Friday, October 28, 2011

Show Me - Training Dogs for Freethinkers

Not that the picture particularly shows intelligence, I just like it.  You see that dog over there is mine.  She's a McNab Dog which is a breed derived from the Border Collie.  McNabs were bred for intelligence from an intelligent breed.  I got her from a shelter and picked her because she's just a beautiful dog and the picture spoke to me.

However, she is amazingly smart.  Just like the breed says.   I've got no proof she's a purebred McNab other than she looks like one, acts like one, and is smart like one.

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck...

She even has the webbed feet and opera gloves.

That aside, there was a question on the "Mcnab Dogs Are The Best Kind of Dogs" group on Facebook that was asked by one of the admins "Have you taken advantage of your dog's intelligence?". 

While I try not to make this into a Dog Blog, I realized I write a lot about my Lettie simply because she gives me so much to write about.  That was followed by my mind flashing back and forth between the different ways I have taken advantage of her intelligence.  In fact, if you want to see just how much I write about dogs, search one of the labels at the end of the article.  They're all tagged with Border Collie or Mc Nab Dog, or just Dogs.

You see if you have one of the breeds that isn't known for intelligence, you can usually train them to do things but it is the trainer that has to be patient.  After all, the dog is excellent at being a dog, you're trying to teach a dog how to be human-like.  "Sit", "Stay" and "Fetch" are for our convenience, not for theirs.  So it stands to follow that the dog has to see a benefit for doing an action that may be quite unnatural.

My little free-thinking dog had a lot of energy when I got her.  She was running all over the house and making everyone a bit crazy like an adolescent dog would.  Obviously that energy would have to be burned off or she'd turn into a mess barking at things.  If there is one thing she isn't, it's a "Barky Dog" - in fact she's so quiet she's the original StealthDog (TM).   How we got her there was another story.

I realized just how smart she was when I had her in Philadelphia in a three floor house.   She had free run of the house and when she was too wound up, I'd wait for her and play hide and seek with someone who wasn't here.   This went on for a year or three, I'd tell her to go upstairs and find someone and she would.  Up and down the stairs she'd charge convinced there was someone else in the house doing a Perimeter search and return with someone and ears perked or ears down when she didn't find the person.  She therefore Told Me that there was nobody in the house.   Useful if I needed to know if the place was safe or anyone else was home.

Later on, the energy changed and she'd stare when she needed something.  Tell the Human by staring.  Not terribly clear but it began a progression.  You see if you start needing the Alphabet, start by getting past "A". 

"A" was stare at the big dumb human and get his attention.

We took it to "Z" with "Show Me".

It started with my standing up and saying "what is it" or "what do you want" and finally "show me what you want".   "Show me" for short. 

Knowing that she hit pay dirt and that big funny looking guy was going to get up and give her something she wanted, her facial expression changed from relaxed to focused and excited.  Ears would perk and she would lead me to whatever she needed whether it was out, food, water, or play.

Granted it can be a little repetitive.  There isn't a dog that won't ask for more food especially if you realized a long time ago that a lean dog is a long lived dog and "right-sized" her meals.  She is right at 47 pounds, carrys only a little fat, and at 11 years after two strokes or episodes of "seizures" she's only now just beginning to slow.   At 4 in the afternoon, that stare and "Show Me" act will get you led to her food bowl. 

She isn't always about food though.   Once there was a guest in my Florida Room here in Florida.  I suppose that could be redundant.   A black racer snake came into the house.  They have no venom and are terrified of humans, and certainly don't belong inside.   Instead of her shredding it like a toy, she came over to me and got insistent.  "Show Me" led me to the Florida Room and after opening the sliding glass door, the snake stopped beating its head against the glass and went back out into the yard where it belongs.

Show Me is a very useful command.  I've taken it for granted, but it was a stroke of luck that we figured out that we were trying to talk with each other.  She does take advantage of me once in a while, but it is that intelligence that makes it an amazing relationship.

In fact, I swear she reads my body language and knows that I am writing about her right now.  She just came over and ... I guess she decided that I'm done here!

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