Sunday, July 23, 2017

Confessions of a Professional Dog Trainer: #1 - The Time I Taught Mia the Lab to Go to the Bathroom - Inside!

Confessions of a Professional Dog Trainer: #1 – The Time I Taught Mia the Lab to Go to the Bathroom – Inside!

OK, I admit it. I was bored. And Mia the Lab was bored, too.
MIa the Lab, worried about her
person disappearing behind the camera

I was dogsitting. In a two-bedroom condo. For five weeks. And this was only Week Two.

And I had run out of ideas about how to feed Mia the Lab.

You see, I believe in canine enrichment and that means throwing away the dog food bowl.

It’s more fun for the dog to have to find his food by smelling it out plus dinner lasts longer when it is in several different places. The dog has to think and find his meal parts which takes time!

For a couple of days I had hand-fed Mia the Lab her kibble (dry dog food) but that was slow - and slimy-yucky to boot.

So, for a few days I saved food containers – the ones yogurt comes in, and store-boughten egg salad for sammiches, and margarine. Then I put several pieces of kibble in each one and put them in the kitchen and in the bedroom and in the hallway and – you get the idea.

But by the time I had put one container down and walked a ways to put another one down, Mia the Lab was right behind me. She could run from kibble container to kibble container, being a 'small' dog (smaller than me), but this human combat veteran was too old and creaky to run from room to room ahead of a starving Lab.

So I decided to freeze her food.

I bought some plain fat-free yogurt and mixed in as much kibble as I could, then covered the bottom of all those containers from the previous days with the mixture, and put them in the freezer. (You can also use a bit of fat-free peanut butter as a flavoring agent.)

By the next meal, the kibble-yogurt concoction would be frozen stiff to both last longer and to also cool down a 'hot-dog' in our humid muggy Washington, DC, summer (Washington was actually built on a drained swamp so when the Pres says he is going to drain the swamp, he’s a little behind the curve. It’s already been done but he doesn’t know it – that would have taken a college course in US History.)

So for a few days, I managed to outrun Mia the Dog and place the ‘foody’ containers down in all the different rooms ahead of her (it takes longer to eat frozen kibble-yogurt than to scarf up room-temp kibble). This allowed me to sit back and watch her frantic enjoyment with eating. And giggle.

Then we, Mia the Lab and me, became bored again.

So, being the good little dog trainer that I am, I decided to train her.

Duh! Why didn’t I think of that before?

I wondered if I could train her to go to a room and stay there while I placed the kibble containers down in the other rooms.

Then she would have to smell out the kibble while I watched with fascination and rooted for her.

Of course, there was only the kitchen and the living room and the hallway and the first bedroom and the second bedroom and the bathroom – ah! The bathroom. Perfect! The smallest room.

So, I looked at Mia the Lab and said, “Mia, go to the bathroom.” She would grab a toy (after all, she is a retriever) and follow me down the hall. When we got to the bathroom, I turned around and shut the door on that poor little ol’ hang-dog look. The door didn’t close all the way because my client hangs his bath towels over the top of the door, allowing Mia the Lab to peek out or, later, when she got smarter, to open the door with her snout and come out for the kibble hunt.

That gave me time to get out the kibble concoctions from the freezer and place them strategically around the ‘house.’

Of course, I tried to vary the locations from meal to meal.

She would always check the place she thought I put down the final container. Or the last place she found some kibble – to no avail. Then she would finally trust her trusty ol’ sniffer-nose.

And sometimes we both would forget to count the locations, only to find one hours later – Mia the Lab’s surprise snack attack!

Mia is so good at this meal game that she can understand when I tell her to go to the bathroom.

And after I had hidden her complete meal, I could either call her (and thus practice the recall – but as soon as she found a dish, she would "forget" to come to me) or just say, “OK,” or even just clap my hands!

Eventually, I only had to tell her to go to the bathroom and she would grab a toy and go - all by herself like a big girl dog.

Voila! A dog who understands whole, complete sentences AND goes to the bathroom - indoors!

End of confession number one. Hope you enjoyed it!

Addendum: I love to watch Mia the Lab hunt for dinner and snarf it down. She is quite the entertainer, tail wagging wildly from side to side as she downs her dinner. Or breakfast. Or lunch.

PS – of course it helps if I only tell her to go to the bathroom when it is time to eat. And I haven’t tried this outside when she is on a potty break!

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