Learning to fetch wasn’t Finn’s only surprise for me last night. On our way back to the truck, we walked past a kids playground. These are one of my favourite training places for dogs as there’s so much you can do there. The trick is to go after dark so no one is there, and on a dry day so the equipment is not slippery. That limits when you can train, but they are well worth it if you make the effort. The playground we were at last night was for toddlers, so perfect for puppies. Nothing too high or steep, just enough to get the idea and do the basics.
The first thing I do with all dogs is play ‘where’s da mamma?’ With the dog off leash, I wait until she is not looking. Then I climb a ladder or some other structure the dog couldn’t possibly negotiate, to get up on a platform higher than the dog can jump. I have to make sure to pick one that has stairs or a ramp on the other side, so the dog can easily get to me once she’s put a little thought into the matter. Then I call the dog and let her figure out how to reach me.
The idea is to get the dog to problem solve. This builds both problem solving abilities and the dog’s desire to be with me. It’s also fun – my dogs all love it and get very excited whenever we go to playgrounds. They now beat me to the top of the platform in anticipation!
I played this game with Finn last night for the first time. As he was sniffing around, I climbed onto the platform and called him, at which point he tried to figure out how to get to me. The first thing he tried was to go up the slide. That didn’t work, so he tried a few other ways until he found the steps and ran up them. He got very well rewarded for that! Smart little man.
We played a few other games, and then I climbed back onto the platform to see if he’d remember how to get up there. He did. But what he learned wasn’t what I thought he had learned! I expected him to go around to the far side and climb up the stairs again. Instead, he had obviously learned that the slide was the shortest way to me, just that he would need more momentum to make it up. Without hesitating for one second, he took several huge strides, then raced all the way up the slide and landed in my lap!!!
I was astounded. 5 months old and running UP slides. Sure it was only 4 feet high, but that’s still one mean feat of confidence and coordination for a puppy his age. Finn has never had any surface sensitivities (his breeder did a tremendous job with these puppies) but this was well beyond my expectations. I guess I should have known better considering he takes the direct route OVER the furniture to get to me at home! I am going to have to be careful about what I ask him to do now that I know what he is willing to try. At the same time I am really looking forward – once again – to what Finn and I are going to be able to achieve together.