Denver - August 1, 2013
WOOF! Name's Lucky, I'm a six-month old Bernese Mountain Dog, and I'm filling in for Jeb this week. He's spending a week with his Auntie Pat because I'm at his house. Let me explain.
My family is on vacation and rather than board me, they arranged for me to stay with Marianne and John.
"Ooooh goodie, a vacation for me!" I thought. "I can play with Meryl and Mina and the kitties! I won't have to sleep in a crate and I can run amok in the house. What fun!"
Wrong on so many levels.
First of all, Mina doesn't play. In fact, she's an old grump who snaps at me every chance she gets. Jeez, all I have to do is walk near her and she's telling me off. Her personal space bubble is Very, VERY Large. So, I've learned to avoid Mina.
Second, Meryl isn't crazy about my style of play. I like to turn into a Whirling Dervish Wombat and growl and try to pounce on her. Meryl doesn't appreciate this and instead of playing with me, she asks to be let back into the house. She's a party pooper of the first degree.
Third, the kitties don't like it when I chase them. Marianne tells me I can sniff and nuzzle them, but chasing is a no-no. So……BORING.
Fourth, (who knew I could count this high?) running amok in the house is Not Allowed. *sigh*
Fifth, I DO have to sleep in a crate! Oh, the indignity! And I'm expected to be quiet until at least 5:30AM. Dog, these people are annoying. But I've learned that whining earlier than 5:30 only earns me a stern "Lucky, NO." So I wait until the tick of 5:30 before I ask to be let out. *SIGH*
And finally, not only do I have to sleep in the crate, but Marianne brought her friend Jessica over to teach us how to play "Crate Games."
At first I was excited. "I LOVE games!" I said. "Will there be running and giggling, like when I play games with the kids in my family?"
Marianne gave me a funny smile and said nothing. Uh-oh. I had a bad feeling.
When Jessica arrived she admired and petted me while Marianne chopped cheese into tiny little pieces. "It needs to be a really high value treat," Jessica said. I drooled a little. Cheese is most certainly high value.
Then the two of them took me into the bedroom and shut the door in the faces of Meryl and Mina, who stood outside whining. I had a REALLY bad feeling about this. Jessica snapped on my leash and told Marianne not to talk to me and just watch. She went and stood by the crate with the bowl of cheese. I eagerly ran over to her, hoping for a piece of cheese. She stood on my leash, which confused me. I pulled back. No one said a word. I sat down. The humans were silent. I thought about it. What was going on? What was I supposed to do to get a piece of that yummy cheese?
After a time I lay down and shut my eyes for a snooze. Jessica picked up my leash and walked me once around the room and back to the crate. We stopped and Jessica stood on my leash again, preventing me from walking away. I could tell there was something I was supposed to do, but the humans weren't giving me any hints. I stood up and took a step toward the crate.
"Yes!" Jessica exclaimed. OK, good, but no cheese. Hmmmm. I walked into the crate. "YES!" Jessica said in a high, happy voice while she reached behind me with several pieces of cheese, which I gulped down.
"Why are you feeding him the cheese so far in back of the crate?" Marianne wondered.
"Because we want him to sit in the very back and learn to not bolt out the front," Jessica replied.
"Ah," Marianne nodded. "Makes sense."
I stood up. Nothing happened. I sat down and Jessica said "Good!" and gave me more cheese, again reaching behind me. Then she shut and locked the door of the crate.
"HEY!" I protested and stood up. No response from the humans. I stood there for a couple minutes, willing the door to open. Nothing happened. I sat down in frustration and Jessica said "YES!" and fed me some cheese through the wire in the back of the crate.
This went on ENDLESSLY, but I finally figured out what was wanted of me: in order to get cheese, I had to sit or lie down in the back of the crate. If Jessica rattled the door and I stood up, nothing happened. If I sat down, CHEESE! If she opened the door and I stood up, the door was quickly shut. If she opened the door and I didn't break my sit, MORE CHEESE! While this wasn’t the best game I'd ever played, the cheese was worth the effort.
When I was allowed out of the crate with the word "Release!" nothing more was said but when I went back in, I got lots of praise and cheese.
We've played this game several more times each day. Last night Marianne used chicken, which is even yummier than cheese. I've figured out that the humans want me to happily trot into the crate on my own and sit or lie down. If the door is opened I'm not supposed to move until I'm given permission to go out. Fine, whatever. I'm happy to play for chicken or cheese snacks.
We also have been playing a game Jessica taught us called "It's your choice." Jessica put a lot of cheese cubes in her hand and held it out to me. When I leaned forward to grab some, she shut her hand. I nuzzled it and tried to get her to open it. Nothing doing. When I sat down she said "YES!" and gave me several cubes. Huh. Another guessing game, but this time I figured it out really fast. If I pulled back and sat nicely, I got treats, If I was pushy, no treats. Easy, this game. Marianne has played it with me every day and I have it down, let me tell you.
"You need to play this game with Mina," I observed, as Mina rudely snatched a treat from Marianne's hand.
"Indeed I do," she agreed. "I'll do that a little later today."
Mina looked horrified. I felt a little smug, truth be told.
My family comes home on Sunday and I am really looking forward to seeing them and being home again, but I'm excited to show them my new skills. Don't tell Jessica, but I'm even hoping we play Crate Games together.
Chow for now!
Lucky (filling in for Jeb)
P.S. If you want more information on this style of dog training, check out Susan Garrett's website at http://susangarrettdogagility.com/tag/crate-games/.