Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Big dog now

The other day when we were at the mall, Dempsey attracted the attention of a couple of girls.

"OhMyGodLook!" squealed the younger girl. "It's a puppy!"

The older girl tried to seem more worldly and jaded. "That's not a puppy," she sneered. "That's a big dog."

The older girl was right. Dempsey has graduated from his "Working Wonders" class, and is officially a "Big Dog" now. He went to his first "Big Dogs" class last night.

We're a little nervous. Dempsey knows over 70 skills now, but they still need quite a bit of polishing. It was obvious seeing the older "big dogs" last night: retrieving heavy objects on the first try, flipping light switches without scratching the wall, turning corners crisply on walks -- all things Dempsey struggles with sometimes. Dempsey is above average, we like to think, but last night he wasn't. He has a lot of work to do before he can run with the big dogs!

I know I'm being hard on Dempsey, comparing him to the older dogs. So before we locked him in his bedroom to study more for "Big Dogs" class, we had a little party on his last night of "Working Wonders" to celebrate his graduation.

We had a class gift for our instructor, Nancy, who is retiring from her volunteer teaching to focus on her dog training business, OnCue Training. (Quick plug for Nancy: Whenever someone mistakes me for a professional trainer and asks if I can train an unruly Rottweiller, I laugh hysterically and then refer them to Nancy, who is a true professional.) (Full disclosure: Ok, this has only happened once. I'm not often mistaken for a professional anything.)

The class gift was a beautiful photomontage of all the puppies in class, put together by Sharon, an art and photo director who generously donated her time and talent. Everyone in class chipped in for the printing and framing.

But according to Dempsey, the best part of the party was the doggie cake. We didn't get many good pictures, but here's a boring video of Dempsey asking for seconds.

Enjoy the cake, Dempsey! We'll be working off those extra calories practicing a lot more loose leash walking.

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!

Lazy days

Well, it looks like it's been a few weeks now since I said "stayed tuned." Here's my excuse: I'm lazy.

Actually, all the boys are lazy. Here's an example. Dempsey's sister Angel was visiting earlier this month.

Angel had a lot of fun, but Dempsey was a lazy player. Angel will keep playing till you kennel her, but Dempsey is happy to nap even if his favorite sister is running around.

And even when they play, Dempsey is lazy. Dempsey, you may recall, likes to play tug by being a dead weight and letting his playmate do all the tugging. On this trip, Angel decided to try Dempsey's strategy.

As you can see, it's not much fun when both puppies are a dead weight. But does Dempsey do anything about it? Nooooo. Even if it's no fun just lying around, Dempsey still waits for Angel to get up and start tugging.

Dempsey's not always the laziest boy in the house. Exhibit B is Buddy.

We've bought Buddy a bunch of toys, but there's only one that he likes, which is getting pretty ratty and frayed. We're reluctant to spend more money on toys Buddy would reject, so we decided to try making him a toy: Brain on a stick. Apparently, Doreen and I are not the only ones unimpressed with the free stuff they give away nowadays at medical conventions.

So there you have it. Now, back to the usual lounging around.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


It took over a week, but Dempsey has finally learned to throw trash away!

At first, I thought the problem was simply bad aim with his "puts." But after practicing a few times, I noticed that Dempsey was reluctant to throw things away. Check out this video, where Dempsey grabs the trash with his paws before he lets go with his mouth:

At first I thought it was coincidence, but he did this pretty consistently. I think Dempsey knows we should be recycling instead of throwing things away.

I was at an impasse, but Doreen came up with the solution: Add a "bring." We're not sure why, but if you ask Dempsey to "take it" or "get it," bring, rise, and then put, he'll put the trash in the trash can. I have no idea why this works, but it does.

Dempsey's been very busy the past few days, so we have a lot of new stuff to post, once we get around to it. Stay tuned!