Whole Dog Journal's Blog August 20, 2012

Learning Through Competition?

Posted at 12:44PM - Comments: (3)

My dog, Otto, has never been all that excited about fetch. Certainly not like my previous dog, a Border Collie fetchaholic named Rupert. You could make Rupert leap to his feet and run around to look for a ball if you just mimed the very first part of a throwing gesture, drawing your hand back over your shoulder.  Otto will chase something if you throw it – but then he may or may not pick it up, and if he does, he is unlikely to bring it back to you.

Only when the planets are aligned just so -- the fetch item is one of his favorite toys (only certain squishy balls and squeaky stuffed animals, once in a blue moon a flying disc); it’s not too hot; he hasn’t been for a run for a couple of days – will he reliably retrieve more than once or twice in a row.

This all changed since Tito revealed his previously hidden talent: he LOVES fetching sticks thrown in the water. Chihuahuas are not renowned for their fetching, and for the past year, we knew Tito to chase, but never return with the tennis balls he’s always carrying around.

But then he discovered stick-fetching-in-the-water, and now he’s like a miniature Labrador, diving in again and again, and always bringing the stick back to you, dropping it on your feet and standing there dripping and shivering and whining until you throw it again.

Otto has NEVER chased a stick thrown in the water -- until he saw Tito getting a lot of attention for it. And now he too fetches sticks in the water – although he’s still likely to come out of the water with the stick and run off with it, trying to elicit a game of “Catch me if you can!” from the other dogs (and dropping the stick somewhere you can’t find it when you’re not looking).  

Whole Dog Journal’s Training Editor Pat Miller wrote a fascinating piece about “social learning” in the July 2004 issue of WDJ. Something called “local enhancement” is probably responsible for Otto’s renewed interest in fetch.

However, as a long-time and repeat anthropomorphizer, I think it’s the competition for attention that has turned my distracted wader into a hard-swimming retriever.

Comments (3)

I'd had an adopted dog that worked well at home, but despite months of trying everything, he was too distracted to participate at training classes. At home he is focused, at class he wouldn't even look at me. With the instructor's permission I brought in a crate and my elderly aussie, Patch. The first time he ignored my cue, I crated him and started working my aussie right in front of him. Then he was begging to work with me. Then I worked the two of them together, first her then him. Since he knows the cues at home, I gave him one chance and if he didin't respond I turned my back and asked the aussie. Worked like a charm, he couldn't take his eyes off me. Now while he remains more confident with Patch along, we are over the hump and able to be away from home with some focus and response.
***More than any specific behavior, what my reliable old girl really modeled was joy and enthusiasm***

Posted by: Ruth S | August 22, 2012 7:45 PM    Report this comment

Makes sense to me! Loved the photos of your happy swimmers. Have been working with my Maltese/poodle on ball fetching the water this summer too which she is enjoying....

Posted by: azogal | August 22, 2012 2:31 PM    Report this comment

After reading last month's article on toenail trimming, I made a doggie emery board. At first I worked with each dog individually. My food motivated boy (Marvin) picked it up quickly. While two of the others were slowly picking it up, our latest rescue was getting no where. He is completely deaf and fairly blind. I was using a flashlight instead of a clicker but old age and arthritis were not helping. Then my husband opened the bedroom door and let the entire pack in for a training session. After just a few minutes of watching Marvin earn praise and treats, ALL four dogs were scratching at the board!

Posted by: Susan T | August 21, 2012 10:33 AM    Report this comment

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