|Posted on May 5, 2013 at 1:40 AM||comments ()|
As I came up the stairs from the basement, I caught Spencer gobbling down a sizeable chunk of Parmesan cheese. Not only did he grab that rather expensive prize, but he also found the piece that was already inside the cheese grater. So much for the perfect Caesar salad for supper, and good thing the steak was still in the fridge, or all would have been lost. This is just one of many tasty treats my sneaky counter-surfer has managed to steal.
Perhaps Spencer’s most heart-breaking prize was the pumpkin pie. I only left the kitchen for a few minutes, but apparently that’s all the time it takes to:
1. Discover the pie – although he probably smelled it among the groceries as I turned in the driveway
2. Place one’s enormous hairy muppet paws on the edge of the countertop
3. Reach to the centre of a very large, wide island
4. Pull the pie safely to the floor, no flipping
5. Eat 7/8 of a pie – yes, I had at least gotten one piece
6. Lick the pie plate shiny clean
I can only gain a little satisfaction from the fact he couldn’t open the fridge and top it all off with Cool Whip.
Oh, I’ve tried the cookie sheet traps, balancing noisy items to fall and frighten the thief when the counter is touched by an investigatory paw or nose. I’ve sprayed supposedly noxious smelling liquids on my counter tops in an effort to break the surfing habit. I’ve even used duct tape along the edge of my countertops to grab his hairy mitts. None of those tricks worked, and certainly shaming him had no effect at all. To be fair, once the pie was gone, it simply ceased to exist in Spencer’s mind, and just what was Mom freaking out over?
The trouble is, counter surfing is highly rewarding, and once your dog has figured it out, you may end up with a dedicated surfer. It doesn’t matter if it’s just a quick lick of a frying pan cooling on the stove. That little bit of bacon grease is worth it, in Spencer’s mind. Counter surfing is also quite a common habit for teenage puppies to acquire, for as they become taller, a whole new world opens up for them and it is possible to actually see the source of the tantalizing smells that come from on high in the kitchen.
What to do? For starters, PUT things away! Everything! Even if it seems like the most unappealing item in the world – that includes, for example, a box of instant oatmeal packets. Did you know that each one tastes as icky as the last, but there is no way to know this unless one has chewed open each and every bag and spread the oatmeal around the entire house to taste it? Surely the pack that tasted awful on the rug in front of the door would improve in taste if it were dragged up onto the top of Mom and Dad’s bed. No, not so much.
Secondly, don’t leave the counter surfer alone in the kitchen. Now, this can be tricky, because there is always the moment when you need to run to the pantry or freezer to grab one ingredient you may be missing as you cook. I’ve hit upon a solution, aside from stuffing the entire cooking project inside a cupboard or the oven. Invite the surfer to accompany you to where ever it is you need to go. When there is a BBQed chicken on the counter, this can be a challenge. So that’s when you make the trip worthwhile. Lure the surfer with some pieces of the chicken. Reward and praise every time your dog follows you to the pantry - which, in our house, just happens to be where the dog food is stored, so it’s pretty easy to convince Spencer to accompany me on little errands.
If you want an appropriate behavior to be repeated, reward it. For Spencer, following me out of the kitchen has become a habit because I have taken a moment to hand him a little piece of kibble whenever entering the pantry. This journey has become rewarding, and with repetition and later, intermittent rewards, he follows almost without fail.
While you are present, the command commonly used to remind dogs to keep their paws on the floor is “Off.” Typically, in manners classes, we teach our dogs the word “Off” as we train them to not jump up on humans. This can also be transferred to keeping paws off the counter, or directing a dog to leave the sofa. Spencer does know the command, he’s just clever enough to never give me occasion to use it, since he does not counter-surf when I am in the room – hence the “follow me” lessons. This tactic has enabled him to be more successful in the house, and has led to less disappearance of critical ingredients while cooking.
For more tips and ideas for out-thinking your dog, contact Ministik Hills Dog Training for Basic Manners Classes and/or Private Lessons. Rest assured, the Dogs of Ministik Hills are constantly looking for ways to challenge my abilities to problem solve, and I can share some solutions with you!
|Posted on February 27, 2013 at 2:35 PM||comments ()|
The value of training your dog a solid Drop It became abundantly clear to me a week or so ago. Angus and Spencer were halfway down the driveway, probably engaged in some troublesome activity - since Clancy was barking like a madman at the window from inside the house. Something was up, and I needed to intervene before an unfortunate wildlife encounter occured. Goodness knows, we've spent enough money on "wildlife encounters" in the past to financially assist our local vet in an extensive renovation to his office, should he choose to do so.
The endless Recall work we have done was also apparent, as Angus began the trip back to the house at a run. "How satisfying!" I thought to myself. What a good boy! But, as he drew closer, I realized his pace was hampered by what he was carrying in his mouth. As he got closer, I saw, to my horror, that he was carrying something about the size of a cat. A very large, well fed cat? A brown, glossy coated cat? No, a muskrat. Normally, I can handle the treasures my dogs bring home. A mouse, a garter snake (although that's pushing it), a deer leg... but a muskrat? Very quickly a vivid, long ago memory from childhood sprung to mind, of my mother armed with a broom and holding an overturned metal washtub. Dressed in her very best Sunday coat, wearing my father's rubber boots, and accompanied by our German Shepherd, Mom was battling with a very fiesty muskrat just outside our back door. To this day, I don't recall what became of the muskrat or what my mother hoped to accomplish with the washtub. However, one point was clear in my mind - I did not want a live, angry muskrat on my front porch.
In spite of that memory, what words automatically came out of my mouth? "Drop It... but not here!" Angus did drop the muskrat, and to be fair, we haven't worked on exactly where an object should be dropped. Either the creature was stunned, playing possum or dead, since it did not leap for my throat. The next problem was to convince Angus that he was not bringing his muskrat into the house for a relaxing chew in front of the fire. We negotiated, with Angus repeatedly dropping the muskrat and picking it up, as my goal became to get Angus into the house without the corpse, and his goal was to drag it into the house. Past experience with other treats acquired in the wild told me that I would not be interested in cleaning up, after the muskrat upset his tummy.
How many times have I instructed dog owners to say Drop It and trade for something instead of wrestling the object away from their dog's mouth? And, you can bet there was no way I was touching that muskrat! Many clients complain of sock stealing dogs, or shoes that have been carried across the lawn in a merry chase. What is a person to do? Trade for something better than what the dog has seized in his mouth, of course! But, what on earth would top a dead muskrat, likely acquired after a spirited battle? This was not a prize to be relinquished easily. What could I use to not only get Angus to drop the thing, but come into the house? The smelliest, most lucious temptation... I offered half a can of cat food, and it was no contest! Would this have worked, had we not done a ton of trades in the past? Likely not.
The lesson to be carried from this story? Commands need to be reinforced repeatedly, so that your dog reaches the point where his response to your request is automatic. There should be no time to consider whether or not the muskrat should be dropped. The words Drop It should mean the object is given up without hesitation. Once the vocabulary is in place, and the dog clearly understands the command, pracitise is required to keep the skills fresh.
For more detailed instruction about training your dog the command, Drop It, contact Ministik Hills Dog Training for Group Classes or Private Lessons.