Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Night Maneuvers

A few months ago, when it was still icy and snowy out (read: not good walking the dog weather), I bought a laser pointer.  We'd used one to play with the cats at home, this one was four bucks, I figured I would give it a shot with Elka.  Really, you don't need much excuse to buy a cheap laser pointer; it even included the batteries.

Chasing the laser pointer has provided Elka with a lot of good clean indoor winter fun.  We have few rules for the "laser pointer game": 1. You don't stare at the laser pointer, even though you know that little red thing on the floor is coming from my hand  2. you don't grab at the laser pointer in my hand 3. you don't trample me.

Bite inhibition training was actually rather easy with Elka; stomping-on-people inhibition has been a lot more difficult.  She typically does it when too revved up to think, and so it's hard to remind her that her feet hurt as well as her mouth.  

It's dark when I get home from work, and tonight was no exception.  Elka and I went for a walk before work, for an hour and fifteen minutes, but she greeted me with a lot of waggling and general energy, and I had an epiphany.  Why not take the laser pointer out back and have her chase it in the dark?  I told Elka to go to the back door, a cue that always produces great excitement, grabbed the laser pointer, and outside we went.  

Whenever we go out in the backyard, Elka does a funny stiff-legged hop-run from the stairs to the middle of the back yard, and whips around to look at me.  Frequently, I'll throw a tennis ball from here, or her frisbee.  Tonight, I clicked on the laser pointer.

To my delight, and hers, Elka galloped in fantastic loop-de-loops around the yard for five minutes or so, pouncing after the laser, play bowing at it, and having a general fantastic time.  This is the point at which I realized taking a picture of a black dog in an ill-lit backyard would not quite rock the blogosphere.

You can see the red dot, anyway.  If you look just right of center.

The laser chasing was short lived anyway, as Elka found a tennis ball in a corner of the yard.  Throwing tennis balls around is something that we can do day or night, though with the tennis ball "game", far more foot stompings occur.  During the day, Elka finds tennis balls largely by sight.  One can be five feet from her, in tall grass, and she won't see it and thus won't locate it without guidance.  At night, though, she's actually forced to use her nose, and finds them like a champ.  This is a good thing, as my night vision is not as good as a dog's, and once the tennis ball is properly slobbered and muddied up enough, I have a hard time finding it if the handoff is less than stellar, and the ball hits the ground.  "Find it" is a cue that I give to Elka pretty frequently, if we're playing tennis balls at night, and unless the ball has gone outside the perimeter, she's able to retrieve it readily.

"Drop it" is also showcased, and I tend to also touch Elka's collar or neck when she sprints back with a ball on the retrieve, so that she slows down a bit and remembers that it's my hand involved with her mouth to get that ball.  If she gets too excited, and I feel teeth, the game is over.  Which is unfortunate, and doesn't happen too frequently, but she does know how to be careful, and needs to maintain that even when excited.

I also periodically interrupt the game to put her leash on and return to the back door.  After we get there and I have her sit, I unclip the leash and release Elka to the yard again.  This helps both on her Recall, and also to focus her a little bit when she's all wound up in the ball game.  Once the final ball has been thrown and we go inside for real, Elka stands and stays while I towel the dirt off of her paws.  She then walks around panting and laying down places, only to get up and reposition, for the next twenty minutes or so, looking in general dazed with happiness.

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