a pretty rote activity. You throw something. They bring it back. You throw something. They bring it back. You throw … well, you get the idea.

If you feel like your dog is quietly begging you to stop trying to make fetch happen, you should listen, but it’s also not a bad idea to try to spice this classic up. Here are six ways to take fetch to the next level:

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Cognitive Dog Training

Another forward thinking blog by Pam Hogle.

I first started teaching about what I called cognitive dog training several years ago. I didn’t invent it; I simply named what a lot of positive, forward-thinking dog trainers were already doing. Cognitive dog training enlists the dog as a partner in learning; it is not about training so much as it is is about teaching. It’s also about redefining human-dog relationships.

How does it differ from other approaches to dog training?

  • It encourages dogs to think and solve problems. Often, there is not a single correct response to a cue. Dogs can learn a basic cue and match it with a concept, say, retrieve. Then the cognitive dog will learn to retrieve a large variety of items. She’ll learn to find them and retrieve them from lots of places — on a table or counter, under a sofa, from a backpack or refrigerator, etc. She’ll learn to get items by name — a pen, a medicine bottle, a beer. She’ll learn to follow verbal cues, a laser pointer, or a hand signal. But it’s all based on the concept of getting an item and bringing it to the human.
  • It’s (duh) positive. Mistakes are not punished. Success is amply rewarded with things that she finds rewarding. It’s fun. The dog gets to stop when she’s tired or it’s no longer fun for her.
  • It’s not about doing what the human tells the dog to do. That is, it is not about obedience. It is about shared goals. The dog has to buy into the goal. If not, she’s not having fun.

I started thinking about this when I was training service dog puppies. My goal was for the dogs to want to help the person they’d be partnered with; I wanted to avoid coercion at all costs. I figured that if a dog doesn’t buy into the goals, she should not be a service dog. Plenty of dogs love being with their humans 24×7, helping them out and being a necessary and beloved life partner. For dogs who just want to chase tennis balls or who are better suited for different careers, well, we shouldn’t force them into a life of service.

I’ve written before about giving dogs choices (here, for example). That is a key element in treating dogs as partners and students, rather than as automatons who must obey. Teaching dogs in this way does require being less ego-involved than many dog owners and old-style trainers. It absolutely requires letting go of ideas like dogs have to do what people say because we’re in charge, or that humans have to be the “alpha” — or even that dogs serve us out of unconditional love. That insults their intelligence and independence.

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There are no short cuts

A wonderful blog on training short cuts written by one of the masters: Kay Laurence.

When we are working with an animal our own needs can direct our choices and decisions. We focus on outcomes and the end goal which is commonly revolves around us. The dog that no longer causes discomfort when pulling their leash, the dog that instantly responds to our demands, the companion that understands our lifestyle choices.

But for that learner, for that animal, what is happening now and how it makes them feel is what matters the most. That is their reality. Do they understand, do they want more than the next treat, do they want to be with us or have they no choice ? For decades trainers have been engineering time saving processes and hard-selling them as ideal solutions.

What they are missing is the life-breathing element that evolves from the process. The reflection of joy and connection from a time invested process that leaves your learner enthused. It is never replaceable with quick fix solutions.

It takes thoughtfulness to plan how to make the learning experience one of pure pleasure, even in the elements that are challenging. It is so much more than just delivering treats or toys. Our companion animals want to share a part of us, the very best they can draw from us and it is this demand that ensures we grow, as companions to them and as their teachers.

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It is Unwise to Say, “Just Ignore the Problem Behavior!”

Niki Tudge shares some important information about the misguided advice of “ignoring unwanted behavior”.

Ignoring a problem behavior is just one part of the equation; at the same time, an incompatible or alternative behavior must be reinforced (c) CanStock Photo/websubstance

By Niki Tudge

Last week, while perusing my Facebook news feed while I drank my morning coffee, I came across a link to a blog advocating for force-free dog training methods.  This short blog had a video link which was showing a dog trainer punishing a dog for a problematic behavior. In summary, the positive reinforcement trainer was quoted as saying “encouraging the behaviors we want and ignoring behaviors we don’t, is the correct and positive way to train your pup without using physical force”.

I always try to read blogs and articles from a dog owner perspective. A perspective that probably has little, if any, knowledge of learning theory or the principles we base our dog training on. If I were a dog owner and I read the aforementioned blog I would wonder, do I ignore my dog’s jumping, snapping, growling and pulling? How is that going to work? What am I actually accomplishing? I would think that I would be doing less to help train my dog than I am doing by “correcting” them. Why would these ‘force-free’ methods be more effective than the methods I am currently using?

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