Thursday, January 17, 2008

In Praise of Training

Sailor here.

Mom and I do a lot of training. We train in the morning. We train at lunch. We train after supper. I love it. We train five minutes here, thirty seconds there, ten seconds someplace else. (That’s in human years and not dog years, either.) I love it. We even go to dog school and train there.

“Mom,” I said, “Some of my doggy friends don’t like dog school and they don’t like training, but I do. Why is that?”

“Sailor,” she answered, “you always want to know why. Why do you think?”

Mom’s good at turning a question into a question. I’d rather have answers.

“Well, “ I said, lying down and crossing my white paw over my sable one. “I get cookies?”

“You don’t always get cookies,” Mom reminded me.

“Hmmmm,” I grumbled in good collie fashion. “Because you tell me how good I am? Because you play games? Because I have Fun with Mom?”

“Yup,” and Mom smiled.

“So, then, how come you’re so good at training if I’m your first dog ever?”

“Well,” Mom said with Reflection and Contemplation, “I am not totally inexperienced. I trained two human puppies before you came to me. And they turned out very well.”

“Did they get cookies, too?”

“Not often, no,” Mom said. “Usually I told them how great they were.”

“Did you tell them all the time like you tell me and thump them on the ribs?” I asked.



Mom laughed. “Instead of thumping, I hugged,” she said. “And I spent a lot of time looking for reasons to tell them how wonderful they were.”

I did the Doggy Grin, smiling and putting my ears back into my frill. I got thumps and they didn’t. I got cookies and they didn’t. And Mom spends a lot of time telling me how wonderful I am.
“Tell me what you did,” I said.

Mom leaned back into her chair. “One day we were driving in the car. The puppies were in the back seat punching each other…”

“They booped each other with their noses?” I asked, amazed. I have never seen humans punch like Zoe and me.

“They punched each other with their fists,” Mom clarified. “Anyway,” she went on, “that day, I asked them how long they could keep their paws to themselves. The minute one of them stopped punching, I thanked him and told him how much I liked seeing that.”

“Did it work?”

“Yup. Now then, imagine if I told you to knock it off and then said nothing else. It wouldn’t be as much fun as telling you that you were good for knocking it off.”

I thought about this. To make sure I understood, I said, “You mean, like when you tell me to LEAVE IT! and then say GoodBoy right afterwards? Like when you say Sit! if I look like I am going down on the LongSitStay, and then say GoodDog right afterwards?”

“Yup. The same. It’s called praise.”

I wagged and crossed my sable paw over my white one. This made sense. I love praise. I love hearing GoodBoy, and Mom says it a lot.

“Did you make human puppy training into a game, too?” I asked, remembering all the fun games Mom and I play.

“Sometimes,” Mom said. “I might ask them how long they could each keep their hands to themselves. If one said One second, the other would say Two seconds, I’d say Ten seconds, and we‘d take turns bidding all the way up to a three or four minutes. By the time we were through bidding and laughing and daring each other, the three or four minutes had already gone by and they were ready to do something else besides punch each other.”

“Then who won?” I asked.

“We all did,” Mom said.

“Then did they get cookies?”

“Not as often as you do,” Mom answered.

I smiled again, glad Mom has learned enough about training to give me cookies.

“Did they ever get in trouble for punching?” I asked. I have learned all about trouble from Zoe.

“Once they wouldn’t stop punching, so I stopped the car and parked, got out and walked off into a field and hid behind a tree,” Mom said.

“The Open Group Exercise, huh?” I said proud that I knew what the Long Out-of-Sight Sit Stay is. “Did they qualify?”

“They panicked,” Mom said. “When I got back into the car, they were as good as golden retrievers.”

“And did you tell them how good they were?” I asked. I understand about panicking when Mom is Out Of Sight during the Open Group Exercises.

“Yup, I’m sure I did,” Mom answered.

“And did you tell them that Mom always comes back?”

“I’m not sure that I did,” Mom answered.

“Big mistake,” I said, yawning with distress. “That’s important to know.” I am still struggling with the Open Group Exercises. But the dumbbell, now, that is another story. I love the dumbbell!

I jumped up. “Come on, Mom, let’s play games now. I want to go outside and play Heel and Halt and Ready, Set, Go! I want to run for my dumbbell and bring it back to you!”

I stood, stretched, and play-bowed. “Come on!”

I leaped across the room and rang the bell on the back door. “Hurry up!” I clacked my teeth together and wagged my tail. I pranced my front feet on the wood floor. “And don’t forget the cookies!”

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