Tuesday, August 26, 2008

the power of cheese

Once, a long time ago, when geekydog and the cats were my only dependents I tried to become an expert dog trainer. Geekydog was obtained from an animal shelter, 9 months old, loving and willing but completely wild and untrained. I read books, watched DVDs and took classes. It was a lot of fun.

Geekydog will do anything for a food reward, so after obtaining her many diplomas, she can now sit, heel on both sides, drop into a down 40 paces away from me in response to a hand signal and even execute a series of jumps and run through a tunnel on an agility course. What she won't do is reliably come back when she is called. The fact that I have failed to train her in this most basic and important command has led to some heart stopping moments.

A year or so ago, realizing that something about her chow chow genes, my lack of dog training chops, and the lack of time to even attempt to train her any more made it unlikely we would ever truly master this skill, I bought one last DVD. 'Really reliable Recall'. The principle behind this is quite simple. You know how your dog will come running when she hears the kibble being poured, or in our case when she sees the cheese grater being pulled out of the drawer (maybe it will rain cheese again!)? What this trainer has you do is create a reflex response like that to a word. You pick a word you don't already use as a command (we picked 'Now') and when you say it, your dog gets the best treats and love you can bestow. You treat your dog like she has just been swept from the jaws of death every time you say this magic word. And you rarely ever use it as an actual command, that way you don't dilute its power.

Yesterday afternoon we had a series of events that could have led to disaster. One of the guys working on our yard project came in to use the bathroom and left the french door unlatched. Orangegeek the cat miaowed at his friend Geekydog, who nosed the door open. The doors through the garage to the street were open, since the garden guys were bringing in plants, and Geekydog bolted off for the freedom of the street, completely out of sight in a moment. I called 'Now', and after a tense few seconds I heard the jingle of her collar as she bolted back through the garage and into the kitchen. Where I fed her about a pound of smoked gouda, and locked the door.

1 comment:

followthatdog said...

Our dog trainer used "Treat Party" in a high squeeky voice and then showered the dog with yummy treats. She'd spring it on the dog only when she had tons of yummy stuff to treat with, and only when she knew the dog would respond. Luckily for us, Dashiell is good with recall, genetic I guess. Unluckily for us, Nikita has never been a treat oriented dog.

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