Friday, September 24, 2010

Lend me your ears

I'm very careful about Allie's ears. They get infected easily--mainly due to allergies, to which Golden Retrievers are notoriously prone. That's why I feed her raw food from this company, and take care that she consume no grain whatsoever. But I've also learned how important it is to keep her ears clean, so I do the job twice a week, without fail.

I didn't realize until yesterday, though, that I must have been saying the same thing to Allie immediately prior to every cleaning: "Allie, time to clean your ears." Yesterday, however, that realization became very clear, because when I uttered those six words, my Golden girl stopped dead in her tracks, looked right at me, then turned around and began trotting away from me.

I never cease to be amazed at how closely our dogs study us and how much of our language they really do understand. While the apparent vocabulary of one dog, Rico the Border Collie, is truly remarkable, I suspect that many of us would be astounded if we took the time to make a list of the words and phrases our dogs know. Allie's list would include such words and phrases as "breakfast", "dinner," "chewie," "brush" and "cocktail" (don't ask).

As for Allie's antipathy to ear cleanings, I'm hoping that this task will be more palatable if I literally appeal to my puppy-girl's palate. So when I say those not-so-magic (to Allie, anyway) words in the future, I'll have a couple of pieces of venison jerky at the ready. Hopefully, those treats will encourage her compliance beforehand, and will certainly reward her for stoicism afterward.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A confession

(This post also appears on my blog, "The Positively Well-Behaved Dog." I've never before used identical posts for two blogs, but this one's very personal--and also reflects the spirit of the Never Shock a Puppy blog campaign I'm participating in.)

For this week’s post, and in the spirit of the Never Shock a Puppy blogging campaign, I’m going to make a confession. Specifically, if there was ever a day that I might have been tempted to use a choke collar, prong collar, e-collar or otherwise take aversive action with my Golden Retriever, Allie, that day was yesterday.

We were taking a long walk when my normally politely walking Golden girl got an attack of the zoomies. Such “attacks” generally result in her running crazily back and forth, picking up the biggest available stick, inadvertently whacking me on the backs of my legs with that stick and/or attempting to use the leash as a tug toy. I understand why she engages in such behavior: she’s working off excess energy (she hadn’t been for a run for a couple of days) and is also trying to get me to play with her. Most of the time, I can deal with such behavior with total equanimity. She’s seven years old, so I’ve had plenty of time to learn how.

Yesterday, however, was different. I’d had a crown put in at the dentist earlier that morning and by the time Allie and I set out on our walk, the anesthetic had warn off and my jaw was aching. The very thought of needing to deal with Allie’s acrobatics was, shall we say, unwelcome. And I’m only human: just as parents sometimes talk about giving their misbehaving kids a good swift kick (without ever seriously considering following through), at that moment, I was tempted to give Allie a good swift jerk of the leash. Fortunately, I knew I didn’t have to.

I knew that all I had to do was to just stand still—which is exactly what I did.

Just as experts suggest that a person stand still if a dog tries to pull ahead and make like a sled dog on a walk, so is the same non-move a good way to deal with a Golden Retriever’s zoomies. Sure enough, after a minute or two, Allie stopped acting like a crazy girl and settled down. At that point, I quietly asked her to “walk nice.” We then continued on our way, and after a few sedate paces, I gave her a treat. A few more equally sedate paces earned her another treat. We made it home without further incident, and she was dozing next to me under my desk as I typed this post.

I’m glad I didn’t have the equipment that would have allowed me to give in to those aversive impulses. I’m human enough to admit I might have gotten a moment’s satisfaction from ‘teaching her a lesson.’ But I’ve learned enough to realize that in such instances, the best—and certainly most humane—way to respond to a dog’s misbehavior is to not respond at all. Put another way, in order to have a positively well-behaved dog, one has to commit to being a positively well-behaved owner.

Friday, September 3, 2010

A girl and her dog

When I was a kid, I would get annoyed at what felt to me like a proliferation of stories on print and screen about boys and their dogs, but none about girls. I still do. I've always wondered where there are distaff equivalents of TV shows like Lassie and Rin Tin Tin, not to mention books like Jim Kjeergaard's Red series, Eric Knight's Lassie Come-Home, or even Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's Shiloh series.
Because, make no mistake about it, the bond between girls and their dogs are as powerful as those between those dogs and their brothers. I was crazy about the dogs I grew up with. As an adult, that adoration hasn't diminished. When I went off to college, I worried most not about homesickness, whether I'd get good grades or whether I'd make friends (especially the male kind). I worried most about whether our Dachshund, Casey, would remember me when I came home for Thanksgiving. And on many levels, I missed him more than I missed the human members of my family.
Apparently, I've passed that dog craziness to my daughter. Julie and Allie have always been great friends, but the intensity of that bond has grown exponentially since Julie started college three years ago. Julie's heading back to school for her senior year on Sunday--and she's said more than once how she'll miss Allie most of all.
I don't take offense at that. Unlike me, Allie can't respond to Julie's text messages or emails, and she certainly won't be coming with me when I got to visit Julie in Chicago next month. As close as Julie and I are, the mother-daughter relationship still carries a weight of history that is blessedly absent between a girl and her dog. With Allie, everything can be simple. I get that. It was the same for me--and, in fact, still is.
(Pictured above: Julie and Allie)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Not so shocking news

As should be abundantly clear by now, I'm all about training using positive reinforcement. That means I favor giving dogs rewards for when they something right over using aversives to stop dogs from doing something wrong.

Not everyone--including people I admire and respect--agrees with me, though. Many people believe that correcting a dog through the use of aversive devices should be part of a trainer's and/or dog owner's tool box. That's why I've joined a number of other dog bloggers on an 8-week campaign called "Never Shock a Puppy." This campaign aims to raise public awareness of humane alternatives to one such device: the electronic collar.

The electronic collar aims to correct unwanted behavior by delivering a shock that can range in intensity from a mild vibration to a truly painful jolt. The idea, of course, is that the dog will associate the behavior being corrected with getting the shock, and thus refrain from repeating that behavior. Over the next few weeks, my fellow bloggers and I will discuss other, more dog-friendly ways to deal with such behaviors. We'll also keep you posted on social media promotions and a boatload of great prizes associated with the campaign.

In the process, we hope to raise $2,500 for the Humane Society of Boulder Colorado's No-Choke Challenge, which will include lots of media outreach and other events in which the gorup will give away humane training tools to people in the Boulder area who relinquich their electronic, choke or prong collars. The donations will enable the organization to buy about 165 of those humane training tools.

For more info, check out the Never Shock A Puppy website. And, in the meantime, enjoy the above YouTube video of this year's Doritos Super Bowl commerical, which went a long way toward articulating the reasoning behind opposition to electronic collars.