At some point earlier this year, I mentioned our summer project: teaching Chico to carry a small marketing basket around the Farmers Market. I started by getting him to hold the basket in his mouth, and clicking and treating that. I knew he had the idea when he started to pick up the basket and shake it in front of me when he wanted an extra after dinner cookie. At that point I started delaying the treat so he had to hold it longer and longer to get a treat. When Mila was visiting, one evening she picked up the basket and asked him if he could “take it to your momma” and he did. We did that a few times, but he couldn’t take it back to her. But he did have the idea that he could carry the basket somewhere. We started walking around the house, then the yard, with Chico carrying the basket. Time to ‘take it on the road,’ so I thought I’d take the basket to the Farmers Market and see if he was ready to do it with that many distractions. We stopped at the transfer station and Chico was able to carry his basket across the parking lot to the man who runs the place for the town*.
At the market, there was too much going on, too many distractions – smells, crumbs on the ground, other dogs – basket carrying was off the agenda.
So I took the basket to agility class on Monday nights. Over a period of weeks, Chico became willing to carry the basket around the arena. Then came the night where he looked at me, as if to say, “You want me to carry the basket, I want to do agility, so, I’ll carry the basket while I do agility, OK?” He picked up his basket, left my side and darted into the opening of the closest obstacle – the chute (picture here). Cute as that was, it seemed a bit dangerous – if Chico tripped on or got the basket caught in the floppy part of the chute he could get all tangled up and end up hurt or develop a fear of the chute. So we went over near the weave poles and he started to do the weaves with the basket in his mouth. As they say, OMG, ROFL – Chico was basket weaving!
Luckily, I was able to get a classmate to capture the behavior on camera:
It isn’t the goal behavior, but it is one Chico made up all on his own and (pardon me for being proud of him) it is cute as all get out, I get a huge kick out of it.
It’s the height of ‘visitors from out of town’ season and the Farmers Market is packed from the opening bell. Given the swollen crowds and hot temperatures (Chico doesn’t need to go stand on hot pavement), I’m pretty sure we won’t do much basket on the market work for the next couple or three weeks. But we’re going to a trial today, at American K9 country, a place Chico knows well, so I’ll take the basket and see if he can concentrate enough to carry it around.
*Glenn Johnson, whose title is something like transfer agent and I think of as ‘the dump master,’ is a dog fan. He recognizes how far Chico has come and he’s a fan. When my car pulls in, he stops what he’s doing and goes to get a biscuit for Chico. I’m to understand that Chico isn’t the only dog who has Glenn well trained, there are several other vehicles that prompt the same response. Glenn knows he’s highly trainable and is a good sport about it.