Thursday, September 16, 2010

Are you shy?

Cobi's Person: I was talking recently with one of the Smart Dog trainers about things we teach our dogs that backfire. She was describing teaching her dog to touch noses with her. It sounds cute in theory, but what happens now is that when a person bends down to pet him, her dog launches at their faces and nose-bonks them. Whoops.

The "whoops" in our house is something called "are you shy".

We got Cobi when her littlest person was six years old. Most of her five and six year old friends were not very comfortable around dogs, especially rambunctious, half-grown puppies. To mitigate this, I taught her this new trick.

The behaviour goes like this: I bend over slightly at my waist and move my feet apart, then I give the verbal cue which is "Are you shy?" Cobi circles around the right side of my body and moves between my legs, facing forward, and sits.

The idea was this:
1. The dog moves away from the child and behind my body.
2. The dog situates herself between my legs, where I easily have control over her.
3. The verbal cue "are you shy" is for the child. If the dog is shy, the dog won't be scary, right?

So this actually works. It's incredibly cute. And it's so cute, it's taken on a life of its own. This position is highly reinforced. She gets a huge amount of petting and treats and attention in this position.

And since we often practised this when meeting new people, she seems to have extrapolated that this is a good greeting.

In our house, a greeting usually starts with people knocking at our front door. Jacobi is asked to go into her crate. The people come in our front door and enter the living room. When the dog seems relatively calm, she's invited out of her crate to meet the people. The people usually make lots of loud, excited "happy to meet dog" noises, and then bend over at the waist to pet her.

And guess what the dog does? She shoves, pushes, or otherwise inserts herself between their legs.

And guess what the people do? "Awww, aren't you cute!" Pet, pet, pet, attention, attention, attention.

And the behaviour is reinforced.

This has backfired a few times. Imagine, if you will, my father's cousin coming into our house. She lives in Montreal and is in town for a visit. This is her first time at our house. She has never had a pet of any kind, and is very uncomfortable around dogs. She's also in her mid-seventies, has a bad knee, and is, of course, wearing black pants.

I had shut Jacobi in the other room, wanting to have complete control over their greeting. But my father, who adores his grand-dog, goes looking for her as soon as he comes in the door. Cobi comes bursting out, immediately spots my father's non-animal-lover-bad-kneed-elderly cousin (wearing black pants), launches at her, and shoves between her legs.

The cousin shrieks, leaps in the air, and then runs for the kitchen where she focuses on fiercely brushing the dog hair off her pant legs. I grab the dog who has a big smile on her face. I'm sure she's thininking something like, "That was fun! Where are you going? That was fun!"


Here's another example of a time this backfired. We were at Parksville and had just come up off the beach. I was washing my feet with a hose and Jacobi was chasing the spray. A guy, probably in his early twenties, was standing with his girlfriend, waiting to use the hose after us. He was clearly a dog lover. When Jacobi danced past him, he bent over and called to her.

She promptly circled around behind him and tried to push through his legs.

But he was wearing board shorts. Very low-hanging, baggy board shorts. Halfway through his legs her head got caught. She thrashed around down there, trying to free herself, for probably fifteen or twenty seconds before he helped untangle her.

Fortunately, as I mentioned, he was a dog lover. And when she was free of his pants he bent down and gave her a big rub. I, on the other hand, was very embarassed and apologetic. Um, yes... I did train her to do that... Erm...


Here are Jacobi and her littlest person demonstrating "are you shy".

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