Sunday, October 6, 2013

Raising "That Dog"

Everyone dreams of having That Dog when they design their training and/or lifestyle regimen for their canine companion.  That Dog (TD) is a dog who you can trust in every situation to act appropriately, is reliable off-leash in any environment, loves everyone and everything, plays with you, comforts you, will defend his/her family and home without being rude to invited guests, is obedient to every cue, doesn't cause trouble by being a nuisance in any way, is perfectly house-trained, and does adorable tricks or maybe has some cute quirks.

I could describe all the ways in which my dogs have failed to live up to the TD ideal, but it's not necessary.  I love all my dogs for who they are, regardless.  Suffice it to say, none of the dogs in my life have ever had potential to qualify for TD status.

That is, until Zenzi.

Zenzi is proving herself more and more to possess qualities that make her a TD prospect.

  • Intelligent:  Zenzi has been easy to train since I brought her home at 6 weeks old.  Clicker training has been our way, and she is certainly an exceptionally bright dog.  She always catches on quickly, and loves to work.
  • Work Ethic:  Zenzi will work for praise, food, and toys/play.  She is food and toy CRAZY, so the drive is there for her to just keep working until she drops.
  • Bonded:  when Zenzi and I are together, she is all about me.  She is not too terribly interested in other people or their dog(s).  She doesn't mind other dogs, and does well in daycare as far as not causing trouble, but she doesn't need to socialize with them and doesn't play much with anyone besides her family at home.  We can play frisbee or ball off-leash at parks and I never worry about her recall should there be a person and/or dog walking by.  She is all about the game with me, and nothing else matters.  Ever.  No exceptions.
  • Perceptive:  Zenzi knows how I'm feeling, and will adjust accordingly.  If I'm in a bad mood and treating her rather bitchily, she responds similarly and helps me realize I'm over the top and need to calm down.  If I'm sad, she runs over and kisses me.  If I hesitate to get out of bed in the morning, she kisses me after my alarm goes off.  If I'm happy, she brings me a toy and wants to play.  If I'm nervous, she lays at my feet and keeps me company.  Mind, I didn't train her to do any of this.
  • Playful:  as I've mentioned, Zenzi loves toys and loves to play.  She loves to have "tug walks" where she tugs on her fleece leash the whole time.  She will retrieve a ball or catch a frisbee until she drops.  She likes doing her tricks for me.
  • On and Off switch:  though sometimes it's hard to find the off position, Zenzi does leap to action the second I stand up or get something out for us to do; but she will lay down and be calm if I ask and insist.  It's a work in progress, but how many teenagers do you know who have incredible will power and patience?
  • Distraction-Proof:  if we're in a very distracting environment, we both work best if it's all eyes on me.  It's so easy.  Just a small utterance of her name, and she's working.  Lots of people at malls, kids, dogs, strollers... so many things are not at all interesting enough to deter her mission of working with me.
Of course, she's not perfect.  She's 14 months old today.  She's got some growing up to do, some life to experience, some training to complete, some fears to overcome.  She's naturally shy, she's vocal, she herds unfamiliar people in the house, she's pushy, she's opinionated/bitchy, she's leery of the unusual or unfamiliar, she's territorial (in a fearful way).  But everything that makes her a good candidate is helping her overcome everything that disqualifies her from being TD.

I guess I'm just so proud.  My Father (FIL) and Stepmother-in-law (SIL) stayed with us the last two weekends.  The first weekend, they arrived Saturday night.  We did manage to survive them seated, Zenzi on her mat, and Zenzi offering to look at them, me, and get her treat.  God forbid they stand up and move around, though.  The next day, Zenzi bonded with my SIL through frisbee.  My FIL remained a work in progress until they returned the following weekend (this past Friday).  Yesterday, though, we progressed to the point of her choosing to walk up to him while he was sitting on the couch and we were watching a movie, put her two front paws up on his chest, give him kisses and take pets.  They had played with a toy earlier that day, and things just went up from there.

I have glimmers of her TD future.  And it is bright.  For the first time ever, I feel I have a dog I can trust in a variety of situations off-leash.  She makes even better decisions without prompting when she's off-leash, too.  She is very wiggly when greeting certain people now, especially women.  She's in training to be my demo dog at Wags & Wiggles, and to help me with reactive/aggressive clients someday.

To my Craigslist, panda, tutu puppy:  I love you.