It’s funny how life can turn on a dime. One moment, one second can change your world. A few months ago I had one of those days and it once again threw everything (including this blog and WorldlyDogs) off course. I was at work when my phone rang; the number identified as my vets. In the past I have spent far too much time communicating with them, having a house full of elderly dogs. But these days it is rare to see them outside of an occasional check up. The call made little sense, no one was due for any vaccinations and I wasn’t waiting on any test results. Turns out it was the office manager reaching out on behalf of an Australian Cattle Dog (ACD) in need of a home. Sheer irony, since that exact day, within the same hour, I had posted on our other blog about the ACD and its cousin the Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog (ASTCD).
Speck, a young 18 month old, had one too many runs in with the local animal shelter. His owner had passed away and his current “keeper” turned him loose on the neighborhood each day. They weren’t asking if I could take him, but rather if I knew anyone that may want to. I didn’t because most of my dog friends are up to their eyebrows in dogs of their own or don’t do rescues. But as she talked, he called out to me, a dog like so many needing a home, and, well, he’s a heeler.
You see, Luna is more ACD than pointer, always has been personality wise. While their backgrounds weren’t the same, it was clear they had both had a rough start. Just like her he needed someone that was willing to give him a second chance. So I told her I would come down and meet him. If I thought I could help I’d return with Luna and if all went well, I’d foster him. Foster him. Famous last words.
It turns out, Luna loved him. So we brought him home and have started on another one of my near infamous dog journeys. Speck transformed into Stark. I wasn’t a fan of him being named for his speckles and I liked a hard ‘K’ to get his attention. The poor guy had forgotten what it was like to interact and bond with his humans and it was hard to get him to focus on a handler. That being said, it’s clear his first owner trained him. He could heel, sit, and shake, down is still rusty. His stay is fantastic, better than any of my other dogs, even out of sight.
However, it hasn’t been the easiest of roads. He and Charlie have not bonded well, there were a few scuffles in the beginning. As an ACD he can be mouthy, and he has to learn that it’s not acceptable. Two months later and I’m still fighting to change that habit. We’ve lessened it, but when he’s over excited he starts to bark and more often or not, those barks are directed at Charlie’s face. Bless that big Husky mix for his patience. Most of the time he turns his head and walks away. Most of the time.
The biggest challenge has been getting his attention once the barking stops (or ideally right before they begin). Once they commence it’s near impossible to draw him away. I’ve learned a few tricks, most of which will get their own post. By far the most successful has been to expand our gather command to huddle. It comprises of me pacing our back yard (thank goodness it’s large) with the dogs around me. Most often Stark takes heel position, Charlie comes up on my right (switch), Ella brings up the rear and Luna plays wingman out to the side. Over time I’d like to tighten it up, maybe bring both of the girls in beside the boys, but for right now it’s all about Stark staying focused on me and not his new brother. Every few paces we stop, gather and start again.
It's a process, slow and steady, but we will get there. We had talked for a while about getting a fourth dog. I wanted a puppy, but was going to wait a few more years. It felt like it was time for me to have a chance to train one right, from the beginning - not to have to spend the energy fixing one someone else had broken. Because all of my dogs are. I love each and every one of them so much and I would never trade them for the world. But they also have little quirks that will always be there.
Life, destiny, whatever you want to call it had a different plan. A different soul that needed my help. Another dog to teach me more than I’d ever thought to learn. I’m excited for this next chapter, this boy will be an amazing at obedience and Trick Dog. Most of all, he’s now part of the family.
One of the most difficult thing about living in a multiple dog household and working full time is finding enough time for one-on-one training. Individual is ideal, but in day-to-day life it isn’t practical. I’m a firm believer in training every day, even if it is only for a few minutes. My personal goal is a few exercises before and after work, but due to time restraints it’s often in a group setting. On the positive side, the group forces your dogs to focus on you and not each other. This can be difficult for them to master, particularly when you are just starting out or when they are puppies.
A normal quick session for my dogs are obedience drills, sit, down, wait, and stay. During some sessions we will deviate and practice tricks instead. On the weekends or days with more time I often do combination.
We started these drills because we have a busy household. At the time our oldest was living at home and she did most of Ella’s original training. This was great, but it also meant that her commands were not as strong as Luna’s. I hadn’t spent as much time with her as I should have, and Ella’s a terrier. She is notorious for choosing when she does and doesn’t want to do something. And she knew just when to pick at Luna and destroy a session. Still does some days. Looking back it's kind of amazing she passed her Canine Good Citizenship on her first try.
This was before Charlie came to live with us, and by then we were up to four. It was time to get the whole pack to focus, even when the distractions were each other. When we started it was all I could do to get everyone to do sit and down in unison. Hell, half the time Ella still wouldn't sit on her own. And forget down. If you didn't have a treat for a lure, it wasn't happening.
It all came down to patience and the little things, both in a group and outside of it. Making everyone sit for their food. They learned that a treat meant work. Now, whether it's their morning dental bone or something small when I come home the sit is automatic 99% of the time. We progressed to downs until all the dogs were firm on the basics, even the monster.
Here's a list of our favorite drills. Feel free to leave your own in the comments, we are always looking for new ones to try!
Call it shake, paw, or pick your own command, teaching your dog to lift their paw for you is a trick staple. It's the one that strangers on the street will ask your dog, “Can you shake?” And wait for your dog’s non-verbal answer. Maybe it’s because we associate shaking hands as etiquette. But whatever the reason, shake is a crowd pleaser. It also leads to dozens of other tricks: wave, high five (or ten), to name the easier ones.
Ironically, shake is one of the few tricks that Luna didn’t seem to ‘get’ for the longest time. I assumed it would be easiest to pick up her paw for her, ‘shake’ it while repeating the command. I figured she would either recognize the word or the hand signal, but she always just looked at me confused. After a while I gave up and moved on to tricks she was more naturally inclined to do.
Turned out I was doing it wrong. Or at least wrong for her. Since then I have found that whenever possible you need to lure your dog into doing whatever it is you are asking of them. While I was attempting to teach her shake I was in fact doing the motion for her. In her mind we were doing the trick as designed, and I guess she’s right.
Ready to give it a try?
Paw is best taught on the ground with your dog in a sitting position in front of you. Take a tasty treat (the tastier the better) and let them watch you put it in a closed fist. Place your hand on the ground just in front of their paws. Your dog will probably sniff at the treat, they may lie down, or even lick your hand. As soon as their paw leaves the ground mark the behavior (such as using the word ‘yes’!), followed by the command (good paw), and then reward them with the treat.
Continue to praise and reward for raising the paw. Transition to holding your hand open, palm up, and shaking before raising your arm to a greater height. Your goal should be chest high for the dog.
Every dog learns this trick at a different pace. Once Luna understood I wanted her paw to touch my hand she was shaking after just a few sessions. Ella still paws at me half the time, and for Charlie it’s one of his favorite tricks.
Already have it mastered?
Try taking shake to a new level. Teach your dog to switch paws. Like humans they have a preference between right and left. Or move your hand away to teach wave, hand forward and towards them for high five.
When teaching additional tricks it is often helpful to use both the new and old command at first. For example, with wave I would call it ‘shake wave’ to encourage the paw lift.
Now for a real challenge explore your own tricks involving paw. Think buttons and switches - even musical instruments.
Have a unique way of using the paw command? Let us know in the comments below.
I promised a few posts ago that we would post more on Trick Dog. Last week Luna and I set out to sign off her Novice, Intermediate, and Advanced titles. To some, it may sound like a rush, but I wanted to get hers finished and off the table so I could move onto Ella and Charlie. Not that it means we’re done, because constant training keeps Luna happy and strengthens our bond.
She completed 20 tricks last Saturday to obtain all three titles. Her wave was a little sketchy...but she had also only learned it that same week. There is still one more title she can earn, Performer, but we have to do a video for that. If I’m going that far with it I want to put a whole sketch together. I’m thinking something musically inclined, as we are working on ‘keys’ with Dad’s keyboard.
As I mentioned before, I want to share the Trick Dog journey with you. But to be honest Luna's is towards the end of that path, so we’ll be focusing more on Charlie and Ella. Not that she won’t still make an appearance now and then, because, well, it’s Luna.
So how do you get started in Trick Dog? A good starting place would be to find a local AKC obedience club. If you don’t have one available or you want to go it alone start by picking up Kyra Sundance’s 101 Dog Tricks. I recommend everyone, whether or not you are interested in Trick Dog, to complete a basic training program. This should include getting your Canine Good Citizen (CGC). Depending on the program you choose and how much training you have done on your own this may take more than one complete class.
I think it's safe to say I'm terrible at this blogging thing. Well over a year since the last time Luna and I have caught up with things here. Charlie had just come home to us!
It's also been over a year since we said goodbye to Boots and while I don't want to rehash her loss again I will add this insert from the post I shared on Facebook the day we let her go:
“She was a wonderful dog, had one of the best temperaments I have ever seen, was sweet, and so smart. Although she only lived in our home for several years many of you know she was part of my family for her entire life (all 15 years). She was one of the last parts of my dad that was still with me.”
For the first time in a long while I am not operating the Doggy Old Folks Home. Even now that feels weird. But at least we aren't at the vet's every month!
Not that we never see Dr. Taylor over at Brookside, because that would make life too easy. Just last week I found a tumor next to Luna's little tail nub that had to be removed. It looks like it's benign and Luna is taking it in stride so I'm doing my best to emulate her and not worry. Hard when you know all the things that might go wrong.
But we have had a lot of good things happen in the last year, too. Both Charlie and Ella passed their Canine Good Citizenship (CGC) on their first attempt. I had someone make the mistake of asking me if that meant they were smarter than Luna - No, they have less issues from their past to work through. Luna can run circles around both of them when it comes to obedience.
Lots of changes on the training front. I’ve been assisting and training puppy classes, making it harder for me to fit in training with my own dogs. At long last we’ve started dipping our toes into rally - I’m sure I have a post around here somewhere talking about how agility was a goal for Luna. We’ve dropped Rally and are getting ready to start a trick dog class in a couple weeks.
Right now life is good… now if I can just find time to write more!
Often, when people ask how many dogs I have they think I’m a little crazy when I tell them three – now they think I’m nuts. Last week we chose to take in a fourth pack member, a husky mix named Charlie.
Charlie lived in a home where he was well loved, but there wasn’t enough time available for his care. He is a high energy dog and without an outlet was over excited and difficult to manage. However, he is also extremely intelligent, quick to learn, and has a wonderful temperament. Recognizing his potential I offered to give him a spot in our home, as long as he and Luna got along.
Luna, being the wild card she is, had me a little nervous about the introduction. However, as it went with Ella, I had little to worry about. The two (and then three of them once Ella joined in) were chasing and playing with each other happily about 15 minutes after Charlie arrived.
Charlie is adapting quickly to life at our house, he acts as if he’s always been part of the pack. He and Ella love to wear each other out, which actually gives Luna and I more of the one on one time she craves. Luckily, he gives Boots the space she needs and has not been overbearing on her at all. The only one having trouble adapting to the extra four paws is the cat.
Back to the craziness of four dogs – it honestly doesn’t feel that much different than three, in some ways it feels even easier. Walking them all at once can be a bit of a challenge, but that’s what having a good strong heel and walk are for. While he is still learning, Luna and Ella on the other hand can be walked together with ease.
As soon as classes start up again this spring Charlie will be heading in with me, his toughest hurdle is going to be learning to focus on his handler rather than all the other dogs he wants to play with. Once we get past that one I doubt there is going to be much this guy can’t do.
Lisa (and Luna)