Saturday, February 19, 2011

Trick question

When I tell Dempsey "switch," he knows to look around for the switch that opens doors automatically.

The other day, we discovered a bad design: Instead of the switch mounted, as usual, low on a wall, it was mounted on top of a post. It's very difficult to hit if you have limited arm mobility, and if you're a service dog, it's not visible.

The first time we saw it, I gave Dempsey a trick question by telling him "switch." He diligently looked around for almost a minute, before he sat and looked up at me sadly: "I can't find it!"

For take 2, I led him to the post, and told him "rise." Once he was up, he saw the switch, and starting hitting it with his paws till the door opened. We did a "rise" one more time, before I got cold and we walked into the building.

On the way out a different door, I decided to give Dempsey a test. Instead of telling him "rise," I walked up to the post and said "switch." And Dempsey remembered! Although he had only done it twice before, he had already learned that the switch was hidden at the top of the post. Smarty pants!

Here's Dempsey on his second time with "rise," and the first time with "switch":

There's a good reason why Dempsey went to CalTech!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Snub the puppy

Tax season makes Dempsey mopey.

For the past few days, I've been hard at work on our income taxes, ignoring Dempsey. This makes him sad.

I can't blame him. After struggling all week with IRA conversions, HSA contributions, tax loss harvesting, and sundry other itemized deductions, I calculated that if we had had a flat tax, we would have paid just $130 more in taxes.

It feels like the tax code was designed by a cartoonist: an overengineered contraption that does a simple thing in a complicated way. We should put dogs in charge, I say.

Anyway, I thought that Dempsey needed some play time. So when I heard our friend John was babysitting a 9-week-old Lab puppy, I promptly invited ourselves over. I mean, who doesn't love a puppy?

It turns out, the answer is Dempsey.

After Demps and little Maggie politely sniffed each other's butts, Dempsey decided he didn't want to be friends. I don't know how dogs decide these things through a butt sniff, but Dempsey decided. He wasn't hostile or aggressive at all. He just snubbed Maggie completely.

And I mean completely. Poor little Maggie was jumping all over Dempsey as he played with Elsie, or ran after tennis balls. We even practiced some sit-stays, "lights," and "go get helps," which Dempsey did perfectly, even though Maggie was scampering all over him while he did it.

I'd never seen Dempsey snub anybody like that, let alone a cute little puppy. It was so dramatic, I started taking a video on my phone.

Of course, stupid me was so busy fiddling with my smartphone that it took me a while to figure out that little Maggie wasn't just pulling Dempsey's hair; she was pulling Dempsey's hair out.

Hence the abrupt ending. But apparently it bothered me way more than it bothered Dempsey; he never said a peep.

Dempsey is such a good sport. If he ever fails out of service dog school, I think there's a career for him as a therapy dog.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Happy (belated) birthday!

Happy belated birthday, Dempsey!!!

Mr. D turned the big "2" on February 1, which makes him 24 in human years.

I personally haven't celebrated any of my birthdays since I turned 21. Yeah, I know when I turned 30, I could run for the Senate, or at 35, run for President, but 21 seems like the last real milestone.

It's the same way for Dempsey. He's been a "big dog" since last summer, able to go pretty much everywhere. So his second birthday was pretty low-key. We made him wear a funny hat, and he got a new toy, but that's about it. Twenty-four in dog years: ho hum.

It's been pretty quiet here at the Dempsey house. Like the rest of the country, Minnesota has been in a deep, deep freeze, and we haven't taken Dempsey anywhere fun. We're still working on his training, but none of it is particularly blog-worthy. It's important stuff, but mostly polishing: Being able to stay in a drop for 30 minutes without fidgeting, retrieving a wooden spatula without leaving teeth marks all over it, standing steady when I ask him to "brace."

The new cue he's learning right now is "get the door," where he pulls on a strap to open a door. He's been doing really well at home with the bedroom doors, but on field trips, he was having a hard time pulling open the really heavy doors at malls and stores.

We haven't made a lot of progress, because I haven't been super eager to spend a lot of time outside in the cold, working with Dempsey on heavy doors. But tonight, I had a bright idea. Looking around for the heaviest door we have in the house, I noticed the fridge. Nice and warm in the house, needs some force to open... perfect!

We've only worked on it for about 20 minutes, but already Dempsey has already gotten a lot better.

Next step: Teaching Dempsey to get a beer out once he's opened the fridge.