I just got back from a session with Trooper the vizsla in the arena. This is the first time he’s been there since November. He put the “gap time” to great use. He pushed the big ball BETTER than he ever pushed it! He gets up on his hind legs and pushes the ball with his front paws. He activated the EASY button on the pedestal. He rolled out the carpet many times. When I was trying to pick up the toys and roll up the carpet Trooper kept unrolling it.

I had to find a stuffed toy, toss it and send him after it so that I could get the carpet off the arena floor and against the wall.

Have to get a video of Zelador playing soccer with me. He’s “got it”! At first he preferred to hog the ball, pushing it repeatedly with his nose.

He’s gotten over that! He also thought picking the ball up and carrying it was a huge improvement on my rendition of the game. Whenever he picked up the ball he didn’t hear a click and certainly didn’t get a treat. However, when he pushed it with his nose and did not pick it up I clicked/treated AND made a big fuss over how brilliant he is.

I helped Zelador understand “my turn, now it’s your turn”. I did this when he was standing on the pedestal. I held the soccer ball in one hand and said, “My turn”. I touched it with the other hand. Then I held the ball closer to him and said, “Your turn”. He touched it and I told him he was GOOD! Also, more often than not I clicked/treated.

Zelador also figured since he was at liberty with no halter and I didn’t have a wand he could use his considerable bulk to take command of a lot of space around him, increasing his cultural distance and diminishing mine.

Well, THAT wasn’t going to happen. I needed my space and he could have his.

To help Zelador give me my space I “clicked” the clicker the split second he pushed the ball with his nose. At this exact moment his nose was on the ground touching the ball. He was in a position where he wasn’t crowding me because I’d kicked the ball and as he and I approached it I maintained a safe distance from him. The sound of the click stopped him in his tracks. I then gave him a treat, BUT if he moved into my space with his neck and head I asked him to reposition himself away from me and stand quietly and politely. I used one of several games to help him including the big smile, head front and pretty face (pretty face is the “dressage pose” with the horse’s head “on the bit”). Once Zelador was positioned at a safe distance the word “wait” became really important. He’s heard the word before, but now he needed to understand that “wait” had a safety component…he needed to stand still so that I could safely kick the ball without a horse getting excited about the ball movement, dashing after the ball and bashing into me.

Slowly, carefully and always with a positive teaching approach Zelador learned to “wait” after he pushed the ball. We practiced “wait” in the stall, going to and from the paddock, going to and from the arena and in the arena at liberty. I’d say “wait” and once he was perfectly stationary I’d move away, sometimes in front of him, sometimes all the way around him. I even introduced quick stops. That was a challenge for Zelador. With the help of the clicker he really enjoyed these unexpected stops. Meanwhile, back in the arena…when he was standing still I kicked the ball further down the wall so he could have “his turn”.

Now I need to help him figure out how to push the ball to me. Quite often he’s able to push the ball to a specific person when there are two people playing with him. With two people I stay near Zelador and the other person positions him/herself a few metres in front of Zelador and a metre or two off the wall. We also need to get a net for Zelador to score a goal!