I know it often appears that I am completely obsessed with the dog, but that’s only because I am completely obsessed with the dog. And by that, of course, I mean that the dog is a convenient focal point in a world filled with plenty of less pleasant things to do than get your face licked.
[True story: One of my clients sent me some paperwork about a month ago, and I put it on my desk, and then I put other stuff on my desk on top of it, and pretty soon I totally forgot that it was there. A couple of days ago I got a call from their accounting department, and as soon as the caller announced who she was, I died a little on the inside because I realized what I’d done.
“Is there a problem with the paperwork?” she asked.
“Yes,” I replied, too tired and embarrassed to lie. “The problem is that it ended up at the bottom of this stack here on my desk. I’m so sorry. I’ll take care of it today.”
“Oh, well then,” she replied, “Move it to the top! Problem solved!” Patient folks with intact senses of humor: I salute you.]
The fact of the matter is that I pride myself on professionalism, and things like that make me want to punch myself in the face.
And then there’s the rest of life, of course, and the lunches to be packed and the the children to be dispatched and the husband to be… ummm… well, life is busy. And I have a tendency to dwell on the less-than-ideal, so having a dog has been, for me, an exercise in learning to live in the moment.
Which, really, is kind of lovely. Except when I forget about paperwork on my desk, or whatever.
In the midst of everything else, I’ve found unparalleled joy in teaching things to the dog. Despite my previous reporting that she pretty much either gets it right away or gives up, Licorice is coming around on this whole training thing. I think it’s the clickers we’re using in class.
The clicker, if you don’t know, is exactly what it sounds like—a little device that you can press and emits a nice loud CLICK-CLICK sound. First we clicked every time the dogs ate a treat we’d put down, then we clicked every time they returned to us, and eventually we started clicking to signal approval of various behaviors, following the click with a treat.
Operant conditioning is a magical thing, man. I get out that clicker and Licorice becomes one of Pavlov’s dogs. I’m not even giving her the good treats; I’m using her regular kibble. And yet, at the first click, she’s my bitch.
[The Dog Emailer prefers male dogs. She says they’re easier to train, and there’s a reason the females are called bitches. That may be true, but for those of us who don’t get out much, there’s a certain fun in declaring “SHE’S MY BITCH” and being technically correct. Ha.]
We have progressed from knowing “sit” and refusing to do anything else to performing well on sit, down, paw, and stay. This is because Licorice is a GENIUS amongst dogs. Or that the clicker is magic. Or maybe just because she’s hungry. Whatever.
The best thing in the world, though, is watching her trying to get ahead of me. I will often get into a pattern while we’re working with the clicker; maybe I’ll call her to come, then signal for her to sit, reward her, signal for her to lie down, reward her, signal for her paw, reward her, and then move off a little bit and start over again. As I see her anticipating, I try to mix it up. I’ll ask for her paw twice in a row. Or I’ll keep moving around and just having her sit. She’s pretty smart (GENIUS!) so generally she can handle it.
But there’s always that moment when you can see the excitement and stress of it all just overload the teeny circuits in her brain. And that moment is… nothing short of hilarious.
I’ll call her and signal a command, and she’ll just… try to do everything at once, just to make sure all of the bases are covered. She’ll come to me, melt boneless to the floor, paw at me, leap up and sit, lift her paws again, fall over, and keep flailing around as I laugh at her.
I like to call it an Obedience Seizure.
I’m not sure we’ll get extra points for it in class, but it’s providing a lot of entertainment for us here at home….