It’s For The Dogs

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time with a dog.

Our last dog was practically perfect. She came when called, didn’t cause trouble, and was always there with us, happy to hang around. She was also somewhat neurotic, especially when it came to food. It worried her greatly if there were people involved when she was eating and she was very picky about what she would eat.

So we didn’t do much training.

This new dog is a huge puppy. She’s friendly and enthusiastic. Her nose is right at table height and her mouth is large, wet, and she likes to greet people with it. She’ll happily eat anything that gets close enough to reach with no shyness or worry.

She needs lots of training!

I know and love horse training. The basics of training dogs and horses are the same. I hear the gasps and denial already from more traditional trainers. No, I’m not going to round pen a dog. But when training with food all species learn the same, and even plants which opens up new and interesting thoughts and ideas of what is ‘alive’ and what isn’t but I digress.

While the basics are the same the devil is in the details. It’s been fun these last couple of weeks figuring out some of those details.

Some are very simple.

We don’t want her bagging at the table. So we ignore her. Letting our elbows absorb the wetness of that ever exploring mouth, protecting food and plates by blocking her access. Then when she gives up and lays down at the door I rush to reward her. The whole family gets in on it, pointing out that she should be getting a treat if I’m late or running to feed her themselves. It’s fun and no punishment is involved. Already, within the first couple of days, she will make a lap around the table then go lay down to wait.

So much faster and more effective than some of the methods I’ve seen, like squirting them in the face with a spray bottle. The funniest was when one person was feeding from the table, while the other squirted feeder and dog with the spray bottle. Obviously nothing was learned there.

A more difficult and subtle learning is teaching her to please only walk on my right side.

I have a bad knee. It tends to dislocate. A really fun thing where I get to reach down and push the knee cap back into place, which is as sickening a thought as an actual undertaking. This new dog has bumped into that knee and knocked it out. It wasn’t on purpose, obviously. and she wasn’t doing anything bad. She’s just big and playful.

In order to avoid more of this we’re working on keeping her to the other side.

She isn’t on a leash so there is no holding her on that side. Instead I carry something in my left hand. Not to hit her with but if something is swinging around there blocking her way we’re setting it up to be easier to come up to me on the other side. I also try to avoid petting her when she’s on the left side. Small things to start to form a habit.

This is a learning process, and a fun one. I can’t wait to see what we can accomplish together. Hopefully she will learn some tricks. But that foundation is the important thing as we’ll get that down so she can be a good member of society, the most important thing in horses too. Then we’ll add that extra frosting of tricks.

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