Just throw the ball!
Make it fun and the rest will come

When in doubt, throw food. In Gambit’s agility training so far I’ve really tried to apply some very good advice I heard from one of my favorite trainers, Hannah Branigan.

Melissa Breau: So, what is the best piece of training advice that you’ve ever heard?

Hannah Branigan: Oh, that one’s easy. So, Leslie Nelson: “When in doubt, throw food.”

And I fall back on that all the time. Whenever there’s a question, something weird comes up in a training session or even at home, I don’t know what to do right now, that was a very weird behavior and I have no idea how I should handle it, throw a handful of food on the ground, and while they’re gobbling the food, I can think about my solution, and it turns out that there’s a whole lot of behavior problems out there in the world that we can solve in very practical ways by throwing a handful of food at them.

Melissa Breau: Both to give ourselves five minutes to think and to give them something else to do?

Hannah Branigan: Exactly.


Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast: Episode 03: Interview with Hannah Branigan, http://fenzidogsports.libsyn.com/2017/01

I’ve adapted this advice for Gambit’s training. He’s not very food motivated and would much prefer a toy reward. So for us, it’s when in doubt, throw the ball or toss the Frisbee. This has served us very well so far.

Often when I go back and watch videos of our agility training sessions I am very glad I threw the ball. Gambit is almost always correct, or he really thinks he is, which is equally important. In agility I want Gambit to cue off of what my body is telling him to do, move the direction my feet are pointed, take the jump or other obstacle I am indicating. Video often reveals that I am not indicating the jump I think I am or Gambit thinks I am asking for a blind cross when I’m not, etc.

Gambit and his ball

Throwing the ball and rewarding even when I think Gambit is incorrect means that he stays in the game. He loves agility and really loves running fast. So far, I think my greatest agility accomplishment is that Gambit just turned 2 years old and still wants to go very fast. My bumbling handling has not significantly decreased his speed.

If I told Gambit he was wrong all the times I initially thought he was wrong he would have slowed down and eventually stopped enjoying the game that is our training. He’s rarely actually wrong and when he is it’s my job to find another way to explain things. My handling is slowly improving, very slowly, but my boy still loves to play agility with me as we both improve.

This short video (0:22) shows Gambit and I working on sending to the tunnel. I want him to take the far entrance. On the first try Gambit takes the “wrong” entrance and uses the entrance closer to me. At the time, I wasn’t sure why he didn’t take the far entrance but I went ahead and rewarded him anyway since I wasn’t sure what had happened. When we tried again a few moments later I made the entrance a bit easier by moving a bit closer toward it and he went in the “correct” entrance and did so with speed. Watching the video later I was glad I rewarded both entrances. My feet were pointing toward the tunnel closest to me on the first try. What I thought I was telling him to do wasn’t what my body was actually indicating. Gambit wasn’t “wrong” the first time and by rewarding his initial effort he was still very enthusiastic when we tried again.

My most important job is to keep Gambit in the game. We want to be fast and have fun and play at agility. The best way to make that happen is to when in doubt, throw the ball or toss some food.

Teaching Retrieve to Hand:
Playing outside and getting your dog to place the ball directly into your hand

Gambit placing ball in my hand

I watched enviously as my friend’s dog retrieved the ball and dropped it into her outstretched hand. My dogs always dropped the ball at least 5 feet away and I had to go pick it up.

I wanted my new dog to actually return the ball to me and place it directly into my hand. Previously, I taught Clover to retrieve a dumbbell to my hand so it seemed like a similar method might work with teaching my puppy Gambit to retrieve a ball to my hand. (Clover’s mostly blind so she can’t retrieve to hand with much distance.)

There was a snag in my plan. Initially, Gambit didn’t want to retrieve at all. Half of the time he didn’t even chase after the ball as it rolled away. The Facebook video of one of Gambit’s littermates taunted me. It showed the puppy retrieving multiple times on the very same day he arrived in his new home. But Gambit was on his own schedule. I had to have faith that eventually he would learn to love retrieving.

First Step: Returning to me with the ball
I worked a lot on throwing the ball and running away, encouraging Gambit to chase me. Sometimes he would run after me and sometimes he wouldn’t. Sometimes he ran after me but dropped the ball. We practiced in small spaces inside and then gradually worked up to playing with 2 balls outside. Shade Whitesel’s toy class through Fenzi Dog Sports Academy was very helpful.

I often played with Gambit without touching the ball when he returned to me. I never took the ball from his mouth and I always traded him for anything he picked up. Separately we worked on an “out” cue, which meant spit out whatever is in your mouth and I will reward you.

Picking up various objects
I also worked on clicker training Gambit to pick up various objects, keys, a fork, chopsticks, etc. We also worked on hand targeting so Gambit was used to coming in close to touch my hand with his nose. And I think the most important skill I taught Gambit, besides running back to me with the ball, was chin targeting.

Chin Targeting
One of the first skills I teach new dogs is chin targeting. I find it to be a super useful behavior. It helps the dog think about targeting with different body parts. I can use chin targeting to teach a dog to hold a dumbbell, move into a stand, side step, find the correct position for front and I’m sure I can come up with several other uses. I also found I could use chin targeting to teach Clover to bring a dumbbell to me and teach Gambit to return his ball to my hand.

Putting it together
For some dogs, you can use a hand touch to get them to come closer with their ball but I wanted the toy or object actually delivered to my hand.
Once Gambit was happily shoving his chin into my hand we then worked on this skill in different locations and from varying distances. We were also separately working on him running back to me with his ball. When Gambit was performing both skills reliably, we started putting chin targeting and retrieving together.

As Gambit moved toward me with his ball I would cue him to put his chin in my hand. With the chin cue my dog is delivering his chin to my hand so it’s easy to add the next step of putting the ball in my hand. I started to say my drop cue – which for Gambit is “out” – when his chin was in my hand and then began to say it a bit earlier, just before he put his chin in my hand, so the ball dropped into my palm. I would then mark the drop with a “yes” and reward him with a ball toss. Eventually I changed the cue to “pick up” so Gambit would know he was picking up an object and delivering it to my hand. Subsequently, I no longer needed to cue chin and then the drop/out separately.

I’m very happy with the results. It is clear to Gambit when he is returning the object to my hand and he understands the reward is that I will throw the ball again or we will work a bit and then I will throw it.

How did you teach your dog to retrieve to your hand?

If you’d like help teaching chin targeting, retrieving, retrieve to hand, or another skill, Mica Dog Training is now offering live online lessons. Work with our trainer in the comfort of your home. Find out more here.

*Some dogs naturally return the ball to your hand if you just put out your hand and some dogs can be easily transitioned from a hand touch to placing the ball in your hand. Utilizing chin targeting with retrieving has worked well with my dogs and several client dogs.

Going Around the Horn

I was working with Clover recently on parts of the retrieve, specifically the hold and pick up. I wanted her to hold the dumbbell for at least 5 seconds and separately I wanted her to pick up the dumbbell when cued, turn quickly and move toward me.

We started out a bit rough. We hadn’t practiced for a while and initially Clover would take the dumbbell in her mouth and immediately drop it. Then we worked for a bit and she quickly improved, holding it for several seconds at a time and seemed to be doing well. And then, ugh. She was barely taking it and dropping it. We were back to where we started, maybe worse.

This is what Hannah Branigan calls the “downslope of your training session curve” in her blog post on the topic. (http://www.wonderpupstraining.com/blog/just-one-more)

And often when I get to this point I feel like I have to go around the horn.

Toy Story 2 – around the horn
[Rex is Channel-surfing at a Slow Pace to find the Al’s Toy Barn commercial]
Rex: I can’t find it. It doesn’t seem to be on any of these stations.
Hamm: Oh you’re going too slow, let me do the job.
[Hamm starts Channel-surfing at a Breathtaking Speed]
Rex: It’s too fast. How can you even tell what’s on?
Hamm: I can tell.
[Hamm just skips right past the Al’s Toy Barn commercial]
Rex: Go back, go back, you missed it!
Hamm: Too late, I’m in the 40’s, gotta go around the horn!

We are doing well and then we aren’t, so I keep training until we are doing well again. Sometimes this takes a while and we both get frustrated somewhere in the middle.

But what if I just stopped? What if when we stopped doing well I took a break and we worked on something else and then came back to the task or saved it for another day? Why do I feel like I’m committed and must “go around the horn”?

One of the nice things about positive training is that you are essentially always ending on a good note. My dog should be having a good time and feeling like her time and effort are being rewarded. If we switch to doing something else because we are in the downslope we should be ok to pick up where we left off next time.

So, ideally I quit while I’m ahead and stop when Clover is retrieving and picking up the dumbbell beautifully. The hard part is walking away and moving on when I’ve misjudged and trained too long; I haven’t stopped in time and Clover’s suddenly not doing so well and we’re in the downslope.

My goal for our next training session is to be mindful of the downslope. I’m going to try to quit while things are going well, but if I reach the downslope I’m going to put on the brakes instead of continuing down the hill. At least, that’s my plan….

Clover with dumbbell

Letting Go and Holding On

I almost missed it. There’s a seminar next weekend with a trainer I really admire and she rarely does seminars on the east coast. I came very close to signing up this morning. I was actually looking at the registration information when my phone rang.

It was my friend calling to tell me she needed to cancel our dogs’ play date for the afternoon. Her 12 1/2 year old dog was mysteriously lame. He’d gone to the vet yesterday for a Rimadyl refill; it seemed his arthritis was acting up. This morning he had gone out to use the bathroom and walked around a bit in the grass. Suddenly, he was horribly lame, unable to put any pressure on his rear leg and seemed unable to move the bottom half of it.

My friend rushed her dog to the emergency vet clinic by her house and texted a short time later. X-rays confirmed the vet’s suspicions. The leg was severely fractured and an aggressive bone cancer was spreading. My friend would have to let her sweet dog go within a few hours.

I was stunned. Her dog was getting old but he still seemed in good shape; he’d just enjoyed a trip to the beach and I saw him just the other day in pictures with her other dogs. He was one of the first dogs I introduced Gambit to as a puppy and one of Clover’s first dog friends. He was a sweet, gentle soul and he will be greatly missed.

Gambit and Louie

Prim, Louie and Clover

My friends’ day and mine ended very differently then I thought it would when I woke up this morning. I thought I was getting ready to go hang out and let our dogs play. I had no idea she would have to say good bye to her wonderful boy a few hours later.

It seems that even when we lose our dogs they leave us with a precious gift, their constant reminder to be as present as possible and to enjoy the moments together.

So, I’m not going to the seminar next weekend. It’s Kira’s birthday weekend. We’ve been through a lot this past year. It was a close call, but I’m not missing Kira’s birthday for anything.

My heart aches for my friend and I will miss her boy. Thank you for the reminder to hold on to these moments.

*You can read more about Kira’s story here:
We have a sit!, Enjoying the Sunshine, Life Lessons From Kira, Kira is getting old, and it is mostly wonderful

Trusting the Process:
Moving forward with training one step at a time

Hold the vision. Trust the process. – Author Unknown

He’s going to look flat and uninterested, maybe even wander off. As a trainer you stress about these things, you are aware of all of your dog’s shortcoming – as well as your own – and you see them magnified, envision how they will undo you in the ring, especially the obedience ring.

Gambit is brilliant and funny. He’s a thoughtful dog when he’s training. He can move blazingly fast but only when he wants to, when he feels it’s worth the effort. Gambit’s not very food motivated. He eats, but he doesn’t live to eat. Clover goes nuts when I train her with kibble. Gambit is mildly interested when I train him with liver flavored treats. He quickly loses interest in hard treats, those take more effort. Gambit is also a crate hater and dislikes riding in the car. And Gambit is a teenage boy.

Gambit sitting

Some days training feels very discouraging and difficult but Gambit is definitely making me a better trainer. And most days, it is quite fun. I am learning to always consider how much Gambit likes an activity, what his current arousal level is and how much enthusiasm I need from him to perform a specific task. Planning out my training times is also more important with Gambit, including utilizing our “crazy training time.” Crazy training time is when I first let him out from being confined and he is the most enthusiastic and revved up.

I try to break our tasks down into small steps, try not to be too overwhelmed by all there is to work on and all the things I think we aren’t doing quite well enough. I try to focus on that smiling face looking up at me when we heel. It is quite an accomplishment to have Gambit looking up at me with intensity, eager to take the next step. And Gambit enthusiastically smashing in to me when I call him for front is something I wasn’t originally sure we could get.

It is the process that is getting us closer to our goal. Showing up and practicing, thinking about how I can find a different way to explain a task or how I can build in some extra motivation for something Gambit isn’t sure is worth the effort. Baby steps, but we are getting there. I just need to hold on to the vision and keep Gambit’s smiling face in focus.

Things I do when I am frustrated and feeling stuck:
*Train for 3 minutes – I can do anything for just 3 minutes. Often I wind up training longer but this helps get me started when I am in a slump and just not feeling like training.

*Shape something goofy – Shaping Gambit to target a back leg to a cone, for instance, is very low stress and not a skill we will need for anything. It’s a chance to give him lots of reinforcement for training and to make sure we relax and have fun.

*Just play and hike for a few days – Sometimes just taking some time off and doing other things, like playing more soccer, helps.

*Play date – Scheduling play dates with Gambit’s dog friends and seeing him happy and having fun is good for me.

*Moan to other trainers – Asking my friends’ advice for my particular training problems is often helpful and gets me to look at things from different perspectives.

When I am really stuck and feeling discouraged, remembering how stubborn I am often helps.

Magic happens when you do not give up, even though you want to.

The universe always falls in love with a stubborn heart.
– JmStorm

But mostly, I try to smile at my dog. I adore Gambit, sometimes it’s good to be reminded of that.
Gambit in heel position

Moving Toward the Light:
My inspiration for positive training

Kenzo in snow

“He tracks like you train.”

It wasn’t mean as a compliment and it stung. Really stung. My instructor said that to me about 13 years ago and I still remember the crushing feeling.

My beautiful male, German Shepherd, Kenzo had just picked his head up on the track for the zillionth time and looked around; he seemed to be wishing he was anywhere else. I desperately wanted Kenzo to learn to track well and to love obedience. But he only seemed to enjoy the bite work in Schutzhund, the part I was least interested in.

Schutzhund/IPO, is a demanding sport. Tracking, bite work and obedience are all areas that the dog/handler team trains in and ideally the dog is successful in all three. The dogs have to be very strong mentally and physically. They are often large and powerful dogs, with a love of biting. German Shepherds are well suited for the sport. At its best, Schutzhund is like a triathalon for dogs with an emphasis on the handler’s ability to channel her dog’s intense drives. Shock collars and physical corrections are common.

Kenzo could do the work in Schutzhund, but he lacked the interest and I lacked the motivation to use physical corrections and force him. I would give Kenzo a half-hearted correction after a yelled instruction from my instructor and then I would get yelled at for my poor timing and lack of sufficient correction. I felt like there had to be a better way to teach Kenzo what I wanted rather than yanking on his neck with a prong collar when he looked away during heeling or forcing him into a down on an article while tracking. Kenzo and I were both frustrated.

Clearly, my instructor was frustrated with both of us too. How long could we continue at this sport that Kenzo clearly had the ability for but was so unenthusiastic about?

About the same time my instructor was telling me my training was terrible, I was reading Suzanne Clothier’s brilliant book, Bones Would Rain From the Sky and one section particularly made me pause,

“In everything she did, she had a choice: she could either support and enhance the relationship with her dog, or undermine it. She would need to learn to see the world from her dog’s perspective, so that she could understand how and why her actions either dimmed or encouraged the light in his eyes.”

I knew I wanted to add to the light and not continue to diminish it weekly on the Schutzhund field. In Clothier’s book I found the final piece I needed to walk away from Schutzhund and reconnect with Kenzo.

Kenzo running

We mostly trained at home and I learned a lot from Kenzo about motivation and training. We played a lot of Frisbee and ball; I tried to pay better attention to what Kenzo enjoyed. Most importantly, I walked away from positive punishment. I became a positive reinforcement based trainer and a clicker trainer and never looked back. Over time I have improved my skill and timing. I always have so much to learn and so much room to improve but I have come a long way from that Schutzhund field. And my current dogs have benefitted. (I do still have a love for the sport and there are some positive Schutzhund trainers.)

Kenzo was my great love and very special boy. We lost him to hemangiosarcoma 3 years ago this month. But Kenzo is with me every time I train my dogs; he helps me focus on the light.

Kenzo playing and training outside:

Kenzo a few months before he died, working on some tricks:

We Don’t Find Time; We Make It:
Making time for doing nothing with our dogs

I was reminded just the other day of how important it is to make individual time for doing absolutely nothing with my dogs. Clover was scheduled to go to a class with me so I got Gambit out for a bit to exercise him since he wasn’t going. I let Clover sleep a bit longer. Since she is mostly blind, it takes her a lot of energy to process what is going on in her environment and class is very tiring for her.

Gambit and I played soccer outside and then we hung out for the next 40 minutes. We snuggled on the couch, we sat on the floor, we played with a toy, and he rolled over for belly rubs. We hung out.

I often schedule time to do things with Gambit individually, such as taking him for a private agility lesson, hiking with a friend and her dog, meeting up for a play session with another dog. And all of these are things Gambit and I do together and both enjoy.

But they are not the same as just hanging out together. Rolling around on the floor and just being silly together is highly underrated. And that was my favorite part of the day. We all hang out as a family but I hadn’t realized how rarely it’s just the two of us. It’s just as important to schedule time for us to just be silly together, just Gambit and I, and of course separate time for Clover too. After all, hanging out and just being silly are the best parts of having a dog.

Gambit and me on couch

How We Teach Sit Can Make A Big Difference

Teaching our dogs to sit is a basic skill and it is one of the first things that most dogs are taught. Sit is often taught as a way of encouraging good manners. Additionally, how we teach our dogs to sit can influence their posture and overall physical well-being.

When we teach sit by stepping into our dogs, it usually works well and we get results quickly. However, we often wind up with sloppy sits. Our dogs rock back and often slump, with a big space between their front and their back feet. Their legs are spread out instead of tucked underneath them. They don’t engage their core muscles as much as we would like and their posture is not good.

Rock Back Sits Vs Tuck Sits
The first sit in this video is a rock back sit. The second sit is a tuck sit and the sit on the platform is also a tuck sit.

Can you see the difference?

A rock back sit is one type of “sloppy sit.” Some dogs also slump when they sit and kick their legs out to the side. Here’s a picture of our boy Roka in a sloppy sit.

Roka sitting with legs out to side

And Why Are Tuck Sits And Posture So Important?
Pawsitive Steps Rehabilitation & Therapy for Pets, provides an excellent explanation in their blog post about sits:
“A sloppy sit from early on can slowly develop into chronic pain and overall a weak spine and abdominal (core) musculature. That being said, let’s take a look at a “sloppy” sit. With the hind limbs in this position, this dog cannot utilize them to rise from a sit and therefore will have to compensate. This compensation usually originates in the back, neck and front limbs and manifests as pain and tension. This dog will likely shift his weight forward, overloading his shoulders, elbows and carpal joints, and rely on them heavily, as well as his back to pull himself up into a stand.” (http://www.pawsitivestepsrehab.com/blog/achieving-the-perfect-sit/)

How Should We Teach Sit?
When we teach sit by luring the dog’s head up and have them move into us we can help create a nice tucked sit with knees and feet point forward and close to the dog’s body. Our dogs sit with good posture and engage more of their core muscles. For the performance/show dog this means better posture when he stacks in the ring. The agility dog has more strength for jumping and turning. And the obedience dog has a nice tucked sit position for halts and potentially straighter fronts.
Who knew how we teach sit could influence all this?

Here’s a video demonstrating how dogs often rock back when we step into them to get them to sit and how we can encourage tuck sits by inviting them to move into our space to sit.

1. Take a look at how your dog sits. What does it look like? Some dogs naturally sit like fitness models. However, most need help to identify the correct position.

2. Now ask your dog to sit and have someone watch you or take a video. Did you take a step toward your dog as you said the word sit? If you did, there are lots of other people that did too. Our bodies often want to move forward on the cue to encourage the dog to sit since our dogs usually oblige.

3. Try taking a step away from your dog and ask her to sit. Notice the difference. There is always a dog that looks exactly the same both ways but the majority of dogs will look different. Most dogs will sit a bit straighter and their legs will be more tucked in when you call them into your space instead of moving into theirs.

The article by Pawsitive Steps Rehabilitation & Therapy for Pets mentioned above contains additional suggestions for encouraging good sits, including using platforms.

Here’s our dog Clover sitting on a platform. Clover often has a rocked back sit with her rear legs pointed out. Note how tucked in she is on the platform.

Clover sitting on platform

Often a simple adjustment in how you ask your dog to sit can make a big difference. Since you are asking for a particular type of sit you may need to go back to using a hand signal for a bit before you add the verbal cue back in. You may even want to rename this new good posture sit since it will be quite different from your previous sit. For a long time I used a hand signal with Gambit to ensure he would sit correctly. Now if he rocks back when he sits instead of scooting forward, I simply ask him to sit again. If needed, I will help him with a hand signal.

Sometimes You Want A Rock Back Sit
There is a time and place for rock back sits where we step into our dogs. Rock back sits can be part of a physical conditioning program for your dog and can be beneficial for activating the hip flexors, core and bicep muscles. However, it is often best for the majority of your dog’s sits to be ones that encourage good posture.

Here is Gambit doing a rock back sit as part of his fitness workout:
Gambit rock back sit

And here is a video that reviews rock back vs tuck sits and has more examples of different types of sits.

Changing the way you ask your dog to sit can change her posture and improve her fitness.

*Some dogs due to injury and/or surgery may be unable to sit in a proper tuck sit. If you think your dog may have a physical/medical problem with sitting properly, please consult with your veterinarian.

Kira is Getting Old, And it is Mostly Wonderful

Kira snored softly while I spoke to my husband on the phone last night. He asked his usual question, “How is she doing?” She’d fallen a few times outside and a few times I’d barely managed to catch her inside but overall she is doing well. Over the past year Kira has been plagued by very serious and mysterious illnesses. We’ve twice been strongly advised to let her go. Thankfully, Kira had other plans.

She is a tough old girl. Kira is 12.5 and will be 13 in June. And last night my husband made a very astute observation. We are lucky that now Kira has a typical old dog issue. The vet diagnosed her with old dog vestibular disease. Kira has a head tilt, is wobbly on her feet and seems to have some vertigo, especially when she first gets up from lying down. Several times she has had nystagmus, where her eyes rapidly flick back and forth. All of this will likely greatly improve within a few weeks. And it is something old dogs get. Kira has stuck around long enough to have a condition that commonly affects old dogs. That is pretty remarkable. And my husband’s one observation greatly shifted my perspective. I’d been focused on how it was much harder now to get Kira up and down the one step into the garage to take her outside and how I often had to race to catch up with her to keep her from bumping into corners as she made staggering turns. I was thinking about how Kira slipped in the garage last night. Of course, Kira has not slowed down because she is wobbly and unsteady on her feet. She still moves at the same speed, Kira speed – fast and determined.

Kira head tilt

But just like Kira, we are adjusting. We bought a bunch of rug runners so she now has a runway through the garage. We moved things around so there is nothing to bang into when she careens wildly around a corner. We added another large dog bed that is fairly easy for her to get up from. We spend a bit more time bringing her toys and rubbing her ears. And I try not to groan when she barks wildly outside, telling the neighborhood she has her ball. But mostly we are just thankful to still have our old girl.

*In typical Kira fashion, she’s adjusted amazingly well and once she’s been standing for a bit can still move pretty well.

Stop Bothering Me!
Our patterns of behavior shape our dogs’ predictions

Identifying patterns and predicting what will happen next can help our dogs feel good and more comfortable. As Steven Kotler writes in his book,The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance, “So important is prediction to survival, that when the brain guesses correctly-i.e., when the brain’s pattern-recognition system identifies a correct pattern-we get a reward, a tiny squirter of the feel-good neuro chemical dopamine.” Unfortunately, sometimes we find our dogs’ predictions of our behavior annoying and inconvenient.

At my house, Gambit will go to the back door and look at me eagerly in the morning. He’ll wait for me to go play soccer with him, or if the weather isn’t nice we train inside. But once we are done with soccer and our walk, that’s it. There’s no whining and obsessing over the back door. Inside my house Gambit amuses himself with chewing on one of his many bones or playing with my Golden Retriever, Clover.

But when we visit at my friend’s house, Gambit whines incessantly at her back door until I go outside and play with him. His whining is very annoying.

Why does Gambit whine to play ball at my friend’s house but never at home?

Gambit with ball

Similarly, my German Shepherd, Kira continually paces and pokes at my husband when he tries to work on his computer at night. She makes it very difficult for him to get his work done. When I came home from teaching the Mica Dog Sports Club Class the other night, my husband asked if I had exercised the dogs as much as usual. I’d given the shepherds their usual walk in the morning and trained them and played soccer with them in the afternoon. When I’d been home with them earlier, before leaving to teach class, they’d been relaxed and laying around. Yet, they’d been pacing and poking him.


So, what is the difference? Why does Kira harass my husband endlessly but fall asleep when I sit down to read a book?

The answer lies in our patterns of behavior and our dogs’ predictions. Kira and Gambit are predicting what will happen next and the majority of time they are correct. We have built expectations with our patterns and created whining and harassment.

Gambit knows that I sometimes play a second or third round of ball with him at my friend’s house. If he waits long enough at her back door I will go back outside. At my house, after we exercise in the morning we are done until the afternoon. There is no reason to whine because Gambit has no expectation of playing ball again.

Kira’s pattern is to continually convince my husband to get up to get her things. And it is hard not to give Kira whatever she wants. We have almost lost her several times to serious illnesses and she is 12.5 years old. My husband enjoys giving her ice cubes, cucumbers and other treats. Kira has learned that if she pokes him enough his pattern of behavior is that he will get up to give her something and that he will usually get up more than once.

If your dog is persistent and continually harassing you to play ball, feed them, etc., try taking a look at your patterns of behavior. How does your dog predict when food or play is coming?

My husband acknowledges his pattern of behavior but he is unlikely to change. He likes seeing Kira happy so he will have to put up with her pacing and poking at him as he works. If Gambit’s whining at my friend’s house truly annoys me then I will have to be clearer about when we are and are not playing ball. We will both need to change our patterns of behavior to subsequently alter our dogs’ predictions. Our behavior patterns are the key to quiet visits and sleeping dogs.