Where Eagles and Herons Watch Dogs (32KB)

From Raid to Fetch

Shaping Dog-Adolescence

Kumbi Responds to Clicking

Kumbi's PopCans

A Seminal Event

Kumbi came to me to be my dog when he was eight months and two days old. He adjusted well. Like any healthy, active young dog, Kumbi liked to explore; young dogs try to find out what their worlds are all about. Also, they like to play. Also, eight months is a tail end of teething; the teething experience being fairly recent, and chewing remains an important and significant activity.

Those not familiar with clicker-training for dogs and other animals can consult my article The Click-Sound is a Bridge , in order to understand what I mean by "clicking" Kumbi for doing certain things in this story.

Human Project, Dog Adolescence

I was working on a long-term project. On a soda-pop binge during this project, I'd amassed a large collection of pop cans, which lived in one of those huge orange yard-bags meant to collect dead leaves, or something like that. I'd tucked this big rattly bag of pop cans under the counter at a little distance from my computer, along with six folded-up metal music stands; after all, why shouldn't these objects live together, out of human-and-dog-and-cat-harm's way?

One day I had a particularly long editing session on the computer, and I was late for the dogs' recreational ramble to the park. The weather wasn't all that attractive, anyway, and besides, I was nearing a big deadline with the project, so really concentrating.

As I reached a pausing-place in the project, I heard a loud rattle. Kumbi had gone under the counter, and was dragging the large bag of pop cans out from its deeply recessed hidey-hole.

Amusement Grabs my Attention

Although I felt pressure to continue working, I also welcomed a break; here came Kumbi with this huge sack, at least four times his size - though, of course, light-weight. Kumbi held the sack by one edge, which began to tear, so he changed his grip a bit. I saw him extract the whole bag from under the counter; then he appeared ready to lie down and investigate possibilities for chewing on the sack, or maybe its rattly contents

Oh, no; I didn't want him chewing on pop cans. Just not the best thing for a young dog's mouth. I leaned back in my chair, extractlng my clicker from my pocket, and making sure I had my Boring Kibble Treats ready too, getting them from my shirt pocket.

Then I looked at Kumbi and inclined my body a bit, trying to give him a hint.

Kumbi appeared unsure what to make of this, but he certainly sensed I wanted a change of some kind. He got up, took hold of the bag again, and began once again to drag it (rattle, rattle rattle) across the floor. He brought the sack close to me, then looked up at me inquiringly. I twisted my body around some, and then spun my chair a bit; Kumbi followed my lead, and brought the bag around behind my chair, then over to the dog-mat on the other side of my chair.


That was the moment for the Click, instantly followed by the Treat; one Innova Senior Kibble.

After consuming the kibble, Kumbi looked up at me, a big smile on his face. Ohhh, Puppies! Or, rather, Adolescents!

Though I was feeling physically lazy, I got out of my chair anyway, picked up the sack (rattle, rattle), and replaced it, way under the counter, back in its deep hidey-hole home. Then, sighing briefly, I returned to my chair - and to the computer -and Work.

One Good Click Deserves Another

Just as I was concentrating again - oh; I had forgotten something, hadn't I! I hadn't met all my dogs' real needs. They needed their walk, or some form of routine or ritual attention from me to them preferably, something involving their action, which would undoubtely mean, I too would have to be active, at least to some extent.

But, as I say, I felt this pressure on the "work," so I did actually return to work. It wouldn't be the first time I'd asked my dogs to wait for some time before I got around actually to meeting their very real needs.

So, just as I was concentrating again, I heard another rattle, rattle. How could I have expected less? Here came Kumbi again, of course, with the large sack of pop cans.


Then and there, I decided to forgo the work and attend to Kumbi, though I hadn't a notion of how very seminal this single occasion would turn out to be

So, as Kumbi came with the sack, pausing near my chair, I leaned slightly, and sure enough, Kumbi again brought the sack around behind my chair to the dog-mat. Click! Treat!

We finish the round

Again, I replaced the sack deep under the counter. This time, though, I was prepared; I only pretended to "return to work." Sure enough, moments later, Kumbi returned with the sack. His grip wasn't so well-placed that time, and the sack began to tear. Kumbi was getting interested in tearing it more; he made a slightly bigger hole in the sack. I sat looking, a bit casually, not staring.

Kumbi dropped the sack and looked at me, as though asking for a click. Nope; the sack wasn't yet on the dog-mat. Kumbi then picked up the sack, getting a better grip again, and once more, he dragged it around behind my chair, to the dog-mat. He looked at me again. Click! Treat!

By this time, I was faced with two needs: mine to get work done - and Kumbi's and Kwali's, to have their afternoon promenade. I decided I had to meet the dog-needs first. So, after Kumbi's third drag, I picked up the sack, took it entirely out of the room, and put it away in a storage area, up high, out of dog-reach - and out of dog-sight as well.

Then I took the dogs out for their walk, which I needed as badly as they did.

Significance of the Event

My decision to click Kumbi for taking things "not his" turns out to have been one of the great things I ever did on my own behalf. I was thinking about how hard it is to puppy-proof - or adolescent-proof - a household as cluttered and pack-ratted as mine is. I'd only done a superficial job when I acquired Kumbi, thinking he was old enough so I didn't need to be compulsive about it. But here Kumbi was, being adolescent; a potential nuisance; indeed, he followed up later, taking things from the lower bookshelves, and bringing them to me, quite reliably, to the dog-mat.

Over the following months, Kumbi himself generalized the behavior, so that he ended up bringing large pebbles in (through the pet door), and taking them to the couch, or to Our Bed. Consistently, I rewarded him for doing this, though he had been the one to decide to collect the items. Imagine rewarding a dog for such inventiveness, when so many dog-trainers tell you to control all the resources and all the games. Was I so daring? Maybe. Maybe not. There were big payoffs to my decision to reward behavior offered without human cue, and I still enjoy those payoffs.

Kumbi has, several times since, gone and fetched something I had dropped, even if it had rolled into a place very hard for me to reach. I am getting old and creaky. Kumbi goes and gets the thing, and takes it to his Reward-Place. Sometimes he even brings it to me,though I have never asked nor required that he do so.

If there is a moral to this story, I expect you can find it, perhaps, for instance, at Kumbi and the Glass Globe

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