Lyra has made great progress in her play and work skills.
She consistently returns her toys to me – all types of toys including tug toys and stuffie toys.
She knows what play and training are, and she puts herself into drive when we head for the training field. While she will still leave me to sniff or check something out during work, it is becoming much less common. She wants to work, and she stays engaged until I stop.
Now that Lyra has good play skills with toys, I’m working harder at play without toys. Being a typical puppy from a biting breed, she bites me, and she can bite very hard. To get around this, I must go back and forth between play with toys in her mouth, and play with nothing at all. A third option is to go into work when she gets too wound up.
Here is a video showing a typical session. She is “average” biting in the video; some days she is much worse. Others days she is a little sleepy and tired, and then it’s easy to avoid the biting. There is a relationship between how much biting I’m enduring and how much drive is available to channel. Biting isn’t bad; it simply must be channeled into work or play without her teeth. This will take time.
The video shows how I play with Lyra while she holds the toy. Note that my primary focus is on Lyra, not the toy. The purpose of the toy is to keep her mouth occupied – she already has good play skills when the toy is the focus. You’ll also see how I am starting to use work to calm her down and focus her when I start to lose control. I use heeling for our work because she understands it; someday I will have many options for regaining control. When I bring Lyra into heeling, I use my fingers to guide her, but there is neither food nor toys visible – my fingers are simply a target that she has learned to follow. The actual food comes out of my pocket when I click, or the toy comes from behind my back. She does not know when she starts heeling what she might be working for.
I do not get angry when she bites my arm or pants; I quietly stop moving and remove her. Then I quickly try to substitute work. She notices the change in my energy and will learn to respond with time.
Once we master our play skills, a third option of reward becomes possible. She can heel for either food, toys or to play with me. The third option is the one which is most valuable in the ring, and the one that I am working hard to achieve.