Betty goes to dog school

Last week, I wasn’t sure whether Betty enjoyed dog school or not. Most of the time, her face was non-committal. She whined and wagged her tail at the other dogs, and seemed annoyed at having to work when there was so much potential fun just a few feet in either direction.

Yesterday, In preparation for class, I pulled out the cooler. In it I placed cold packs and Zip-loc bags of cooked chicken, microwaved hotdog slices, and chips of sharp cheese. Also a couple of bottles of cold water and a folding dog bowl. And Betty knew. She started grinning and pacing; poking the leash (on a shelf by the door) with her nose.

This time, she was able to focus on her work, and spent much of the time looking up at me with a smile on her face.

During the last class, she was hesitant to be around the instructor, but this time greeted her as though she was a good friend. And she was calm enough with the other dogs that she was able to make a few acquaintances.

One mom seemed unsure whether or not to allow her dog near mine, when Betty started wheezing. Sometimes, especially when she’s laying on her back or if she becomes excited, Betty sucks back saliva and it starts a spasm that can go on for some time. I’ve found that rubbing the fur behind her shoulder blades and over her neck forward, while rubbing her chest backwards helps her to relax, and that stops the spasms.

At the end of the class, we started doing stays and short recalls (you invite your dog to come). Betty sat in a stay, her chest poked out. I called and she trotted to me, sat in front of me, and looked me in the eye.

“Wow,” said one woman told me, “That was really good. Your dog is amazing!

I think Betty’s amazing too – one of the smartest dogs we’ve had – but told the woman that I’d trained two dogs before. “I’m not an expert, but I’ve been working with her at home.”

It was also the first time that Ronnie has been left alone in the house with the cat for any length of time. I wasn’t sure what to expect. He does like to pull the tablecloth onto the floor. We’ve tried to train him away from this by booby-trapping the table, setting several plastic cups of ice water along the table’s edge to surprise him when they fall. But so far, he’s been too smart to fall for it.

He also likes to pull socks from the drying rack and scatter then around the living room, and to tear up newspaper. He tore he cover from one of my husband’s books, and there’s a comforter that’s gradually becoming de-stuffed. But we’ve been working on correcting these problems, and at some point, you have to hope for the best and give the dog a chance to succeed.

Before I left, I filled a Kong toy with cookies, and gave him a rawhide, hoping these would entertain him. And when I came back, everything was in its place. Once I check the rooms, if I find everything is where it should be, I look at him and say, “Were you a good boy while I was gone?” He jumps onto my legs, wagging his tail.

Ronnie starts dog school

Ronnie the cardigan corgi has started obedience training at the Little Rock Dog Training Club.

I feel lucky that the class he’s enrolled in doesn’t contain one aggressive dog. I took our two previous dogs to training, and we completed several courses. But no aggressive animals is a first.

All of the dogs were wagging their tails and grinning from ear to ear.

Ronnie already knew sit, and I’d just started teaching him down. But come-to-heel was new, and he didn’t understand. “Oh well,” I’ll train it at home.

The next day, I put Ronnie in a crate and let him watch as I worked Betty. Then places were switched and it was Ronnie’s turn.

But after multiple attempts, he still didn’t get it. However, simply by watching Betty, he did learn to play dead. When I make my fingers into a gun and say Bang, Betty falls over and lies still. Now Ronnie rolls onto his back and lies still – except for his tail, which swishes back and forth.

Today, we tried again. For breakfast, both dogs received half-portions. Then later I pulled out some cooked chicken. Betty went into the crate, and was rewarded with Ronnie whenever he did something right.

I asked Ronnie to heel, and he flopped over dead.  So I asked him to sit, and he got back up.

“Heel.”

Grinning, he flopped down, paws in the air.

“Sit. Good dog.” Piece of chicken. “Heel.”

Slowly, ears back and grinning, he came to my side. He looked at me hesitantly. “Is this what you want?”

“Hurray!” He got lots of chicken and praise. He heeled a few more times, and we let Betty out of the crate.

As I left to clean up the kitchen, Ronnie trotted over to me, sat down, and looked up. “Can we do more,” he seemed to say.

But not today. Let’s end on success.

Ugly Betty recovers from mange and becomes beautiful

This is our dog, “Ugly” Betty. According to the DNA test, she’s 12% dachshund, 12% beagle, and 76% three generations or more of mixed breed dogs.

Our neighbor was good enough to care for her, when she was dumped at their house without fur and barely moving. Six months later, she still had little fur and smelled terribly from a skin-wide yeast infection. The coldest days of winter and arrived, and Betty would run across the street to our house, sit in front of us, and shiver. We asked the neighbors if we could adopt her, afraid that she would freeze to death.

Our veterinarian treated her for mange, and for the infection. Eighteen months later…  “Beautiful” Betty.

Even when she was ill, Betty was very active. Hyperactive. Bouncing-off-the-walls active. But over the past few weeks, she’s turned into a model citizen. What changed? I did. My husband did.

In preparation for a new family member, we decided it was time to get her behavior under control. Step 1–ignore all hyperactive behavior; make a point of quietly rewarding appropriate behavior. In other words, we only pet her when she was laying, sitting, or standing quietly. If she revved up, the attention ended. It was absolutely amazing how quickly she turned around.

In addition, I’ve been walking her a mile or more several days a week. She must heel. I keep her on a shorter leash, with just enough slack that she can move comfortably. If she gets more than a step ahead of me, I turn into her and walk her in a circle. Or I step backwards until she gets into position by my side. At first, I had to make a lot of turns, sidesteps, and backsteps. Now, perhaps ten times per mile.

I also worked on stays in the back yard. And taught her a few new tricks. She’s the first dog I’ve ever had that dropped at the word “BANG” and layed perfectly still on her side.

In a short period of time, she’s turned from a crazy kiddo into a calm, well-mannered dog.

Now we’re ready for the newcomer–a cardigan corgi named Ronnie. He’s recovering from being neutered right now. We pick him up in a couple of weeks.