It’s a wet and chilly spring here at PPaws, and it’s putting a damper on getting those farm projects done! I did manage to attack the overgrown boxwoods by our front door yesterday. The Hosta is grateful…
And in doing so, found my long-lost turtle statue that I have been looking for!
Please note – we have two front doors and two back doors – this is the one on the older part of our pre-Civil War era farm house, and we never use it except to bring our Christmas tree in an out of the house. And when for some reason UPS decides they need to leave a package here instead of where we have asked them numerous times to leave them (at the back door where we might actually find it, or in the training center, if it’s raining. I know one package sat on the front porch for at least a month before I found it!
It’s not just my imagination that it’s exceptionally chilly – last week we had overnight wind chills in the upper 20’s and we were blanketing horses! (And yesterday I just happened to look at an old boarder invoice that I sent out on April 26, 2017 where I had noted that the temperature for the day was 90 degrees…) Ah well, warm weather will get here eventually, and then we can all complain that it’s too hot.
But seriously, our farm flowers are all way behind schedule – the Iris and Peonies are usually in full bloom by now, and they are just buds – but I did find this little wildflower blooming against the chicken coop this morning despite the cold:
I don’t know what they are, but they’re a nice cheery bright spot on a dreary, drizzly day. (My horticulturist trainer-friend Peggy Bowers will probably tell me they are an invasive species… <G>)
I promised to tell you Sunny’s story, so here goes… The winter/spring of 2018 was a particularly difficult one for our family. First we lost our pot-bellied pig, Sturgis, to old-age/kidney failure, and a week later, very unexpectedly, our Cardigan Corgi, Lucy, died of cancer, at age 14.
We were down to just two dogs (Bonnie and Kai) and I turned to my wonderful 13-year-old Scorgidoodle, Bonnie, on the sofa that night and said, “Bonnie, you have to live forever.” Four months later she was diagnosed with cancer also, and a week later, she, too, was gone.
If I thought the house seemed empty with just two dogs – having just one was devastating. It wasn’t long before we were ready, again, for another canine family member. We had to fill the hole in our hearts and in our home. And we discovered how daunting that task could be. Between us, Paul and I had over 60 years’ experience working at shelters, and adopting a new dog has generally been a simple matter of waiting for the right dog to walk through the door of one of our shelters, and into our hearts. Since Paul retired from sheltering in 2008, that was no longer an option for us – we actually had to go out and look. I put the word out on my trainer network. Kira, at Frederick County Animal Control, knew we liked Australian Cattle Dogs, and she told us there was one at the shelter. We went, we liked him – but he was clearly too much dog for Kai, so we regretfully said no. Trainer-friend Beth Joy told me about a very nice German Shepherd that her neighbor was looking to rehome. Since Paul had a German Shepherd when we first met, I thought it was a good prospect – but when I suggested it to him he said, “You have really convinced me of the value of smaller dogs…” so that was a no go, as well.
I went online, looking at rescue sites, but was quite put off by the lies and deceptions. We’d had two prior Pomeranians that we adored, so that breed was on my list of possibles. I found “Pomeranian in a rescue group just 5 miles from you,” on the Internet, but when I contacted the site it said “All our dogs are in foster homes in Alabama. You adopt the dog, pay all the fees, and we have it transported to you.” Not going to happen, ever.
So, in desperation, I checked Craig’s list (private parties, not breeders!). There was a two-day old listing for an 11-month-old male Pomeranian in Hagerstown – 5 miles from us. I contacted the listing, and as I’d feared, when the owner got back to me she said the dog had already been placed. Damn! “Well,” I said, “I’m interested, if it should not work out for some reason.” And I kept looking.
Three days later I decided to check back with the Pom owner. “Well,” she said, “It just so happens that they don’t want to keep him. They are afraid he’s going to kill their cats. And I looked at your website and I’d really love for you to have him…” YES!!! “I’m picking him up from them this afternoon. May I stop by so you can meet him?” YES!!! When she pulled up, parked and got out of her truck, dressed in Mennonite garb, she was holding a 25-pound Pomeranian mix in her arms. We walked into the training center and she set him on the floor. “We have a 5-pound female Pom,” she said. “My 16-year-old daughter wanted to breed her, so we bought this guy as a pup from a breeder in Lancaster. She lost interest, and he got too big, so we thought he’d be better off in a another home. Oh, and she could never get him to walk on a leash, so I had to carry him in here.”
My heart was already melted. He clearly was not all Pom, but he was beautiful. And he was also clearly somewhat fearful. I sat on the floor, and he warmed up to me quickly, but wanted nothing to do with Paul, who was seated on a nearby chair. I cuddled him for a time, we asked some questions, and Paul tried to get him to approach, but the little dog wanted nothing to do with the big man. My heart sank. Paul wouldn’t want a dog who didn’t want him…
Finally the woman looked at the clock on the wall and said, “I have an appointment I need to get to… What do you think?”
I looked at Paul and to my surprise, he nodded. The big-little dog, soon to be named Sunshine Lollipops and Rainbows (You Are My Sunshine, Sundance Kid), was ours. And just like that, he brought sunshine back into my world. (And he was walking on a leash by the next day. And he never killed our cats.)
IT’S ALL TRICKS
I promised to share a few of my favorite tricks for more corona shut-in activities to do with your dog. So here you are, two of my favorites.
First, it’s important to remember that we force-free trainers like to say “It’s all tricks.” Any training is just eliciting and reinforcing behaviors that your dog is physically capable of doing, whether it’s sit, down, or jump through a hoop. It’s just the human brain that classifies some of them as “tricks” and some of them as “serious.” We tend to have more fun when we think we are teaching tricks, so if you think of all the behaviors you want to teach as “tricks,” you and your dog can have more fun together. I like to do a lot of shaping when I train, but you can teach these using any force-free methods you want. If you’re looking to go beyond the everyday “Roll Over, “Sit Pretty and “Shake” tricks, try these:
Say Your Prayers
I taught this to our Scottish Terrier, Dubhy, when we lived in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and while always a crowd pleaser, I have to say it went over particularly well in the Bible Belt.
- Have your dog sit close in front of a stool or bench that is the right height for her – so she can still be seated when her paws are up on the surface of the stool or bench.
- If she already knows “shake” or “paw” give her the cue – and click/treat when she raises a paw. Gradually shape the paw lift so her paw consistently lands on the surface. (You can use your own and as the target for her paw to increase the likelihood of her foot landing on the surface. Now do the same thing with the other paw. (Hopefully you taught her to shake with both paws!)
- Now get her to put one paw on the surface, ask her to stay or wait, and reinforce her for keeping it there while you cue her to life her other paw. Continue until she can keep both paws on the bench – while she is still sitting.
- Or – If she knows “Sit Pretty” – cue her to do that so both paws land on the surface while she is still sitting.
- Alternatively – Have her stand with her paws on the bench, and then lure or shape her to sit while reinforcing her for keeping paws on the bench.
- I add a “Paws Up” cue here, to prompt the part of the “Prayers” behavior, and so I can also use it for other things.
- Now for the hard part – the praying. When she will hold the “paws on the bench” position for at least 5-10 seconds, either start shaping her to put her head between her legs (while keeping her paws on the bench) or lure her head between her legs. If you are going to lure, you will need a treat in each hand – the first to keep her head up (and paws in position) while you position the second between her legs (otherwise she will follow the lure as you move it between her legs and pull her paws off the bench). When the treat is in position between her legs, use your first treat to bring her nose to your second treat, and gradually (over multiple repetitions) bring the second treat lower and lower. When you know you can get her nose between her legs, add the “Say Your Prayers” cue and begin to fade the lure.
Play the Piano
This was my other favorite Dubhy trick – and it also uses the “Paws Up” behavior.
- Have your dog sit on a chair or a bench facing a piano, close enough she can reach it with her paws. (Or have her sit on the ground with a toy keyboard on a stool or bench in front of her.)
- Tell her “Paws Up!” (or go through steps 1-5 above to teach her the Paws Up behavior).
- When she will sit on the chair and keep her paws on the keyboard, start shaping paw movement – first by clicking any paw movement on the keys, then by gradually increasing the duration of paw movement before you click.
And yes, Dubhy could play for 10-15 seconds at a time. He even had a piano-playing TV appearance! And while he never really learned to read music, Paul says he could hear actual meoldies when Dubhy played.
‘Til next time, as always… stay safe and well, my friends. We hope to see many of you back here for classes, consults and academies when things are back up and running!!