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An Introduction to Toy Interaction in the Working dog with Dave Kroyer- Part 1

Phone Interview with CTS President, Doug Calhoun, and Dave Kroyer.

Q: What is the biggest problem you see regarding prey/toy interaction?

A: There’s a number of problems but the first one I’ll mention as the biggest problem is, what is the contract between the handler, toy or prey item and the dog.  When I talk about a contract, what I mean is, what are the rules that the dog and handler have to follow to be able to use that prey item in some type of productive way?

Q: What is the ideal contract?

A: There are 2 or 3 things and in no special order.  The first thing I need the dog to understand is that the toy belongs to me, the handler.  It’s no the dog’s toy or prey item.   And a lot of times when I see people reward the dog, they reward the dog with the toy and the dog will alone with the toy, chewing on a ball or a tug getting self gratification with it and that’s where the fun actually ends when the handler doesn’t interact with the toy.

The second thing I see is that the dog’s don’t know how to let go or relinquish the toy.  The third problem that I see is that the dog has no predictability of understanding how or where the toy is going to be produced in conjunction with the handler’s body.  So you’ll see a lot of displacement behaviors happening.  Handler’s getting bit in the chest, jackets being ripped and stuff like that.  There are often lots of impulse control problems that go along with this.

Q: What are the obstacles for many trainers to the successful use of prey/toys?

A: One of the things I don’t see enough of when I’m helping people is some type of predictable game or play session with the dog- something that happens where those other three problems can be avoided or worked through.  It’s just a random swinging of toys around and the dog can’t predict where it’s going to come from, how it’s going to get it or the fact that it belongs to the handler and that it’s an item that is interacted with through the handler.

So I try to tell people that with the dog’s foundation training, where we’re doing all this very interesting operant foundation work with behaviors such as The Spin and Get In for heeling, but one piece that they’re missing is how we play with the dog.  They’re so focused on this other stuff, they don’t have any type of play session or play predictability or any type of anything as far as the toy is concerned.  

So as training proceeds, we can’t inject the toy into training until there is some kind of predictable play session as far as logistics go with the toy.

Q: How do you begin?

A: I like to start with a simple game of fetch.  The dog offers a behavior you like and you moment mark it and throw the toy.  Of course the dog has to understand to bring the toy back.  Well bring it back to where?  Bring it back to 3 feet in front of me and drop it?  Bring it back and slam into me?  Run off with it?  So it’s important that the dog can understand where to bring it back to.  I like my dogs to bring it back to me through the legs.  We create this habit through the food toss discussed in DVD 1 Learning to Learn.

The behavior of out, tight turn and back is the precursor to how we are going to play toy.  That’s a precursor to the game of fetch which itself will be a reward to the dog.  When I give the dog the ball, I don’t want the dog to just lay down and chew it, I want to reward him with a game of fetch.  Will talk more about this in a bit in terms of how to structure fetch, strengthen cooperation and build trust in with prey DVD 2.

Q: What’s next?

A: I play a game that I just refer to as two balls.  It’s similar to what people have seen before but I don’t want people to mistake it for bribery or to get the dog to come back to you.  We are going to address the out elsewhere so the second toy shouldn’t be used to entice the dog.  We’ll take the logistics of the food toss game and do it with a ball.

I toss the ball and once the dog has acquired it, I will stimulate the dog with the second ball and encourage him back, I need a tight turn in the backend when they pick up the first ball.  The habit in the food toss is critical here.  Then just as we lured with food in the food toss, we’re going to lure with the ball to come back and as the dog reaches us, we’re going to toss that second ball between our legs and click that moment.  Even though we’re doing a toy transfer, the out is separate and worked on separately with a tug.

To be continued….


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