Saturday, September 21, 2013

New Toy For The Alpacas: The best $4 Investment

Carrots in the dog toy

Walking down the aisle of the grocery store the other day, I came across this dog toy.  A flash of inspiration hit me.  Those holes are the perfect size to put carrots in them and I can hang it on the fence and let the alpacas have fun trying to get the carrots out of the toy.  It will be a carrot puzzle!  It wasn't very expensive and I figured if it didn't work at all, the dogs would get a new toy.  I tossed it in my cart and picked up more carrots to go home with and try my experiment.

Olivier, Calvin and Mowgli like this new toy!

As you can see from the above picture, the dogs are not going to enjoy this toy!  It was a hit.  What is great about it now, is that I see the boys going over to the toy without carrots and still nibbling at it and trying to figure out where the carrots are.  They have some mental stimulation and something to do whether there are carrots in there or not.

I love when one idea leads to more ideas.  After feeding the gang the other night, I saw Olivier hanging out near the toy.  I had a little bit of pellets left in my bucket and I had the idea of trying to teach the boys to touch the toy with their noses.  I went in with my bucket.  I didn't have my clicker handy but I used my tongue to make the click noise instead.  I lured Olivier to the toy with a handful of pellets so he would touch the toy to get to the pellets.  I clicked my tongue and gave him a few pellets.  Calvin saw what was going on and I lured him over and did the same.  As one chewed, the other came over to touch the toy.  Calvin caught on quickly and would bounce the toy he was so eager to touch it.  Both boys were having a blast touching the toy and they were catching on quickly.  Mowgli came over too and I tried teaching all three the game.  It was a bit crowded to get a good position for all three so Mowgli had to wait a bit which was good training for him in learning patience.   I spent no more than 5 minutes with them playing the game and ended before they got tired of it.  I still had a few more chores to get done and it was starting to get dark.  As I finished the remaining chores, I walked past the boys and noticed that Mowgli and Olivier were still standing at the toy staring at it.  I burst out laughing because they looked as if they were still waiting to see how the magic pellets would come out of it.  That game was a hit!

Last night, I worked with Olivier more on the touching the toy game.  The others were still in the stall so it was just the two of us.  I was able to be more patient with my lures to see if he could figure it out without luring.  It wasn't but a few clicks that I saw the light bulb go off in his head and he knew what I was asking him to do and he started to consistently touch the toy with his nose when asked to touch it.  I didn't need to lure him anymore.  He knew touching the toy meant click and treat.  More ideas of how I could use this simple toy floated in my mind.  I can send the boys to touching the toy.  I'm standing at the toy for now, but once they learn the cue, I can start moving further away.  The benefits of teaching them to go touch a target from a distance is immeasurable.  If training to load in the car or transport, you could hang the toy in there and teach them to go touch the toy which is something they know and enjoy doing.  It's a game so going into something scary or different may be lessened because of knowing this game.  The toy becomes the lure instead of the pellets.  For catching, if I have a toy hanging where I like to catch them, I can send them to the toy and target to stand.  I'm sure there are lots of other ideas this can be so beneficial but haven't thought of them all yet.  Best of all, it is something they enjoy doing and giving the boys some mental stimulation helps reduce negative behaviors.  If they are bored, the fighting and other undesirable behavior tend to pop up. 

My $4 dog toy investment was well worth it!  The boys and I are having a blast and we are learning new things that will make life easier on the farm.  If something will do that, I will spend $4 any day!

Hanging the toy so it bounces make it more a challenge.

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