Thursday, June 10, 2010

Continuing To Share

In April of this year I wrote about Leaning To Share. I explained how we showed Melissa to look forward to people approaching her when she has a valued object. The learning and practicing has continued. Several times a week when Melissa has something of value I trade for something of higher value. I let her eat the higher value item out of my hand or I toss it on the ground as I remove the object she had. It's easy to practice...she eats twice a day, so I can incorporate these short training exercises around meal times. We also practice when she is in the crate and has a chewy. We also trade or exchange for a higher value toy when she is in the yard. We also practice in different locations. For the times I approach empty handed, Melissa is willing to give....she has practiced sharing many times in her 7 months living with us.

Last week we got to use this skill in a real life situation when Melissa found the dead bat. There was no way I practiced with a bat!! But Melissa had so many repetitions of people approaching when she does have a valued object, that all I had to say is 'what do you have?' in a soft sing-song-y kind of a voice. No need to threaten, we are a team, we communicate. My approach was a signal for her to look up, relinquish the dead animal. I had a handful of treats that I let her eat while I bagged the bat.

Buster had a baited hook in the back of his mouth. His family had accustomed him to having his mouth looked at. How did they do that? It's easy and takes only 30 seconds each training session. Let your dog lick butter or cream cheese off of your finger....gradually allow your finger touch his gums, teeth etc. This also comes in handy as your dog ages and perhaps develops a bit of tartar on their teeth. A dog who is comfortable with you handling their mouth will let you scale their teeth, look for sore gums, or pull fishing line from their mouth.

What about dogs sharing with each other? I recently had a student ask about multiple dogs taking toys and chews from each other. First I do not allow any dog to bully another. But if you see that the dogs are comfortable and no one is threatening another by giving hard stares let the dogs continue to play, but keep a careful watch in the beginning. The dogs usually develop play groups... with the toys at the center of the play! They pull, they chase, they tug, they wrestle, they even growl when playing. But watch for the dog who walks away cringing or staying a distance away and afraid to come close. Chances are there is a dog in the group that is sending out some vibes. Removing the toy and/or chews usually resolves the situation and the dogs continue playing with each other. Remember that guarding objects is a left over survival trait in our dogs,. they are not bad dogs. Just because we brought them into our lives does not mean all that hard wired trait for guarding is gone. We need to teach them humanely how to share so they can live peacefully and safely in our homes. Sharing with humans is a must. Sharing with other dogs sometimes happens peacefully, sometimes we need to help them learn. Sometimes we need to prevent problems by carefully choosing your dog's playmates.

I do not believe in letting dogs live in a stressed environment. If you are not sure how your dog will act with a chew around another dog, separate the dogs with a baby gate or put them in a crate while they chew on their bones. If the dogs are comfortable being in close proximity with highly valued objects I will put out extra toys and chews. Two dogs? Put down 4 or more bones. One may end up with 3 and the other only one, but that's ok, they each get to chew. When in doubt, please get some help from a certified trainer whose teaches using the most up to date training methods.

Melissa and Lucy are always swapping toys....usually Lucy takes from Melissa and Melissa gives chase. But recently we noticed that Melissa is not so quick to give up the toy. She seems to enjoy keeping it away from Lucy. She spins in place as Lucy tries to take the toy. We all laugh because we know how quick Lucy is...she could easily take the toy from Melissa! But it has become a new game. In the last few weeks we have noticed that when a chase begins it is not always Lucy with a toy in her mouth. It is Melissa in the lead some the time. Lucy eventually takes the toy and then Melissa tries to get it back. They are playing, they are sharing, no one is bullying.

Just the other day I was lax in where I left my training bag. It was open, with lots of good things to chose from. And so Melissa chose the tug-n-treat pouch. I approached, she wagged his tail. I bent over to pick it up. I certainly was not about to reprimand her for taking something out of my training bag. I should have prevented her from cruising by closing the I should have been watching Melissa a bit more closely. The pouch smelled good, it was filled with freeze dried liver, it was tempting, so she took it. After all it is something I toss for her to get, we play tug with it and I then open the pouch and let her eat some treats from it.

I want her always to relinquish objects to me. I want her to feel comfortable bringing me objects.. To her they are all of value, otherwise she would have no interest in them! Whether it is a toy we are both playing with, or something she found on her own: a tug-n-treat pouch or a dead animal or a baited fish hook. Or just an ordinary stick found floating in the water! They are all valued objects to your dog. Teach them to share. Continue to practice during their lifetime.

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