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Training Cooper or How I’m Humbled on a Regular Basis

December 28, 2011

Cooper is in his fourth training class of his young life. I like taking him for regular training because it gives his little, overworked brain something to focus on. It also helps burn off some of his extra energy when the weather is too nasty to take him to the dog park or out for the two walks a day Cesar Millan recommends and Cooper really needs.

He started with a puppy class, moved to basic training before mastering intermediate training. Now, he’s in a modified version of tricks class.

Of course, what all of this means is that I am the one really being trained.

Take his most recent assignment: Cooper must learn the “tidy up” command.

Tidy Up consists of teaching a dog how to put his toys in the toy box. Once you get a dog to figure out how to pick up and carry a toy, then you teach it to take it to a box and drop it inside.

Simple, right?

Not so much. Especially with a dog as “clever” as Cooper.

Zoey in the toy box

The first day after the trainer showed me how to teach Cooper the trick, the dog stood in front of the toy box, his stuffed fox just a couple feet away, and stared at me in confusion as I repeatedly told him, “Get the toy! Get the toy, Cooper!” (And this is a dog that loves to play fetch.) When I finally I got him to grab the toy, trying to get him to drop it in the box was … well, frustrating. Coaxing, cajoling, cursing — nothing seemed to work. The only thing I managed to accomplish was to entice Zoey, the littlest of the kitty quartet, to climb into the toy box as Cooper and I stood over it. After all, if we were interested in it, she needed to be in the middle of it.

I finally had to grab the toy in Cooper’s mouth, tell him to “leave it” so that he would let go of the fox without trying to play tug of war and drop it in the box for him. I immediately told him what a good dog he was and gave him a treat. We repeated the routine two or three times before I quit for the evening to save myself further frustration.

By the next day, something clicked. He grabbed the toy when I told him to. He carried the toy to the box that I pointed to. And he’d drop it — just outside of the box. We were so close. After a few close failures, he dropped the toy in the box, earning treats and shouts of joy from me.

It was a lightbulb moment for him.

For the next 15 minutes, he’d run after the toy when I threw it, bring it back and drop it in the box.

Success, right?

Not exactly.

At some point, he decided that if putting the toy in the box got him a treat, then he shouldn’t have to run after it at all. Instead, after I’d treat him for dropping the toy in the box, he’d immediately pick up the toy and drop it in the box again before looking at me expectantly for another treat.

So I tried a different approach. Since the point of the trick is to teach Cooper to pick up all his toys, I would run over to another toy and tell him, “Get the toy” again. In response, Cooper would grab the toy he’d just dropped in the box and bring it to me (this would be the reason the trainer told me to teach Cooper different names for each toy — so I could direct him to a different toy on command. You know, because that’s as easy as it sounds).

At our second class, I proudly showed the trainer how Cooper had learned to put a toy in the toy box. Then he showed her how he could pick up and drop the same toy in the box over and over and over again.

“Well,” she said, between laughs, “no one ever said he was a dumb dog.”

Gee … thanks …

Cooper and one of his most beloved toys -- before he ripped out its belly and spread stuffing guts all over the house.


From → Animals, Cooper

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