My Smart Dog
Thor the English Labrador Retriever
Thor is smart. Sometimes I think he may be too smart for my own good. I already told the story of how Talking to my dog bridged the gap of misunderstanding between us. Now I would like to relay how I cured a very common behavioural glitch I have learned is a common theme among labs of all shapes and colors.
We have a big backyard and Thor owns it. We let him out when he asks to do so but there are times when he simply does not want to come in. You might say this is not a problem at all since dogs belong outside in the first place but I disagree.
Thor is not a working dog or a hunting dog, although that is what his species was bred to do. For us he is a very important watch dog. He has learned to growl at intruders, even those he is fairly familiar with like the neighbor. He has come to understand that this is Thor's yard and it is Thor's job to defend it.
After dark our yard can become a bit more active as far as the local wildlife is concerned. One night I came out to check on Thor and he had a young Opossum in his mouth. His tail was up and his chest was out and he was literally prancing about with pride at what he had caught. I knew though that the creature was likely very much alive so i begged him to drop it and upon raising my voice he did so.
Albeit with confusion because he thought he had done something good. I put him back in the house and the possum was gone when i came back out. Ha! Thor caught it but doesn't know about the killing part of the hunt.
So, this is what Thor does at times. Mostly he began doing this to my girlfriend when I was not home. He would bark at the gate, presumably asking to come in, and she would go out to get him and he would only back away and not listen to her. No amount of bribery or cajoling would change this behaviour.
When he first did it to me i decided not to fuel his act by rewarding him with more attention. I simply would go back in the house and come back in a half hour. One particular night this went on for hours. He even went as far as jumping at the bedroom window from outside and barking as if saying he wanted come in.
Eventually I would lose my temper and give chase, cursing him the entire way. Leash in hand, ready to whip his rear end, I would give it my enraged best but there is no way I can catch a full grown lab, especially not one so young and in great shape as Thor. Later on I would never strike him because I knew it was me who was missing something. i was not about to start abusing my good dog over a misunderstanding. Let's not be hasty people, ok?
We reached out to others and found out that this was a common theme among young labs! Other people were having just this same sort of problem and no one had any answers. Everyone just laughed and grimaced at the same time and shook their heads.
I had enough of this nonsense though. Once faced with a dilemma i do not rest until it is solved. Because Thor was still young and prone to taking off when we gave him a chance without a leash we had not yet introduced him to the neighborhood. Our yard is plenty big enough for him and the little dog, BJ, to run and chase one another around in for exercise. I believed the key to making sure Thor never ran away was to make sure everything was new to him.
You might want to take this advice if you have a runner. He would never get far because he was unsure of himself. He didnt know these strangers and their yards with their odd smells and unknown objects. His running swiftly became a trembling inspection and he has never gotten further than a couple houses away as a result.
As i said though Thor is smart. He watched as BJ walked around without a leash. He watched as BJ walked out front unattended. He began to realize that there was more to his yard than just the back. He began to yearn for the front yard. He began to want everything that BJ got like a jealous younger brother.
One day, when he was exhibiting his occasional reluctance to come out of the backyard I asked him, "Do you want to go out front with BJ?"
Guess what? He scurried over to me like he did when he was half grown and I had a biscuit in my hand. He wanted to go out front. He wanted to be trusted to survey his domain just like his little friend! Now, the problem is solved entirely. Even when his attention is fixed on the rabbit on the other side of the back fence all I have to ask is, "Do you want to go out front?" and he comes a running.
I can't believe it! All the times that I had gone out hour after hour into the late, late night or early morning dark and this is all he wanted? I had taught Thor how to bark and tell me he wanted to go out. A very short and sharp bark easily distinguishable from the usual sound. What I hadn't relayed to him was that he needed to talk whenever he wanted to go out front. He had been barking at me, to be sure, but I had no idea what he wanted until long after the point.
Once again I find myself wondering who trains who? It was only a matter of asking him what he wanted. If I had went down that avenue earlier I would have avoided a lot of frustrating nights in the cold. Talk to you dog folks, he has a lot to say if you just listen for the right words.
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