In light of obedience class with Tia, I was inspired to get back to teaching Queezle to hold and then eventually retrieve a dumbbell (plus, after she finished her Companion Dog title in three straight shows in November, we need to start seriously preparing for Open!). As the dumbbell that will be hers was MIA, I just pulled out a metal article - they are the same basic shape and size, and dogs tend to like the metal less than the plastic, so it's good practice. Plus this way I can say that I'm training her for Utility, the highest level of obedience, as well!
I had started her out with the article a couple years ago, so tonight's brief work session was mostly review. For teaching the dogs to pick up a dumbbell or article, I use a clicker. The clicker is used to mark when the dog is doing something right, and each click is followed by a treat. The article starts out on the ground, and at first I click if she touches it at all with her nose or paw. After a couple repetitions, I get pickier, and only click if she touches it with her nose. From there she has to touch the centerpiece of the dumbbell, and then eventually pick it up. The amount of time spent on each step varies dog to dog - Flash likes to pick up and throw things, so with her I got that far really fast. With Tia it took a little longer. The idea with clicker training is for the dog to figure out what you want, and then perform the action to "make" you click and treat.
Queezle already knows that I want her touching the middle of the article with her nose, and now we're working on actually picking it up. She is being very sneaky about it - she has figured out that touching the article with her teeth (and the resulting noise) gets her a treat, so she will just click her teeth on the metal bar and wait there until I click and give her a treat. I'm starting to be stingier with my clicks, and often only clicking if she moves the article with mouthing it. If we work on it a little bit every day, she'll get it very quickly - she loves the game, and gets very excited whenever she sees me pull the clicker out.
As for the other Open exercises, Queezle already has a good foundation. She knows heeling, though that can always use more polish (especially because both the dogs and I are bad and tend to work more on the exercises that we find more fun - like the retrieves!). She already knows the drop on recall, and stays are coming, though we have to work on out of sight stays (where the dog is supposed to hold position even while the handler goes out of the room). Once she has mastered take and hold with the dumbbell, retrieves will be very easy to teach as she loves to play fetch. The broadjump will take a little work though she has seen it in an agility setting. For now Tia is my main focus for obedience, but the Q is off to a good start!
After we put away the clicker and article (much to Queezle's dismay), I came into the living room, which is where my laptop is set up. A little while later I heard my mom in the kitchen say, "Take this to Kate." A minute later Queezle came trotting in and brought me a rubber peppermint dog toy. She was very pleased with herself, and I told her how smart she is and thanked her for the gift. Of course, she then expected me to give it back - I guess we still have some work to do on the theories of sharing and giving.