Tag Archives: Training

More than Fetch

Recently, I made sort of a whim of a purchase. I was walking around Petco and saw the Outward Hound Zip and Zoom Outdoor Agility Kit, and immediately thought it was pretty cool. I mean, the agility course comes with three obstacles and in a handy carrying case.

IMG_2120IMG_2117

Really, how could I pass it up? I must admit though that I almost did pass up buying it due to the price. It was $50, which (to me at least) seems awfully expensive for something that comes in such a small bag and was not very heavy. Yet, I wanted it. I wanted it because it’s not something I’ve ever seen before. Of course, I have looked into dog agility courses previously, but besides books that cover building one’s own course or simply assume that the course pieces are easy accessible, I haven’t found an actual kit with pieces. Unfortunately, I am neither crafty nor handy enough with tools and such to build my own course obstacle pieces. DIY-er I am not. Still, I’ve wanted to try doing agility with Simon and Rosee for a while. Along with being a good form of physical exercise, agility training can also be mentally challenging for dogs, which is very good for dogs like Simon. I do know that actual training classes for agility are out there, but there’s really no class available close to us and these classes typically require your dog to listen to you well off leash. Regrettably, Simon does not listen so well off leash because he finds everything and everyone else he encounters more interesting, which is why he is only allowed off leash when we go to a dog park. Rosee is pretty similar, and, well, she is very lazy. If left to her own devices she’ll mostly choose to lay down and take a nap. She doesn’t like to exert herself if she doesn’t have to, and I can imagine she would decide to lay down instead of listen to me. Also, training classes can be expensive, and I wanted something that we could all do at home on our own time. As a result, I broke down my initial misgivings and decided to buy the Outward Hound Agility Kit to try.

The kit comes with three obstacles: a tunnel, weave poles, and a high jump.

IMG_2060

It seemed like a pretty good deal at first, and very good for a beginner like me who doesn’t know too much about agility. I know the basics from watching the annual dog agility competitions, but, really, that’s not a whole lot. Luckily, this kit comes with a handy-dandy instruction manual along with a tunnel, eight poles (six for weaving and two for the jump), and several curved pieces that create a circle in which your dog is supposed to jump through. There are also metal spokes included to hold the tunnel down, stakes to attach to the poles to stick them in the ground, and clips that attach the circle-hoop jump to the poles that hold it up.

IMG_2121

It’s all fairly easy to set up, and can easily be taken down and packed away when you’re down. I like the fact that it comes in a case because it makes storage easy and all the pieces can stay together so as to avoid losing any of them.

Now, I have to brutally honest here. While I may have initially liked the idea of this product, the actual product is kind of a letdown. The tunnel is awfully short, maybe three feet long.

IMG_2057IMG_2064

The poles are made of very thin plastic and tend to fall down when a gust of wind hits them, let alone a 75 lb. dog. In fact, after setting up the weave poles Rosee decided she wanted in on the action and stole one. The plastic was so thin that just by her carrying the pole around in her mouth left it dented. She didn’t bite down, but rather simply held the plastic piece in her mouth, and when she dropped it it had two pretty serious dents—pretty disappoint.

IMG_2092 IMG_2091

Lastly, the circle-hoop is barely big enough for either Simon or Rosee to jump through, and some creative problem-solving was needed to create a jump that was actually usable. I actually had to take one of the weave poles and attached curved pieces to each of the ends to make a high jump that could accommodate Rosee and Simon.

 IMG_2073

Plus one of the tails from the tunnel that is used along with a metal spoke to attach the tunnel to the ground ripped way too easily. Seriously, all that happened was Rosee went through the tunnel and when she came out she hit the end and the tail ripped.

IMG_2056
Tunnel tail with metal stake to hold it down.
IMG_2055
The metal grommet ripped right off of the tunnel tail.

Despite all of these issues with the agility course I do have to say that Simon and Rosee along with us humans have had an awful lot of fun with it so far.

IMG_2063IMG_2098IMG_2094IMG_2113

The course is not very big, but for the size of my backyard that’s okay. It fits on our small patch of grass, and is long enough to be good exercise. However, it’s not too long and overly complicated so as to have either Simon or Rosee become bored and run away to do something else– which Simon totally does by the way. Overall, I would recommend this product, but only if you happened to find it on sale or maybe you have a coupon. Frankly, I don’t think that it’s worth $50, especially considering the quality of the course pieces and the fact that it’s not really made for large dogs. There should be a recommendation on the tag that says for small to medium sized dogs (just my opinion, of course). Nevertheless, it is easy to use, to store, and has been fun to use so far.

IMG_2089
She just loves it so much she can’t wait!

Fly Chasing 101 (as dictated by Simon)

I thought I would be a generous companion this week and dictate a blog post in lieu of my human. She offered to do it for me, but really what does a human know of the sport of fly chasing? I’ve only been perfecting my methods for the last three summers. (Your sarcasm is noted Simon—Theresa) Though, I did require some help from my aforementioned human to actually type this post because, alas, my paws are not dexterous enough for the laptop’s keyboard. Nevertheless, my human graciously agreed to type my story out for all of you to see. She also tried valiantly to capture my demonstrations of each step, but I fear my movements occurred somewhat too quickly for her camera to capture easily. She did do her best however. Not everyone can be as multi-talented as me.

Now on to the main event…

First spot the fly

In order to properly fly chase the first thing that must be done is to spot a suitable fly. It’s preferable to choose a fly that is not moving around too much. If a fly is moving around a lot, then it can be more difficult to catch. You will need the right mix of focus and control to find just the right fly to attempt to catch. But do not fret, for it can take a while to spot an appropriate target.

IMG_2016
Searching for just the right fly.

Next move in closely (yet carefully) until your nose almost touches the fly

Once you’ve got a target in your sights you then come upon a most sensitive step: getting close enough to pounce. It can be difficult to approach, especially if the target is shifty. Yet, if you’re not close enough to the fly, then it can be difficult to ultimately catch it. That’s why a careful and patient approach is required. My owners may not think I’m very patient, and while most of the time I’d have to agree with them, I make an exception for fly chasing. Luckily flies aren’t the most intelligent creatures around (and surely everyone knows dogs are the smartest), which makes them an easy target. Still, it’s best to approach with some finesse to ensure that your target remains cooperative or at the very least unaware.

IMG_2017
Try to be as quiet as possible while moving in on the fly.

Then stay perfectly still until just the right moment

It is of the utmost importance to wait for just the right moment to pounce on your unsuspecting target. After you’ve gotten close enough it’s imperative to wait for the right time to make your move. Patience is key here! My people may not think that I’m capable of patience, but given the right motivation I can be quite good at waiting for the exact instant to act. The truth is I just happen to be cleverer than my people and have them trained well to suit my needs. (I, meaning Theresa, would 1) like to object to this statement, and 2) state that “I knew it!”) It is quite important that your target not know what you are planning to do. Instead the fly should remain in blissful ignorance until you make your move. Otherwise, you chance them fleeing before you’re ready. The phrase “still as a statue” comes to mind at a time like this, and also “keep your eye on the ball” (or fly in this case).

IMG_2022
I cannot stress enough just how still you must remain!

Last pounce on the unsuspecting prey

Last, but certainly not least, pounce on the fly! Hopefully, if you have been able to get close enough, your pounce will result in immediate capture. However, if you’re still working on your technique it can take a few tries in order to be successful. Flies are tricky targets and due to their size and ability to move quickly it can be difficult to capture them. Ultimately, their evasive maneuvers only make their eventual capture by me that much sweeter.

IMG_2051
This is me mid-pounce.

Now go forth on your on fly chasing journey. It may take some time and practice to master my steps, but actually capturing the fly is only part of the fun anyway.

Compilation of Tips: Loose Leash Walking (Part 3)

I know, at this point you’re probably wondering how much really goes into teaching a dog to walk on a leash without pulling, right?

All I can say is some dogs are natural born walkers, and some need more help learning. Simon and Rosee fall into the latter category here, and even then they both respond to techniques differently. The most important thing is to find what works for your own dog. However, sometimes you have to go through what doesn’t work to find what does, which is how I have come to know of so many tips.

Again, my disclaimer: The tips I will present, explain, and discuss throughout this series of posts are ones that I’ve gathered from training books I’ve read, training classes I’ve attended with Simon and Rosee, and from trainers I’ve talked to. I want to be clear that I am not a dog trainer in any way, shape or form, and my knowledge of dog training comes from the aforementioned sources while training my own dogs. I can assure you however, that all these tips have been tried and tested by everyone here at Play Hard, Bark Often.

Tip #7: Try a shorter leash. The length of a dog’s leash may not seem all that significant. However, if the goal is to have your dog walk next to you without pulling then trying a shortened leash may be a good idea. To be honest, I had never considered trying a shorter leash. Of course, while walking with either Rosee or Simon I would try and shorten the leash they were on by looping some of the excess. Yet, it never seemed to work as I would get frustrated with their pulling or holding so much of the leash and eventually let it go and just hold on to the leash handle. It was only when me and Monica had ordered Rosee her Ilusion collar that realization hit. You see, when you order an Ilusion collar it also comes with an accompanying leash.

IMG_1343
Leash that comes with a Large size Ilusion collar.

The leash length varies depending on what size of collar is ordered. For instance, Rosee has a large and the leash is about a foot long.

IMG_1346

Simon has a medium size collar and the leash is a little longer than Rosee’s and not quite as wide. (Personally, I don’t like the leash that came with Simon’s Ilusion collar and do not use it because it’s not wide enough and difficult for me to hold on to.)

Simon Leash
Leash that comes with a Medium sized Ilusion collar.

Really, it was a “Eureka” moment because the first time I put Rosee’s Ilusion collar on with the shorter leash it all became clear. I found that with a shorter leash not only could I keep her next to me, but I was much more consistent in my efforts. I couldn’t backslide and let go of the excess leash as I had before when things became too much. In turn, I was much less stressed and could focus more on Rosee instead of on keeping the leash a certain length. Now, practically, I know it may not be so easy to find a short leash at a regular pet store. Still, it can be worth looking for one on the internet if you’re working on your dog walking next to you without pulling and not just loosely on a leash.

Tip #8: Try a longer leash. For some dogs a shorter leash might be all that’s needed to get them to walk beside you without pulling. For other dogs, such as those similar to Simon, more work and a whole lotta patience might be required. Simon, you see, is a “horse of a different color” (figuratively, of course). He can pick up tricks like shake, roll over, high five, etc. in a day, but learning to walk without pulling has not come as easily. It’s not that he doesn’t know how to do it either. It’s just that he’s not usually consistently successful at it. Now, I’ve done my best to keep myself consistent in feeling and technique when I walk him, which has helped a lot. (Think Cesar here) Unlike Rosee though, using a shorter leash has never worked well for Simon. He’s a dog that has needed to learn to walk next to me by himself. I mentioned in the beginning of Part 2 that I’m not necessarily too strict about leash length with Simon. I use a standard length leash to walk him and for most of the walk I give him the whole length of it. Originally, I decided to change my tactics with Simon because I was getting nowhere otherwise. Then I visited positively.com and read that dogs typically walk faster than us slow humans and for them to learn to walk next to you can be very difficult. It’s certainly not impossible, but sometimes their walking ahead of us isn’t about dominance or over excitement. Sometimes it’s just because we walk too slow. The suggested training technique I found was to give your dog the full length of the leash and any time they walk next to you you give them a treat. This teaches them that good things happen when they stay beside you and eventually they’ll learn not to pull while staying closer. I like to also use the turnaround method if Simon starts to pull too much. Overall, I love this method for Simon because I don’t get frustrated and he has actually learned to walk calmly beside me. Also I like to use this method when I put Simon on a really long (10-15 ft.) leash. He can go out and roam (safely), but then when he comes next to me and watches me for direction he gets a treat.

Tip #9: Strap on a backpack. Lastly, a useful tool can be a doggie backpack. Backpacks are typically available at almost any pet store and come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Although, the basic principle of a backpack remains the same. It goes over a dog’s back, clips around their neck and underneath their stomach, and has a pocket on each side. Originally, Simon got a backpack when he was a puppy, but still old enough to venture outside, because we had hoped it would help slow him down. Personally, to weigh the backpack down I like to use bags of rice because rice conforms better to Simon and isn’t as oddly shaped as bottles of water. Unfortunately, the backpack never quite worked out for Simon. It did help him slow down, but it never really taught him to walk without pulling as he would still pull if he wasn’t wearing it. Also, we overestimated his size when he was a puppy and now the backpack is a little too big for him. (He didn’t grow into it like we thought.) For this reason it never seems to sit quite right on him. Still, it’s a nice tool to have around when we go down the street to a nearby park and we work on training because I can pack his extra-long leash, treats, and (for hot, hot days) bottles of water and collapsible bowls.

Where’s the Beef?: Hill’s Science Diet Training Treats Review

It was a cold day in November. Early too. Really early. Earlier than I had been up in a good, long while. Early enough so that the sun wasn’t even out yet. Earlier. . . well you get the idea. It was early and I was awake, anticipating one of the greatest moments of my life. What was that magical moment you ask? It was Black Friday at PetSmart.

Now, Black Friday is well known as that short day after Thanksgiving where most major retail stores have deep discounts on big ticket items. Usually a day where people are up and out at all times of night and day, Black Friday is very much its own national holiday at this point in American society. So, with little sleep yet a renewed sense of vigor my family and I set out to be some of the firsts in line when PetSmart finally opened its doors Friday morning. Why work so hard to be one of the first to enter the store? Because you get free stuff, obviously! Employees where handing out free stockings for your pet to the first fifty or so people (I don’t remember the exact number) to come into the store. Christmas had come early, and we hadn’t even gotten to the savings further inside the store! As you can tell (read), I was excited.

After grabbing my free stocking, along with the other members of my family, I headed out to grab a whole list of items. First on the list was dog food. My family loaded up two carts with four thirty-five pounds bags of deeply discounted dog food. Um. . . score! Next came snatching up a new litter box system for our cat (he’s gotten tired of regular litter in his old age). Somehow, picking out a new litterbox turned into also needing to grab a new cat tree, and since the cat trees were right next to the dog treat aisle it only made sense that two boxes of MILK-BONE made their way into our carts as well. After successfully stuffing our two carts and having to carefully maneuver around the store and the hundreds of people currently inhabiting it, my group made our way to the cash registers and finally left the store.

When we finally arrived home I had time to investigate our score and low and behold the stockings were full of treat bags. The dog treats that were included were beef-flavored treats from Hill’s Science Diet. Now, I have heard of this brand of dog food before, seen it mostly filling out veterinarians’ offices, but it always seemed a little pricey and not a good fit for my dogs’ needs. However, who can argue with free treats? So, I decided to try them out and see if Simon or Rosee liked them. Boy did they ever!

IMG_1447

Named Hill’s Science Diet Soft and Chewy Training Treats with Real Beef , these nuggets are small, brown, and heart-shaped. They are slightly hard, so a little difficult to break in half, but they are small enough that they don’t need to be.

IMG_1448

The one downside is that these particular treats have a really strong smell. The minute you open the package you get this robust beef-flavored whiff stuck in your nose, surely strong enough to entice any dog with a nose. While Simon and Rosee certainly loved the smell, I did not. It reminded me of the way hot dogs smell (not exactly my favorite food), so needless to say I haven’t eaten many hot dogs since.

IMG_1449

Beyond the shape and smell though, these treats are quite good dog treats, though I don’t know if I would use them specifically for training purposes. They are smelly enough to get my dogs’ attention and cajole them into listening to me when nothing else works. However, these treats are a little rich, so best given in moderation and therefore not useful for training when treats need to be doled out in abundance. I can tell when my two have had a few too many because Simon starts to let out high-pitched squeals of air from his you-know-what and Rosee’s poo gets just a little too runny. So, while these treats are good and enticing I would caution anyone against handing out too many without expecting a different kind of smell to leak out of your dog. Though my two dogs do have rather sensitive stomachs, courtesy of their Boxer genes apparently, but even if your canine companion doesn’t I would still caution against too many of these Science Diet delicacies. Everything in moderation.

Now, I don’t know how much these Science Diet treats would cost normally, or what size bags they come in. A quick search on the PetSmart website shows a similar kind of treat from Science Diet, in this case chicken, coming in a 3oz bag and costing about $4. Given the fact that the chicken treat bag looks exactly like the beef one I have, I am left to assume the size and price for the beef treats correspond accordingly. So, if you find yourself looking for a new beef-flavored treat to add to your dog’s repertoire these Science Diet Training Treats with Real Beef might just be something worth trying. Or, because my cursory search on PetSmart’s website for these treats comes up empty, you might try the chicken flavored treats instead. Hopefully, chicken treats will be easier on the stomach, even if not on the nose. Happy treating!