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Monday, November 15, 2010

Doggone Bird! by Kevin C. Ray

Several years ago my wife prepared a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for a small group of our friends. As is our tradition, she cooks the turkey and I carve it. Almost ready to call our guests, I took a quick step into the kitchen to get the carving knife and fork. When I returned to the dining table, the turkey was GONE! Oh $#&^, our festive heirloom meat platter was still in the center of the table, but no bird! An intensive search ensued and after several minutes, there was a shout from the backyard. Hallelujah, the turkey had been located! Our dog was lying on the grass with his head crammed inside the rear end of the bird, scarfing stuffing like he was cleaning out a gigantic stuffed Kong. To say the least, I was fuming inside as well as being highly embarrassed (it’s a wee bit embarrassing owning a naughty dog when you're a dog trainer). But when I calmly and rather meekly bent down facing my dog and said, “Drop it," he promptly trotted towards me carrying the turkey, sat attentively, and dropped the turkey into my outstretched hands. Awkwardly, I said, “Good boy” and returned to the house with the violated bird. My canine pal had broken badly with Thanksgiving protocol, but at least he demonstrated good manners and obedience when I asked him nicely. Fortunately, a ham had also been prepared that managed not to make our dog's acquaintance and we all had a good laugh over the turkey that flew the coop. It was a teaching moment. My dog taught me that he had serious “impulse control” issues when it came to stuffed Thanksgiving turkey.

“Leave it,” “Take it,” and “Drop it” are three very useful commands to teach your dog. Of course it's advantageous to utilize one of these commands before the Thanksgiving turkey vanishes, but hey, better late than never. These three commands are easy and fun to teach. 

To teach “Leave it”, hand feed your dog's daily ration of kibble. Take one piece, hold it in your hand, very quietly say “Leave it” and present your closed fist to your dog’s nose. Let your dog lick, mouth, and paw your hand. Ignore everything that your dog does until he ceases contact with your hand for a fraction of a second, then quickly say “Take it” and open your fist allowing him to eat the kibble from the palm of your hand. Repeat the process but this time wait until your dog resists contact for a full second before presenting the food. With each repetition, gradually increase the duration of non-contact. After about six to eight repetitions, you will find that as soon as you say “Leave it" your dog will sit-stay to wait for the food. This training technique works like magic.

“Leave it” may be used to tell your dog not to touch inappropriate items, such as garbage, smaller dogs, people, and yes, Thanksgiving turkeys. Also, by teaching “Leave it” your dog automatically learns “Take it,” which is very useful for instructing your dog to carry appropriate objects such as chew toys, stuffed animals, or even to search for and bring back lost items (car keys, a remote control, etc.). 

Once your dog knows “Take it” you can easily teach “Drop it.” Here's how: When playing tug-o-war, periodically say “Drop it" and dangle a piece of freeze-dried liver or stinky cheese in front of your dog's nose. When your dog releases the toy, praise him and offer the treat. Now, present the toy, say “Leave it,” and wait for several seconds of non-contact before saying “Take it” and resuming play.

“Drop it” is essential for relieving your dog of inappropriate items, such as accidently dropped medication or food, used tissue, or heisted turkeys. Regarding the doggone turkey? It was thoroughly cleaned and cooked a bit longer after the guests left. It made terrific sandwiches and the turkey tetrazzini was scrumptious! There was no help for what was left of the stuffing. Rest assured the dog didn't get any! Happy Thanksgiving!

1:16 pm est          Comments

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