Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Michal Lumsden: New Year, New Tricks

Storey’s copywriter finds the perfect book for days when winter keeps everyone, including the dog, indoors.

This is my dog, Sage.
She’s an English Shepherd, bursting with both affection and smarts.

Because she was bred to herd and we don’t have sheep, she works diligently to herd the humans in her life. We, in turn, work hard to tire her out. Often that takes the shape of long walks in the woods, scampering over rocks, up hills, and across streams, or throwing a ball down the steep hill behind our house. Again and again.

And while aerobic activity is important, it isn’t always crucial. She gets a mental workout just lying in the grass while I garden, keeping track of everything I do, every bird that flutters past, and every neighbor that ambles by. At the end of long gardening days, she’s exhausted.

We both get a little stir crazy in the winter. Sure, we go snowshoeing and hiking and still do outdoor chores. But when bitter winds are whipping about and everything is covered in ice, there are fewer obvious ways to get her the stimulation she needs.

Enter Canine Sports & Games.

As a new year’s resolution, I decided to work through this book with her. The mental concentration would be a fantastic energy release for her, and writing about our experiences would keep me engaged, too. We started with “shake,” the first trick introduced in the aptly titled “Before the Games Begin” chapter.
Illustration © Kathryn Rathke, excerpted from Canine Sports & Games
I’d half-heartedly tried teaching her to shake a few times before. Each time I picked up her paw, she’d lie down, so I quickly abandoned my efforts.

This time I was determined. The book offers optimistic assurance that the dog will learn to shake after 10 to 20 times, so I figured this would be an easy undertaking.

Our first session lasted about five minutes and included well over 20 tries. Sage did not master shake. But she did make progress: by the end of the session she no longer lay down when I lifted her paw. I decided the book meant 10 to 20 training sessions, not 10 to 20 attempted shakes.

When I got home from work the next day, the outside temperature was 6˚F, with a wind chill of -8˚F, so it seemed like the best place to tire Sage out was right in front of our wood stove. She ate nearly half her dinner in treats that night. And by the time we all went to sleep, she successfully had shaken hands — er, paws — with everyone in the house.
Michal and Sage demonstrate a successful shake
I lost count of how many times she just stared at me before answering my command by lifting her paw. It was at least 75. No big deal. My goal was met: I taught Sage a new trick and her brain got a good workout.

It’s going to be a good year.

No comments: