Things Your Dog Will Love: Tennis Tug

The Tennis Tug is a great dog toy that combines positive reinforcement with a strange magic that enthralls every dog I’ve ever given it.

Tennis-Tug-MainIf your house is anything like ours you’ve probably got dog toys everywhere on the floor in every room.

It’s a fact: dogs love toys. They love toys so much that they’ll make anything into a toy given enough time, boredom, and lack of supervision.

Toys are also one of the most powerful tools to have in our positive reinforcement bag of tricks and there’s always been one that I keep hidden away – only pulled out on super-special occasions – whose value at the moment I take it out is almost as good as a bag of hot dogs.

When I need to go nuclear with dogs to distract them, direct them, or just to reward them, I push the button with the Tennis Tug.

The Tennis Tug is deceptively simple in its design, which is essentially a three-foot length of braided fleece wound through a tennis ball at the end. Woven through the Tennis Tug, however, is a magic that I’ve never been able to put my finger on but which seems to flip a switch in the head of any dog who loves Tug.

I started using the Tennis Tug at ARF in Beacon with a dog who has some resource guarding issues.

I know it sounds crazy to play tug with a resource guarder, but we only play according to the rules and only began once he had a pretty good drop-it command.

The magic of this game was that he didn’t have to guard it:  he knew that he could drop-it when asked and he’d get it back again.  It has done a great job in helping me reinforce simple commands for him and a great job at teaching him that many things just don’t have to be guarded.  (Stay tuned for more on crazy Wesley in future posts.)

When puppy Pinball came to live with us, I was in the middle of writing A Dog Named Boo and had to devise a game that he could play while I typed.  Tucking the tennis tug securely under my foot or thigh – when sitting – I could work as he tugged away.

I can’t tell you why you would want a Tennis Tug, but I will tell you what I use it for:

  • With Wesley at ARF,  because he got the Tennis Tug for good behaviors I was able to begin whittling away at some pretty big issues in return.
  • If Pinball is in one of his “I’m young and have a lot of energy so why not eat the pillows?!” moods, I can redirect this level of energy to the Tennis Tug which wears him out and saves my pillows.
  • Finally, if the dogs have just been really, really good I’ll give them the Tennis Tug for a couple of minutes just for fun.

The Tennis Tug is a great dog toy that’s cheap, pretty durable for a tug toy, and I think your dog would get a blast out of it.  Mine certainly do.

Remember:  this is a supervised toy.  Do not leave it with them alone because they will eat it!

Always present it to them, play for a bit, ask for a drop-it, pay for that and put the toy away when finished.

Things Your Dog Will Love: Twist ‘n Treat

The Twist ‘n Treat is a great positive reinforcement tool to control speed eating in dogs as well as to keep them cognitively challenged.

We want to keep our furry friends cognitively exercised, and a variety of different puzzle toys will keep them on their toes.

The Twist ‘n Treat is very similar in concept to the Atomic Treat Ball. It is a puzzle toy filled with food and it’s up to the dog to figure out how to manipulate it to get the food out.

While the Atomic Treat Ball is our go-to puzzle toy to slow down speed eating (or to just keep one of our dogs busy), if it’s the only puzzle we give them it’s going to become less and less stimulating over time. In short, the name of the game is to not allow them to get bored.

It might seem as if both puzzles are exactly the same. However, the Twist ‘n Treat is much easier to learn and is usually the best first puzzle toy, especially for puppies.

The Atomic Treat Ball and the Twist ‘n Treat work differently enough that it keeps our dogs on their toes. We need to remember that canine cognition does not generalize well and that the two wildly different shapes of the toys essentially makes them two completely different skill sets for the dog.

Shaped like a flying saucer, the twist in Twist ‘n Treat refers to the rubber screw inside the toy that you twist to open in order to load the kibble or treats.

While the loading is more complicated than the Atomic Treat Ball, the fact that you can customize the size of the gap that dispenses the food means you have a lot more options in terms of what you can put in it and it makes for a great starter toy since you can make it easy at first then more difficult as your dog gets the hang of it.

While the Twist ‘n Treat is all upside for dogs, the thick rubber it’s made from tends to bounce pretty well and the shape causes it to roll – so don’t be surprised to find yourself hunting for it underneath furniture.

As with so many of the puzzle toys out there, the Twist ‘n Treat is not meant to be left alone with your dog – especially if they are a hard chewer.

Those minor quibbles aside, the Twist ‘n Treat is a really nice addition to your dog’s positive reinforcement cognitive toy box.  And for those of you whose dogs have not quite mastered other puzzle toys, this is a good learner-toy.

Things Your Dog Will Love: Atomic Treat Ball

The Atomic Treat Ball is a great positive reinforcement tool to control speed eating in dogs as well as to keep them cognitively challenged.

Atomic_Treat_Ball_mainDogs and other canids are natural problem solvers:  you can see it when wolves hunt, when the dogs in our Nose Work classes are tracking down the scent target, or when our own dogs are rooting for that single piece of kibble that fell behind their food bowls.

It’s what they’re wired to do, what they evolved to do, and it’s what they love to do, but the normal life of a dog living in a house doesn’t make for too many riddles to solve – except for the one we don’t want them to solve like how to open the garbage can lid, how to get into the closet, etc.

That’s where the Atomic Treat Ball comes in and why I’ve been using and recommending it to clients for years.

What initially drew me to the Atomic Treat Ball was Porthos had developed problems related to speed eating and I needed to find a way to allow him to get his full dinner in a measured, controlled way. It worked wonders to keep him from bloat and torsion, but after a while it became clear that although he loved the Atomic Treat Ball because it was filled with food he enjoyed it equally as much for the fun involved in getting the food out.

The trick behind the Atomic Treat Ball is in its design. If you take a look at the picture above you’ll see that it’s essentially shaped like four stacked hollow balls – in essence, a molecule – with a single loading hole in one of the balls. The pyramid shape allows dogs to easily roll the toy around without it going out of control under furniture and the single loading hole gives them a reasonably good chance of getting some food out with each go, but it’s an irregular enough reward schedule to neither bore them nor have them run out of kibble too quickly.

Also, unlike a lot of other puzzle toys the empty space inside the Atomic Treat Ball accommodates quite a bit of kibble or snacks. For Porthos we can actually fit about half of his kibble for each meal into his, which helps to slow down his eating greatly but is also really useful if you need to keep your dog busy for a while or if you want to give them a nice treat that will last if they need to spend extended time in their crates, playpens, taking a break from company or the fix-it person who doesn’t need your dog up their backside, etc.

The Atomic Treat Ball is cheap, easy, and – most importantly – it works. It’s a great tool to keep your dog cognitively challenged, which is as important to them as it is to humans as we grow older, and I believe that it’s an indispensable tool to have in our bag of positive reinforcement tricks.

Things Your Dog Will Love: MannersMinder

The MannersMinder is a wonderful positive reinforcement tool that allows us to reward good dog behavior at a distance but is a bit pricey.

Do these scenarios sound at all familiar:
  • There’s a knock on your door and it’s a race between you and your dog to see who can get there first?
  • Is the first thing company hears when they come for a visit the sound of barking and you on the other side of the door trying to get your dog to sit quietly?
  • How often do your guests have to greet your dogs before they can say hi to you?

These are all incredibly common behaviors in dogs and ones that I’m consulted on frequently, but they can also be extremely difficult for owners with less-than-stellar compliance to deal with because the things in play – a knock at the door, the commotion of guests coming, and the possibility of someone new entering the house – all can combine to push a dog’s buttons for good or bad.

Luckily, there’s a great tool out there for situations just like this that I’ve been using since it came out: the MannersMinder.

In short, the MannersMinder is way to dispense treats remotely for times when you just physically can’t give them to the dog or when you want to redirect the dog into a different location.

At its heart, the MannersMinder is a base unit that sits on the floor, filled with rewards, and a remote control. When the remote is clicked, the base unit makes a distinctive beeping noise and the treat is dispensed into a small tray on the side.

In addition to the manual remote control, the MannersMinder incorporates into the base unit volume control for the beeping and a good selection of automated timing controls that allow you to manually set the variable reward schedule. Similar to how it works remotely, when the automated timer goes off the base unit makes the same beeping noise and the treat comes out.

When you first start using the MannersMinder you’ll need to show your dog what it does the first time or two, but you’ll be amazed by how quickly they realize that it pays out and before long they’ll camp in front of it like seniors at a bank of slot machines.

Don’t just take my word for it, though.  Here are photos of two of my students, Boomer and Stella, demonstrating the awesome power of the variable reward schedule:

Now that you know what the MannersMinder is and what it does, why would you want it?

Let’s go back to the scenario above: someone knocking on your front door.

Rather than the mad dash to the front door to corral the dog with all the barking and jumping, when the doorbell rings just grab the MannersMinder remote, give it a click, and your dog will go running to the base unit rather then to see the company. Keep it in-hand and give it a click every now and then and your dog will be too distracted by yummy snacks that you’ll be able to greet your guests on your own terms and let them get comfortable before their furry friend comes to say hello.

Another great use for the MannersMinder is when you simply can’t physically get to your dog in order to be able to treat them for good behavior.

For example: we have very high ceilings and walls in our house and we’re frequently up on tall ladders painting.

If you’ve ever house painted you know that there’s a million different things that you don’t want your dog getting a hold of – wet mixing sticks, damp cleanup rags, paint lids, etc. – so if you’re up on a high ladder and you notice your dog going for something it shouldn’t have, how do reward them to leaving it alone when told to?

Simply click the MannersMinder remote that you’ve taken up with you.

Now this isn’t to say that the MannersMinder isn’t without a couple of areas for improvement:

  • The MannersMinder is on the pricey side. Most positive reinforcement tools are very economically priced, but this one comes in on the high side of things.
  • The MannersMinder only ships with one single remote control. If your dogs are like ours they may very well learn that it’s the remote that causes the yummy beeping, so the remote can become a valued resource they will want to get a hold of. A second one in the box would be great.
  • The batteries the MannersMinder remote control uses isn’t one of the normal type that you’re used to – AA, AAA, C, D, etc. – but is one of the kinds that you’ll need to look around for or order online. Stocking up is necessary.

Those minor quibbles aside, the MannersMinder is a great positive reinforcement tool that allows us to maintain our reward schedules without needing to be within close physical proximity to our dogs.

I find the MannersMinder to be an invaluable tool in my positive reinforcement bag of tricks and, if you choose to make the investment in one, I’m sure you will, too.

Everyone’s looking forward to Halloween, but what about your dog?

While Halloween is great fun for us, it is often very stressful for a lot of dogs. Here are some helpful tips and products.

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays of the year.  

It distills everything that a holiday should be – fun silly enjoyment with chocolate!  

Halloween also happens to be the day we adopted Boo, but that’s another story.

The air is crisp and kids are running around acting and dressed strangely.

There are knocks on your door constantly and there’s food being handed out from bowls that are probably at dog height.

Halloween activities are all great fun for us, but can you think of a combination of things that could put a dog more on-edge?  (Unless, of course, you added firecrackers into the mix?)

One of the reason we like holidays so much is that they are departure from the norm of everyday life.  We do different things. We adopt different schedules. In a word, things are different.  For a large number of dogs an unexpected change in routine is like fingernails on a blackboard and can set off a spiral of stress-related, unhealthy behaviors.

Where to put the Chocolate?

The bowl of mostly chocolate should be up and away from the dog. Your dog should not be able to reach it by jumping or putting his paws up, or knocking it over.

What about all the knocking strangers in weird costumes at the door?
I can’t see anything through this Peephole!

Your dog doesn’t need to be right by the door. Have your dog in another room as far from the door as possible. Give your dog a stuffed kong or other puzzle toy so he/she is happily occupied. A stuffed bone, or goat horn would be good too.

I have written a number of blog posts on anxiety aids and have a number of products that can help in the Boo-tique.

If none of the anxiety aids or toys helps reduce your dog’s stress, your veterinarian may be able to prescribe some anti-anxiety medication.

Then it will be time to call a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and/or a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant so that next year your dog can have a

Happy Halloween.