The puppy photo looked so CUTE! Playing with a toy – butt up in the air, leaning down on her elbows…oh if only I had known what that posture says…A cheeky young dog posture saying “NO!, I’m a naughty kid – I don’t have to – make me!” I have had cattle dogs all my life, but this was the hardest dog to train – ever!
Many of you will remember Rex the Wonderhorse and Patch the Wonderdog performing up and down the east coast of Australia, and the 23 puppies Patch produced at Thendara on the Gold Coast, every single one going to Wounded Warriors, therapy programs and support dogs. Wow! Little did I know how EASY Patch was to train…and her puppies!
But then I met AMBER…Oh boy! The hardest dog to train I’ve ever worked with. We trained her, because that’s what we do…train animals to perform, compete and as theraphy animals and coaches, but little did I now what was to come…
And a massive allergy to the MRI drugs put me into thyroid-toxicosis, and my already terrible hearing was suddenly worse. The Thyroid, or the breast cancer treatment, or double mastectomy, something went wrong…and my tinnitus is not just completely blocking my hearing…it actually hurts!
You dont’ have to train a cattle dog to tell you someone’s at the door! Amber already would get up and kind of just walk around when the phone rang….so it didn’t take much to reward that…and she became my ears.
The best thing…the microwave! Nothing more annoying than losing concentration cooking, and the microwave is finished, but you don’t know, lol!
Da da da…and that’s not all folks…
Travelling around the USA teaching and lecturing and giving demos with Patch on training generally and how we can all be lighter, I found her become more and more important to me with my hearing. And the funniest, was she started getting all excited when the car GPS would say “you have reached your final destination”. After a long car ride anyone would be excited to hear that.
Personally, as a scientist, I was fascinated to see she had learned a totally RECORDED voice (i.e. not my voice). A lot of our training is body position. You look a horse in the eye, it’s very different to looking at their tail! You stand in front of a dog and look, and point at the base of most dogs tails and slowly walk toward them saying “sit”….is it the WORD they sat to, or rather you kind of walking over the top of them encouraging their position to change…to sit.
So, taking body position out of the picture, Amber could ONLY hear the GPS saying we’d reached our final destination.
So, then I started with ‘left’ and ‘right’….sure enough…I had to really teach her that by over-accentuating where I was looking and saying ‘left’, ‘left’, ‘left’. I taught her ‘left’ first….and added right later.
She ALWAYS gets excited when she hears we’ve reached our final destination…100% of the time, without fail…but the left and right, perhaps only 50% of the time, if she’s asleep she takes no notice, whereas no matter how deep asleep she appears when she hears ‘final destination’, you can get she’s 100% awake and ready to rock the crowds!
And…a set of steak knives, lol…
Obviously it’s not going to be hard for someone like me to train a cattle dog, one of the easiest breeds to train, to be my hearing with phones, smoke alarms, the front door, the microwave, but shen she TAUGHT HERSELF the GPS, I was shocked! Especially because it’s a mechanical voice.
At the time we were doing 80,000 miles a year around the USA – twice across the country with Saint and Amber, and twice to Canada, once to Mexico. We had a pattern, of getting up, working the horse and dog, getting changed, ready for travel, get to the venue, evening lecture, and then on with the clinics.
But, the one thing that kept trailing me was my blood pressure! It was so erratic, it scared me to death. 200 one minute, and under 100 the next. Ergh….
So, the instruction was to test it throughout the day….if it gets to 160, lay down, take a pill, and rest. Well you know me…I didn’t get to world No. 1 at what I do by RESTING!So, I hated it….ah…in the beginning, lol. But when I realized that re-runs of M*A*S*H*are still as funny, and well written, as they ever were, laying down for 30-60 minutes was kind of cool!
Amber in the big goose-neck trailer we had in the USA would get dirty and wasn’t allowed in Mummie’s bed, but there was a carpeted ledge beside the bed and every time my BP was up…went straight and laid down, and she was allowed to lie next to Mummie…(or else she would retaliate by going to her own bed and sulking, lol!).
She loved it…next to Mummie in the middle of the day, on the “illegal” ledge next to the bed where I’m not normally allowed…bliss!!!!
One day I was sitting at the table working, and she was unsettled moving around, coming and saying hello, then going back to bed. Normally if she wants to go outside she just goes to the door…but this was different. I’d pat her, and I’d go back to work, and she’d go and lay on her bed…but be back again in a few minutes.
After 30 minutes or so, I was starting to think she just wanted to play, so I got up to get the ball for a throw, but she lept straight up on the ledge instead of taking the ball! A CATTLEDOG NOT TAKING A BALL…..ah….should I call the vet? Cattle dogs are BORN with a ball in their mouth. They are addicted to balls. It’s a GREAT training tool to get them to go forward.
As soon as she went on the ledge, I immediately clicked…could it REALLY BE? Could my blood pressure be high enough for her to know, or is she just being a big kid, lol?
Sure enough, my BP was 196! I was so shocked I took a photo of the BP monitor! And, went and laid down, and Amber cuddled into me like she never ever had before…almost like I’d been away for a month, or she’d gotten locked in a cupboard for a year, and finally came out…snuggling HARD into me…with relief!
Since then, it’s happened nearly 20 times at least. One day it was 160. EXACTLY 160. The EXACT number the doctor told me to lay down! Could she really know? Was she just being cute and wanting a cuddle. Either way….several times I had no idea it was so dangerously high…and she saved my life.
Smart training? Nope! Just proof that reward, what that dog thinks is it’s best reward, is the easiest way to train.
Let’s face it…the old “rolled up newspaper” technique…how would that EVER have worked with the GPS or the blood pressure.
Amazing. Right at the end of my career, when I’m retiring, getting to exhausted from the cancer treatment, and as those of you who have had lessons with me in the past year or two would know – I spend half the lesson saying “what did she say?” to the person next to me, unable to hear you in a lesson. And, if you need to tell me something urgent like “my horse feels off”….I can’t hear you.
While Amber can’t help me there, Amber is creating joy and love around the world, and helping train other dogs, not just with technique, but with great PHILOSOPHY in the “don’t touch” method.
Hopefully this video shows we’re as far away from the “rolled up newspaper” method as training can possibly be….
(…can’t say I haven’t had a few pieces of KFC though…..the training tool of the masters!)
Make sure you chose the right breed! I’m not sure I could teach most of this to some of the larger breeds, they are much more difficult. But, with a cattle dog…take a look at how beautiful and easily you can train your dog….