Well, sweetie, I can’t agree with you more — this is no place for a dog, but we can address the boredom factor, we can help with the loneliness, we can have some fun together — really, a bit of exercise and stretching, we can challenge your brain, and give you some of that companionship that you sorely need. All you have to do is let us in. You can start with just one person. We know this trust thing might be huge for you.
I’ve got this kennel kit that I carry around with me, and I’ll tell you, it’s made a difference with quite a few dogs who have landed here. I see you are up here at the front of your kennel. That’s a great start right there. I’m just gonna sit right down, sort of sideways to you, and say hello softly and cheerfully. Your name, uh, Nutso, is pretty crappy, so let’s change that right off the bat – how about Cheerio?
Let’s see if you’ll take take some treats from my hands. Hello! — like that, do you? How about a few more? How about some — here — and here — and up here — and down here. I’m letting you take the lead as your comfort level increases with me. No hurry, pal. Now you’re moving with me, I notice your body is more relaxed, and there’s a bit of tail wagging happening. Your eyes are meeting mine ever so briefly before you look away and I’m not going to look directly at your eyes until you feel comfortable with that. It takes so little for us to begin to form the beginnings of a relationship.
You know, I’ve always thought that the gift of food, the making of food for someone, is an act of love.
Let’s move on — I’m going to toss a treat into your kennel, being careful to keep my hand low, and say “Find-it!”. Look, it’s right by your feet. Yay, you found it! Success! Now I’ll toss treats successively a bit further away, using my verbal cue, and each time, as you turn back towards me, I say, “Come!!” and you do. Now we’ve got a little something going, we can do it more quickly, may as well try, see if it works, YES! We are having fun… that’s an easy game: find-it/recalls. Gets you moving, easy to do, and guaranteed success every time. All you have to do get the treat. And you told me right from the get-go that food is a motivator for you.
Now, hand targeting. I’m going to put my hand to the fencing that separates us, and ask you to “touch.” You already know that hands have good stuff from our earlier experiences, so if you’ll just touch your nose to my hand, you’ll get a treat. Which hand will you get the treat from? Depends how you respond to this game. That’s up to you. If this is a good game for you, I’ll move my hand around, you touch my hand with your nose and you get a reward for that. I can move move my hands higher and perhaps you’ll reach for it as we go higher, and as my goal being for you to stretch that body of yours, we’ll move towards that goal as you get more comfortable going higher. You may not make standing on your hind legs today, but we’re in no hurry. I’d like both vertical and lateral moving eventually, neck stretching. All within your comfort zone and I’ve already checked your health status, so I know you’re physically capable of meeting these challenges.
What about taking food from some different objects beside my hands? I’m going to smear some cheese on this back-scratcher from my kit and keep it on the floor while you lick it off. How about this dowel with some fleece attached to the end of it with duct tape? I’ve hidden some treats in the fleece. Get those treats. You are a prey animal after all, so if I move these food dispensers around, will you go after them? Let’s get some of your natural behaviors going.
I’ve got more. I made a tug out of an old nylon leash, tying a big knot in it, so it can’t get through the fencing. You get the soft end, I’ll take the end with the clip. Wanna’ play? This is a great game, really gets you wiped out, and we’ve got some rules so we can keep on going. When I say “out!” or “drop!”, if you drop your end of the tug and come up to me, I’ll trade you for a treat. I’ll pull the tug out of the kennel while you munch, then push it through again, and off we go again.
NOT TO WORRY. We’re just talking here. No need to do all this stuff.
And we’ll get you started on shaping behaviors as well – we use a clicker for shaping and some of you guys love, love, love this game, as do we. We’ve shaped dogs to go to bed, to dance, to blow bubbles in your water bowls, to walk backwards, sequenced behaviors… as long as we set criteria, go back to kindergarten if we need to, and have some fun here.
And I’m going to leave you with some food puzzles, a ropey toy with cream cheese on it, and a stuffed toy, one of these, I think. And for your personal pleasure, you won’t get the same things every day.
Photographs by William McLeod