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January 31, 2014: Obedience Class #3: A Vegetarian’s Perspective

Last night we went to elementary school obedience class. Beforehand, we stopped at the grocery store and picked up dog treats, in this case hot dogs. We selected the pork and chicken variety – the cheapest of the lot. Behind every joke is a half-truth – in this instance, it was that I would not feed these hotdogs to a dog.

We arrived in class with minutes to spare, me with a package of unopened hotdogs in hand. We generally take the bench spot on the right hand side of the room, this makes getting ready for class easier. Plus, both Pete and I then have a place to sit. I bounded into the room,

sat on the bench, opened the hot dog package with a white plastic knife that we picked up in the supermarket deli, and cut half a hot dog into rounds, and the rounds into quarters. The pieces were slimy and smelled like canned dog food.

All the while I was thinking that these dogs are what low income people eat. This is not by choice, but due to financial constraints. I also thought that this ought not be, because these hotdogs can’t be all that good for you. After slicing, I tossed a chunk to Ryder. She was rather noncommittal – she didn’t see these treats as being objectionable, but rather as acceptable. I suspected that if I did a taste test and offered her a low priced and a high priced bit of hot dog, she would have gone for the all-beef item. After all, she’s a Border collie, and Border collies are smart. I didn’t see any lamb hot dogs, which most likely would have been best.

The numbers in the previous foundation class dwindled over the six week session This has not been so of elementary school, which has been a step up. The handlers in this class know more about how to put positive reinforcement theory to work – and consequently, their dogs are more attuned to them than were the dogs in the foundation class. There is little barking, and little pulling and straining on the leash to get at the other dogs.

The dogs in this class are also all treat motivated. They gobble down what they’re given at the speed of light – pretty amazing to see. On the other hand, Ryder will sniff what she’s given, and no matter what it is, deliberate about it before chowing it down. Some things she’ll now flat out reject: these being burnt popcorn, Yummy Chummys, Zukes, stale cheese, salmon chunks, and kibbles. She has liked these things in the past, but she’s tired of them (I think) altogether too quickly.

As I loaded up my bucket, it occurred to me that many years ago, I’d watched agility people put liver bits in their mouths, then at the appropriate moment in time, spit the treats at the dogs, who caught them in their own mouths. I knew even then that this was something I could never do, particularly if the treat was (as it was in this instance) a piece of pork and chicken hot dog. It was if the twain would never meet – a vegetarian taking a meat BYPRODUCT into her mouth cavity in order to get said result from somewhat disinterested or distracted dog.

Now, some will tell you that the FDA would not allow BYPRODUCTS to be sold as human food. The questions that this raises are, what these days constitutes a BYPRODUCT? And furthermore, what’s to keep some snarky food processing manager from tossing ,ahem, what we know for sure are byproducts into the vat? The rationale might be that chicken claws, beaks, feathers contribute to mouth feel – umm umm, people love their gristle.

Ryder was a bit more alert this go-around. She was (as always) subdued – she often lay down and watched what was going on with great interest. Her ears, which are always at half mast, are often quite telling. They (for example) went straight up and then flattened when a large schnauzer (in protecting his owner) lunged at Claudia. Claudia, after giving the matter a whole five seconds thought, turned and walked away – an example to us all to ignore bad behavior. Ryder got the message. As she then said to me “no treats for that dog!”

We practiced a series of exercises, all which are in our Elementary School Manual. We first reviewed Good Behavior at Home, then moved on to Left Pivot or Swing, Finish Left, Relay—Call Front – Finish Left, Emergency U-Turn, and Emergency Stay.

Then came the Grande finale, a bonus exercise called Leave It.

Here’s how it goes: You place your treat pouch or another object on the floor (glove, bag, etc). Before your dog gets to it, say LEAVE IT once and wait for the dog to leave it. Wait for, or lure your dog into eye contact (a “look”). When the dog looks at you, click and treat.

One is never allowed to take something off the floor after the handler says “leave it.” Rather, one is to reward with something else, perhaps something better. You can then pick it up yourself and give it from your hand or give it later, out of context.

Hmmmm. Our treat pouch is an open Tupperware container that we strap around our waist, so quite clearly, this was not going to work. So, always resourceful, Pete suggested that we instead put the hotdogs in a Ziploc bag and practice with it. Ryder, who was by now pork and chicken satiated, considered sniffing the package the first time we passed. However, she showed no interest in subsequent passings. So, still always resourceful, Pete suggested that we take the package out of the Ziploc bag and put them on the Ziploc bag. Ryder, who by now was looking extremely bored, did as she was asked to do, and walked past the hotdogs a half-dozen more times. Class was then said to be over, so I put the hotdog package back in the Ziploc bag, zipped it up, and stuffed it in my treat bucket. We didn’t get any complements about what I considered to be a stellar performance. However, I liked this exercise because it made Ryder and I look like we’d previously practiced this lesson.

The truth be known, we have not practiced anything consistently. Maybe I need more treats. Perhaps every time Ryder and I do something right, I should get chocolate. Problem is, if she excels, my weight will go off the chart.

Class dismissed, I went into the washroom and washed my hands of the hotdog smell. I later got to thinking that the easier way to rid myself of this noxious odor (remember, I’m a vegetarian) would have been to chop off my fingers and use them as dog treats. Problem is, I would not then be able to give out treats or to use the clicker.

Next: 32. 2/1/14: Search and Rescue Foundation Trailing Class #1