Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Games malinois play

This is a tough time of the year to train if you don't have your own training building or live nearby a building.

It's dark by 5 p.m. so when I get home at 4:30, it's a mad scramble to let the dogs outside to play and do the eternal poop pick-up. Then it's back indoors for the rest of the evening. Jamie is content to snooze on the couch but Phoenix sees the evening hours as time to take advantage of the humans' end-of-the-day stupor by ricocheting off walls and furniture.

Even though this winter has been bizarrely, weirdly warm and the lone 1/2 inch snowfall we got back in December is long gone, training outdoors is still generally out of the question. Thirty-five degrees may be bizarrely, weirdly above average but it's still COLD. It's hard to concentrate on what I'm doing when my nose is dripping and my fingers are too numb for proper cookie delivery or tug-holding. (Phoenix loves it when I intend to deliver one cookie but end up giving him six because I have no feeling in my fingertips. He thinks we should train outside ALL the time.)

Still, the Upper Midwestern native part of my brain that keeps screaming "It's WARM outside, go outside and do something with Phoenix so he's not climbing the walls later" insists we take advantage of this odd climate change for fear that the other shoe will soon drop and we'll get 12 inches of snow which will put us into hibernation mode until April.

So we've been going outside and playing games in those last few precious moments of sunshine at the end of the day.

Hide and seek is becoming a favorite game and I discovered it by accident.

Phoenix loves to go crittering (sniffing, hunting, trying to find things that do not want to be found). He is truly a vermin dog. Fortunately most of the vermin we have around our place are limited to the small and fairly harmless variety, although raccoons, groundhogs and skunks are not out of the question.

In the past, his vermin OCD has prevented him from even acknowledging I exist, let alone actually coming when he's called more than once so I finally decided to stop managing it and start resolving it.

I put him on a 40-foot tracking line and outside we went. We did a few recalls in "safe" places where success was practically guaranteed.

Then we walked down the lane toward the field west of the house. Now we were in Critter Territory. Phoenix was sure there were critters in the fenceline, critters hiding behind bales of hay, critters living in the trees, critters hiding in the old shed, critters hiding in the new shed, critters everywhere!

Again, we did recalls where I was A) sure he could see and hear me and B) sure he was not so over-threshold on critter hunting that he couldn't respond. Yay - success! And yes, he was getting a treat when he came to me but I think the bigger reward for him was that I released him immediately to go back to doing what he wanted to do - hunt critters.

My own laziness led to a natural progression of this game. When he disappeared out of sight around a big hay bale or around the corner of the building, instead of running to keep him in sight, I stood my ground and called him. Since he was on the line, I had 40-foot of bright blue nylon to watch and if trouble was brewing, I could put a stop to it.

As this went well, I let him "disappear," then I disappeared and called him. He had to actively hunt to find me. Apparently this was great fun.

The next step was letting him trot off to do his thing, then quietly fading from his sight line and hiding. I was surprised how quickly he abandoned his critter hunt and came to find me when he realized I wasn't nearby.

This is HUGE for us! It's reassuring to think maybe my dog is starting to put a higher priority on me and my whereabouts than chipmunk or rabbit. I wish I'd played games like this with him when he was a baby and not waited until he was 5. Oh well, live and learn.

He was tired when we went back in the house.

That lasted for about 15 minutes.

Is it spring yet?


  1. Sounds like a really fun game- I might have to steal the idea and play it with my dogs (though the trick is more sneaking away without them noticing me)

  2. This is a game we played when I lived in the frozen north.

    Stand on back porch wearing old electric blanket, plugged into extension cord fed thru kitchen window.

    Throw bumper as far as possible for fetch freak dog.

    Repeat until someone is exhausted.

  3. I've tried playing this with my anxious Poodle but he loses his mind when he thinks he's lost me and is liable to get himself into trouble as he runs blindly looking for me. Though I'll admit that 18 degree weather scares the crap out of me and I've been skimping on his runs.

  4. I tried that one with Jazz. He went off on his own. He was fairly glad to see me when I came back, but not particularly worried about me when I was gone. *sigh* Coach is impossible to sneak away from. He is way too nosy to miss anything I do! Possible I overcorrected from one dog to the next? Maybe they're just that different? Who knows?

  5. Foster puppies are great for keeping your high energy dog entertained. I could help you find one if you want...