Friday, November 5, 2010

Old dogs and New tricks


When I got Echo, I was still a kid (about 14) with endless energy and time (despite the horses and athletics and netball and oraters and and and...).  Not only that, but Echo was my first pure-bred, competitive dog and the first dog that I started training from puppyhood.  This meant that I spent a lot more time exploring the various aspects of dog training with him.  I competed in obedience, did some informal tracking and even some dancing.  And I tought him endless tricks.  To this day Echo will start going through his entire repertoire the moment he hears a clicker and smells some treats.  He is also the dog that made me realise that Agility was my game and that is all I wanted to do, so subsequently my other dogs never got the benefit of being taught tricks or anything else if it was not related to Agility.

Many people might believe that Delta's screaming is a trick, because no dog could make a sound like that naturally, but I assure you he figured that one out all on his own.

With the new pup coming soon and also taking into account the experience I have gained in the last 13 years since I got Echo as well as the evolution in Agility since I got my last two pups (Chaos and Quake) four years ago, I have decided that I am going back to teaching some tricks.  Added to the excitement and amusment for myself and my dogs, there are the benefits of co-ordination and skill.  So for the last few days I have dedicated one of my training sessions a day to teaching some new tricks to my old dogs.  I actually wish I had surveilance cameras in my house, because I am sure it must be really hilarious.

Echo now a healthy thirteen years old, completely retired for four of them, still loves his tricks (or maybe it is the treats), but since I haven't done ANY formal training with him, he is convinced that he will just earn the treats by performing his entire repertoir.  I am trying to teach him to play dead, but it goes like this...
I down him and try to lure his head around into the'play dead position', which he does, I click and treat and then Echo does 2 full rolls one to each side, gets up, waves at me with both paws, spins left, spins right, backs up about ten paces, runs back jumps over my shoulder, all this while barking like a mad hatter...  All this with not one cue, verbal or physical, which I have to admit is impressive for a such an old boy.  After he has done a routine like that he is ready to listen to me again and try the new trick.  I dont expect him to learn anything more in life, he has already given me more than I could ever ask for.  I am mostly doing it for him, to keep his mind active and give him something to do.  But it is very funny how a dog never forgets.  Echo understands the value and excitement of performing tricks and he makes me laugh.

Delta is a different story, I got Delta when I was in matric, so he spent his puppyhood in the turmoil of me finishing school and starting varsity.  Any spare moments I had (between socializing, studying and stressing for exams), I spent on his agility training.  It is not that I did not want to teach him any tricks, I just didn't consistently have the time to teach him.  His training session starts off with the screaming.  I don't think it is possible to accurately describe Delta's screaming, it is somewhere between a bark, a high-pitched squeel, a whinge, a whine and an actual scream.  And it's LOUD.  So after a minute of waiting for him to stop screaming we can start the actual training.  I am teaching him to wave and I have to say I am impressed that he is picking it up very quickly.  It shouldn't be a surprise, as he is very food driven and very responsive to the clicker, in fact I have added a couple of tricks already. He is now learning how to back up while standing on his back legs and weaving in between my legs.  If it was up to Delta I would reward him, by allowing him to race up and down the property chasing and screaming at the motorbikes (or cars, or cyclists, or joggers, or kids, or dogs, or birds, or helicopters, or aeroplanes...) that pass our property, but of course that is out of the question.

Chaos is probably the biggest challenge of all.  Food?  Food??? Why would I possibly want food woman?  I mean I can see that look in his eye.  Not surprising when you think that I only ever used toys when training Chaos as a pup, combine that with a dog that naturally doesn't eat... and you get a dog that spits out liver bread, chicken, biltong, sausage, raw mince, kibble, cheese or any other from of food.  After some work on his food drive, I have managed to get him to the stage where he will take between five and seven treats in a session before starting to run around like a lunatic looking for a toy (which is quite hilarious considering I never ever let toys lie around).  I had to think carefully to find a trick to teach him first. Chaos hates lying down, he always herds standing up and his downs are generally attrocious, so anything involving that is out for now.  He hates having his legs and feet touched, he has hated that since he was a puppy (a bit better with a lot of desensitisation, but still an issue)... Wow, it always amazes me how many issues my special boy actually has...  Anyhow, since it would strengthen his co-ordination and hindquarters, I decided on teaching him to stand on his back legs.  A difficult feat if you can only do five to seven repetitions a day (for now), but he is deffinitely picking it up very very quickly.  Proud of my little spaz, but I don't think that he will be a 'trick dog', agility is definitely what he was made for.

A few months ago I started teaching Quake to stand on his back legs, and this he has down.  Reminder to self, take a video of that because he is very cute.  So now we are working on a wave.  He is loving tha attention and stimulation, so it has really been a pleasure to work with him.  I can't believe how he has matured the last few months, working full obstacles and short sequences and now learning some tricks... sigh now if only we could get him over his seesaw issue.


Hmmmm... this has even made me contemplate to teach the Madame Nox (maine coon) and Loki (three legged cat who thinks he is part cat, part human and part dog) some more tricks... but then I remembered how much effort it was to teach them the few tricks they had to know for their movie debut.  No I don't think I am that ambitious...

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