Today is Sadie’s fourth birthday and I’m feeling nostalgic: Where did the time go?
I remember frantically calling Gigi Moss like it was yesterday morning. I barely choked out, “My puppy is terrified of everything! I don’t know what to do!” “Bring her to my puppy kindergarten,” Gigi said. Is she out of her mind? She wasn’t.
Under Gigi’s tutelage, Sadie was nearly jumping-out-of-my-arms enthusiastic by the third class. I was as ecstatic.
Just like kids on a playground gravitate to certain other kids, Sadie singled out two PK regulars, Ivy the Labradoodle and Bizou the Airedale. Ivy’s and Bizou’s moms and I delighted in our fur-balls romping and wrestling with each other. Soon, we punctuated the week between PK classes with play-dates at each other’s houses. What a blast!
So on this, Sadie’s birthday, I thought I’d celebrate by sharing with you a few more things that got us off to a good start, and from which we continue to reap rewards.
In next Monday’s post I’ll offer you cautionary tales about opportunities missed. Maybe had I stepped up to the plate sooner we wouldn’t be dealing with some of the problems we now have. But, that’s for another day.
On to the good stuff!
We relied on Gigi for kindergarten, but Nana Will visited us every week for the first six months or so. She taught me most of what I know about reward-based training, and she counseled me on how to help Sadie become as well adjusted as was possible considering how fearful she was (and still is).
Nana said, “Make sure Sadie has a positive experience with at least one novel situation every day. It doesn’t have to take long. It just has to be positive. If you park next to a school playground during recess and let Sadie take in the scene from the car. That counts. Don’t push her beyond her threshold!”
New parking lots, stores, parks, people, playgrounds, you name it—once, sometimes twice a day. Some scenes we’d scope from a distance. One day I’ll never forget, we gathered up our courage and walked close in front of the automatic doors at Safeway. Open. Shut. Open. Shut. Sadie didn’t blink! I was beside myself with joy!
Occasionally though, ‘sh-t happened.’ Just as we were walking from the car to the sidewalk in front of Whole Foods, employees were setting up a heavy rectangular table for an outdoor display. They dropped it. The table fell flat onto the concrete. It sounded like a shotgun fired at close range! Sadie panicked. We took a break from novel experiences. She needed several days to recover from all the stress hormones that flooded her system in response to that awful crash. Within a few days, though, we were checking out the very mellow, nearly empty used bookstore.
Today I am happy to report that Ms. S. is able to deal well with most new situations as long as they don’t involve the scary stuff I’ll tell you about next Monday.
“Write down 10 things that Sadie loves,” Nana instructed.
“Because if you know what Sadie flips over, you’ll know what to use for positive reinforcement. Just because you think it’s a good thing doesn’t mean she does. Like petting. Sadie doesn’t like being petted. All that stuff about rewarding your dog with an ear rub, it won’t work for her. She’ll feel punished.”
Right. Let’s see. Sadie loved cheese, liver bits, salmon, playing with her friends. Did I say cheese? Sadie didn’t like toys and she wasn’t yet a ball and Frisbee fanatic. She was a foodie.
So, dinner and breakfast weren’t merely times to chow down, they were loose leash walking practice sessions. I placed Sadie’s bowl of food at the far end of the living room. From the hallway, Sadie and I would walk toward the food. I’d stop. She’d stop and sit. We practiced turns as we pirouetted our way to the food prize. If Sadie’s enthusiasm overwhelmed her and she ran ahead, we’d walk back to the hallway and start all over. She caught on very quickly and so did I. I learned about the powerful impact motivation has on learning. High motivation = fast learning. No motivation = no learning.
Those play dates? They also were great opportunities to practice loose leash walking. Sometimes
it would take us several minutes to make our way from the car to Ivy’s front door. Sadie was so keen to play with Ivy she could hardly contain herself enough to walk next to me, and it took me practice to figure out how to help her to be successful at doing so. Besides that, I had to learn not to laugh! She was unbearably cute. Her little body quaked with anticipation of the rollicking fun that laid ahead.
These exercises not only forged Sadie and me into a pretty good loose-leash walking team, they also taught Sadie impulse control. Now that has turned out to be very useful.
Nana said, “Don’t let Sadie practice behaviors you don’t want her to do. You want her to come when called? Don’t call her when it’s likely she won’t. You don’t want her taking food off the table when you’re not at the table? Don’t leave food on the table.”
Good advice. It was clear from the start that Sadie was destined to be an Olympic class counter surfer. So I decided it would be best if she just stayed out of the kitchen. I barricaded the entrance to the kitchen with a pile of chairs. True, it was inconvenient. I had to step over the blockade to walk into and out of the kitchen. But it was worth it. When Nana helped educate Sadie to stay out of the kitchen, it was much easier because Sadie didn’t have to unlearn hanging out in the kitchen.
And, how did Sadie learn to stay out o the kitchen? I love this. Nana rewarded her for “choosing” to stay out of the kitchen especially in the face of temptations, like turkey on the kitchen floor. To this day Sadie doesn’t go into the kitchen because all good things are still happening in the dining or living room, not in the kitchen. I sometimes still toss Sadie a scrumptious treat to remind her just why it’s so much better to be out of rather inside the kitchen.
I could go on, but, I promised Sadie a fun day today. She still can’t go for hikes or play fetch, her preferred activities, because of her injury. Besides, it’s too hot anyway. So, we’ll do a little retail therapy at her favorite shops, lounge around in the shade in Mama Kitty’s garden with Moses and Dudley, and scarf down a liver pate birthday cake.