Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Abby Bonifant, quick study

"And stay off the second floor,
and don't touch my litterbox, and
don't smell me, and everything

will be fine."
At this moment, we've had Abby, who is a bird dog, for almost two months. 

I don't have a lot of  dog experience, but I think she's a quick study. She's learned what to do and not do, and how to look really sorry when she gets caught doing the latter.

My husband Larry is an experienced dog person, but back in that day, dogs were dogs and did not ever wear sweaters or eat gluten-free kibble or go outside in velcro boots. They ate Gravy Train and were not allowed out of the kitchen. 

Our dog is of this day. 

She doesn't eat Gravy Train, but a twice a day helping of hamburger, rice, and vegetables that I prepare and top with state-of-the-art kibble, which she spits out. 

So that they remain safe and nice to be around, dogs need training and of course no training should commence without goals. Here is where Larry and I are as different as kibble and rice.

He wants Abby to stop and heel and come back on command so that he doesn't lose her in the field.

I want her to not jump up, or steal food, or maul Gus who is the "established" pet. 

I spent much of Abby's first week reading "introduction" advice like: NEVER let the dog bark at the cat or chase him or do anything to scare him," "NEVER leave the dog untethered  in a room with the cat," even if you just have to tee-tee. And, this gem: "Reassure the cat whenever possible that he or she has not been replaced." 

I turned to my intuition over instructions, with good results. Abby does not jump up because I refuse to hug her until she sits down and Abby likes hugging more than eating. When the hug is over, the urge to leap straight up from the ground has passed. 

When she stole my cinnamon mini-bun the other day, she looked at me and said with her sad brown eyes, "Oh, I'm sorry, was that yours?" 

She doesn't maul Gus, nor did Gus have to be reassured of his place, because when Abby lunged within mauling distance, Gus reared back, hissed like a cobra, and displayed more dagger cat teeth than I ever knew he had. Then he raised his paw and cocked his head like he was taking aim and Abby backed away, schooled but unhurt. There will not be mauling. 

Meanwhile, my husband roamed the internet for ideas on contemporary field training methods. There he came upon "Dave," a renowned trainer who also offers sleep away camp should the dog need a retreat. 

Larry has been bringing home the Dave Doggie Bag: 

"You have to say 'Whoa,' when you want her to stop and be still," he said. "It's for your own protection, so she doesn't pull you over."  He demonstrated, using a low baritone: 


Abby stopped. 

"And you have to say 'Free,' when it's okay for her to move," he instructed.

"FREE!" he said to Abby, who, praise tramp that she is, trotted right over to Larry for enthusiastic reinforcement which sounds like this:  

"WHO'S a good girl? WHO's the best dog in the world? WHO's the smartest, most beautiful bird dog in her whole class? WHO???"

"What if you forget to say 'free' and leave the room?" I asked. 

"She'll stay there until you come back, right in position."

"No, she won't."

After Abby was whoa-ing and free-ing on command in class, Larry encouraged me to try it before serving her food. 

"Whoa," I said. 

She trotted away. 

"Maybe use a deeper voice."

"Whoa," I said not doing that. 

She stopped. 

"Okay, free," I said. 

She didn't move. 

Here is a fox after
learning that there is
cheese under the snow.
"Go ahead, free," I repeated, waving her on. When she still didn't go to her food, I said, "Come on, try it. I put some cheese on it," and made a kissy noise from her bowl. She jumped on it like a snow fox-->

I told Larry  that I can't say "WHOA in a deep voice because it makes me feel like a cowboy riding into town for a whiskey.

At some point Abby developed a gentle but annoying biting habit upon greeting us, sending Larry back to the internet. 

"She bites because it's part of how dogs play," he reported. "When one crosses the line, the other one yelps and retreats. Then the biter feels bad and stops doing it. They suggest mimicking the yelp when she's mouthy to see this effect." 

"Like say 'ow' in a hurt voice?"

"No," he said, "actually make a high-pitched yip." 

"I can't. It's too awkward."

Later that afternoon, while I was writing, I heard a short, high, shrill burst: "YIPE!" 

It sounded like a scream.  A frightened old woman kind of scream. Fearing Abby had crossed the play line with Gus, I rushed to see.  

"Oh, that was me," Larry said. He was pleased. "It worked, she backed right off."

Abby is a quick study but I'm on to her. She respects the "whoa" and "free" and "YIPE!!!" commands that Larry and Dave have taught her because she's a praise hound. 

But I'm thinking she's learned to not jump, not chew the cat, and not take my cinnamon mini-buns because she also knows who controls the cheese and hugs, and likes the sound of complete sentences. 

That's my kind of smart. 


  1. Oh Susan, this was priceless! I can just picture the scene...that dog is smarter than either of you!

  2. Dog/puppy training is tough! She looks like a sweet girl. Hope the Cat comes around to that thinking too!

    1. The sweetest, and after some boundary setting, the cat has come around too. I don't see them sharing the same bed anytime soon, but they co-exist better than I ever expected they would.

  3. We JUST got a kitten and now hubs is talking puppies. This comes in handy. :)

  4. I've read that when you're bringing them in together as babies it's a whole different ballgame. It's the introduction of older and newer that has to be really watched. Takes time but worth it.

  5. Abby sounds adorable. My dog also had to get used to my cat and what those claws can do. All they need is one swipe and they don't mess with kitty again.

    1. So far, as my husband says, he's kept his guns holstered. They really do figure how to do these things without tears.

  6. You have this way of telling a story that just cracks me up. I was picturing this whole scenario as I followed along and just couldn't stop laughing!

    1. I love days that are like a blog post in the making.

  7. I gave up on training. My two dogs rule me. They're cuddly, though.

    1. I like the organic, easy sound of that. I'll bet they adore you.

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