From “At home with the dogs of kona’s touch” series celebrating
APDT’s Train Your Dog Month and winner, best social media campaign.
Sometimes a Hot Dog Just Won’t Do
Dealing with Little Star’s dental issues has reminded me of a point I make to my clients all the time. “No, you will not need food in your pockets for the rest of your dog’s life and yes, there are other things to make your dog happy to work”. That was certainly true when Little Star went to the vet for her surgery.
Little Star and I go way back in terms of positive reinforcement training, and thus have a respectful, honest relationship. So, when they tell me Star can’t eat after midnight, it only bothers me because I feel bad for my baby who is clearly now the hungriest dog on the planet. Little Star has many reinforcers and I noticed that morning, that many of her reinforcements have to do with her face and head.
When we aren’t using food, we reinforce with her best friend the tennis ball and her second best friend, the rainbow squeaky toy she got from her Auntie Pat. The long brown snake comes in third. For praise, which Star is happy to work for, it’s the “Rub Rub Face Face” or the “I Love You” game which sends her tail wagging into Nirvana. When dental surgery is in order, and she has pain in her month and face, we go into creative mode and play an energy based “Rub Rub Face Face” game. In this version, I hold my hands just a few inches from her face and do the motion. When distance is important, we play the long distance “I Love You” game. After everything we’ve been through, our ace in the hole is the “I Love You” game.
Reading an article by Pat Miller about aging dogs and hearing loss, she talked about creating signs that reflect your words once your dog can’t hear anymore. She said it’s important when your dog can still hear to use physical signals to go along with the verbal. In the original version, of the “I Love You” game, I hold her on her left side and touch her shoulder gently and rhythmically say “I love you” over and over. Now, we added a “deluxe” version to the “I Love You” game. When we play “I Love You” now, I also move my head up and down with each “I love you”. Star loves this game and her tail takes off like helicopter blades. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if one day she leaves the ground. This has become another reinforcer to put in the tool box that does not involve food OR touch.
It’s important and necessary to use ALL kinds of reinforcement with your dog. Yes, when training a new behavior or training a puppy or new dog, it’s highly beneficial to use tasty morsels to jump start the program. But, once you have established a relationship built on trust and respect, most dogs will be happy to work for their own equivalent of a long brown squeaky snake or your own version of “Rub Rub Face Face.” Oh, speaking of work, it’s Star’s second favorite word after “breakfast.” She’s a great dog, but she does have her priorities.
When I ask Little Star, “do you want to work?”, she runs up to me and that tail starts going a hundred miles an hour. She loves going to work more than anyone I know, dog or human.