Target Sticks, Reachers, and Tugs, Oh My!

Cardigan Welsh Corgi Breed Column

It’s never too early to consider how we’d interact with our dogs through temporary, permanent, or progressive changes in our or our dogs’ mobility as a result of temporary setbacks such as surgery, progressive medical conditions including degenerative myelopathy (DM), and age-related changes in ability to “get up and do.”

Rather than present a how-to, I hope sharing some of my pre-emptive strategies in the face of a progressive neuromuscular disease would change the way I approached working with my dogs may help others to initiate some games and training tactics that can be fun for dogs and their humans.

Dogs of any age can enjoy following a target stick and receiving a reward. Though telescoping or folding target sticks have their place, a garden stick with a piece of hot dog stuck on the end is all you need to get started. After a dog gets the idea about following the stick, one can dangle from the end a stuffed-toy carcass rubbed with hot dog or cheese to turn the stick game into a predator-and-prey session.

I’ve found that target-stick games are super while I am in motion, whether on my feet, seated in a chair, or wheeling. Remember that these unstuffed toys can usually be thrown in the wash.

A reacher is handy, too. Trouble bending to pick things off the floor? Prefer to work seated? Arms not long enough? A reacher (or several, in a variety of lengths) may be in your future. I use a reacher in several different ways when I train from a standing or seated position. In addition to retrieving things from the floor, it lets me grab training tool, toys, and treat bags from a table that is at a distance.

Although I could just teach a directed retrieve, we’re having fun playing with a longer reacher to teach a vertically challenged Cardigan corgi to pick an object from the floor and bring it to me. She’s already learned that following an unstuffed carcass dangling from a reacher to put her foot on a touch spot on the floor elicits a reward when she returns to me. So we have the “go out and come back” component. Our next step will be to go to the touch-spot, pick up the unstuffed carcass that I release from the reacher, and bring it back to me for a reward.

This type of short-distance work can be modified in myriad ways. It can be fun for dogs and humans, even for dogs with limited mobility. For dogs who can no longer fetch but might enjoy a gentle game of tug or grab-and-release-for-reward, tug toys are invaluable.

 We’ve been inspired by several friends who have earned rally titles with their dogs while working from scooters and motorized wheelchairs. They’re working with taller dogs, and though it’s somewhat more challenging to work with a vertically “challenged” dog from a motorized chair, I’m finding it doable and fun. There’s now a Facebook page called “Dog Sports for Handlers with Mobility Aids.” All are welcome. —A.A.


First published in the AKC Gazette Digital Edition,September 2015.

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