Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Speaking lessons

Despite what you may have gathered from the previous post, it's not all sipping margaritas and eating bon-bons at Dempsey's house. We've been trying to teach Dempster some new skills. Among them is "speak."

The problem is, I think we've socialized Dempsey maybe a little too well. When he was younger, we exposed him to many scary things -- chainsaws, wood chippers, clowns -- and rewarded him for being calm and unafraid. The result is that Dempsey now goes through life in a Zen-like state of tranquility, rarely barking at anything. We've taken him to hundreds of stores, and I can count on one finger the number of times he has barked inside.

From our homework and classmates, we've received a bunch of ideas on how to get Dempsey excited enough that he'll bark.

Fortunately, we're doing this training at home, so no one can see what dorks we look like.

Unfortunately, we have a blog.

Silly noises
Someone suggested making silly noises, or talking through a cardboard tube. Apparently, many dogs get so excited by this, they start barking. Dempsey just gets silly back.

Ultra extreme, atomic high-value treats
Strangely, there are things that are good enough for us, but not good enough for Dempsey: hot dogs, sausages, pepperoni. I'm not sure why we only feed organic/natural treats to a dog who enjoys goose poop as much as caviar, while we ourselves eat things that are demonstrably bad for us. I guess we're just making our contribution to the nation's health care crisis. At any rate, Dempsey is just dying to try pepperoni, and we were told this might be a good opportunity to get him to bark.

As you can see, Dempsey is trying everything to get a piece of pepperoni: push, sit, snuggle. The only thing he didn't try was barking. Even when I barked at him first.

Another suggestion was to separate ourselves from Dempsey, and then try calling him. Our instructor suggested climbing a ladder and calling him, which is a great idea, except that I'm afraid of heights. We tried a variation: closing a door, pretending to have a party on the other side, and calling Dempsey. Alas, Dempsey is a polite little dog, and he just waits quietly by the door till we open it for him.

Breaking in
Dempsey is the world's worst watchdog. I had noticed one night, when there was a strange noise outside, Dempsey barked -- once. I thought it might be a good idea to nurture Dempsey's watchdog instincts, but of course when we want him to bark, he doesn't. Here's Doreen trying to "break in" to the house. Dempsey just smiles, ready to kiss the "intruder" to death.

We still have a few more tricks up our sleeves, which we'll be trying in the coming days. I'm looking forward to having all this silliness behind us!


  1. Great post! I had the same problem when I was training Cammie (She is a HP dog that had a career change due to a medical issue). When I first tried to get her to bark she would run away and be silly herself. My solution was to tie her leash to the door. I again acted silly by squeaking, jumping, dancing and making all kinds of silly noises. After a long time I finally got her to bark. Click treat, click treat (10 times) and the command, click treat. Yes we finally mastered the command. I released her from the leash and... We found out she didn't know how to bark off leash. Too funny. To this day, she does not bark on command. However, if an animal- not a human- strolls by the house she will bark at it. Try having a friend walk by the house with an animal that is not a dog. Even a strange cat may get Dempsey's attention. Good luck

    PS. When my car was stolen last summer all three of my Golden Retrievers watched the guy drive off in my car without a peep! Proof Golden’s do not make good guard dogs. :-)

  2. Jazz finally barked when she had to wait outside the patio door in the rain when everyone else was in. When whe barked we immedietely let her in, click, & treat. It had taken 3 months to get to that point. After that she barked when our other dog barked to come in and was click treated. Then we went to having her sit and plying her w/steak tidbits. In just a short time after the first 2 or 3 barks she began to offer a faint "woof" after her "spin" for her meal and would speak louder when encouraged. Finally she will either speak or "woof" on command. It didn't happen overnight with her either, just like she was the last one to learn "in" and didn't learn that the same way the others in the class did.

  3. Too funny! It sounded like you and Doreen were having way to much fun behind that door. Hang in there - Dempsey is a smart dog and I'm sure he will figure it out soon!

  4. A golden is highly intelligent and so eager to please. All you have to do is make that l♥ve connection!