Click for furry distraction

By Mir
October 17, 2009

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….


  1. Nicki

    There’s something to be said for a little harmless entertainment. I’m so thrilled that Licorice has become a comfort to you in an often too busy world. And being cherished by your family is probably the best thing to ever happen to her.

  2. Kim

    LOL! Obedience seizure ~ brilliant!

    Our female dog was MUCH easier to train than our male has been. And our male is much smarter than our female was. Correlation? I wonder….

    Go, Licorice!

  3. Half Assed Kitchen

    Could i use a clicker like that on my kids? Click-click, time to brush teeth. Click-click, dinner’s on. Click-click, leave mommy the heck alone for five minutes.

  4. The Other Leanne

    Many years ago, my Dobie was the same way. I’d hold that Milk-Bone in my hand and it was a ballet of sit-shake-liedown-hug me! Every dog should come with a sign that says “Will work for food.”
    Obviously, Licorice is a genius. A hungry little genius.

  5. pam

    Pictures of the puppy please.

  6. Heather

    I wish everyone in my life could be so well trained ;)

  7. andi

    @Half Assed Kitchen – that is hilarious! Please let me know if it works! ha ha

  8. annette

    I would pay ALOT of money if it would work on kids! Next, we could have one that worked on annoying people in general. Like the guy that almost t-boned me in the parking lot. Then he yelled at ME for being on my phone! Forget that I had the right of way. And he was speeding around a building, going through a drive thru. And I saw HIM. And I honked my horn to alert HIM. Clearly, I was the one not paying attention. Click, Click.

  9. karen

    Must post video!….

  10. Anna Marie

    So sweet. I love your dog. =)

  11. Tam

    You make me want a dog. Not good, since we managed to acquire three cats in a year – none of which particularly like the furry type. I wonder if the clicker would work on the cats? Even better? The husband??

  12. Brigitte

    Ooh, clickers on husbands and children! So much more humane than my remote-controlled, surgically-implanted electrical zapper idea. ;-D

  13. Susan

    The Obedience Seizure never fails to entertain. We are years past the training stage, but Fenway will still randomly try to give us his paw after sitting on command. It’s one of my favotite things about him.

  14. feefifoto

    My dog does the exact same thing, throwing out everything she knows in random order in the ope that something eventually will stick.

  15. radioactivetori

    I am cracking up because our puppy does exactly the same things. At least now I have a name for it! Obedience Seizure is genius!

  16. dad

    Lest you think my grand-dog is the only pea in the pod to ever behave this way, I have suffered from Obedience Seizure Syndrome most of my life. It’s a natural phenomena in those of us that just don’t know.
    Licorice is a genius, and if not, at least we all get some laughs.

    p.s. That Brigitte is dangerous.

  17. MomCat

    Brigitte, you need a patent!

  18. Dawn

    HA! My Beagle does that as well.

    Brigitte is a genius.

  19. Shauna

    Dogs ROCK! Sure, a good 40% of the time they make you want to pull your hair out/turn them into purses/cry… but OH when they fall asleep on your lap & sleepily wag their tails when they see you in the morning… awwwwww :)

  20. Karate Mom

    I love the Obedience Seizure! Our old poodle, JoJo, was taught sit, down, and speak in that order (in about 10 minutes, I might add. I think he was a genius, too!) and for the rest of his 13 years of life, you’d tell him to sit and he’d do all three.
    Dogs are magic, I believe, in their ability to make things great! (OK, that sentence was completely weird. But I’m leaving it anyway!)

  21. Katie in MA

    Dude. I wonder if The Clicker would work on my girls… Obedience seizures sound pretty lovely (and hilarious)!

  22. mama speak

    The distraction of a pet, who pretty much just brings the fun, is exactly why they are so wonderful. (And huge stress relievers.)

  23. Erin

    My dog does the same thing when we get out the really good treats. We’ll tell him to lie down and he’ll sit, boogie (turn around in a circle – we’re so clever), lay down, and roll over all in one big frenzy. We’re pretty sure he’d turn white if he could. And that would be hard, since he’s a black dog.

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