Zille has a great big brain, Tink has a great big ego, Beowulf has a great big heart.

Because Zille is quite possibly the smartest and most perfectest dog to ever come out of Blackthorn Kennel, I like to randomly pick new things to teach her. She soaks things up like a sponge and then she is all “my learnings, let me show you them!” For instance, it took her 5 tries to grasp the Window Test under the no-reward protocol[1].

Having a dog who is really bright and also really willing to work is a novel and fun experience for me. Tink, for instance, is pretty damn bright but she also has a great big ego, so she’s pretty sure that her ideas are better than my ideas. This particularly pertains to my ideas that require her to do something like sit still for more than 15 seconds when there’s a great wide world for her to sniff, or at least a cat for her to suck on. I have not been able to hit upon a single reward that she considers worth a 30 second stay, although she will go 20 seconds for the promise of tuggy with her stuffed snake.

Zille, on the other hand, is not only nearly ego-free, but she really wants the ball. What ball? Any ball. She doesn’t care. She just wants that spherical object, preferably thrown. She’s a perfect storm of intelligence, lack of ego, and an easily manipulated drive. Zille wants to be a Good Dog (lack of ego), she Wants The Ball (toy drive), and she has the brains to figure out what you’re telling her really, really quickly. So tonight we worked on two new skills during fetchy: go out! and STOP!

“Go out!” means “Move 10 feet away in the direction I’m pointing, and then face me for further direction.” “STOP!” is pretty self-explanatory, it means “Freeze in your tracks.” So far I’m just working “STOP!” when she’s approaching, because then I can use body language (lean forward, put a hand out like a traffic cop) in addition to my voice to cue her. I’d like to work it until I can use it to stop her motion in any direction, though. You can see how it can come in handy, especially combined with “go out!” and at some point I intend to add “right” and “left” in there. I don’t have a deep need per se to be able to direct my dog around like a radio controlled car, but Zille’s big ol brain needs SOMETHING to do and I can see situations where it would come in handy.

I wish I could find a way to make Tink as thrilled about learning things as Zillekins is, with Tink’s horrible vision and the likelihood that one day she’s going to quite suddenly go blind entirely when her right retina detaches, it would be fantastically useful to be able to give her verbal cues on where to go.

I don’t know if these differences are breed differences (Doberman vice German Shedder), breeding differences (a breeder who does not focus on mental soundness and ability vice one who does), or personal differences (Tink vice Zille); it’s likely that it’s a combination of all three. And it’s not that I don’t cherish my clever, hard-headed, dramatic Tink for who she is. She will always be my best buddy, but it’s nice to have a dog who doesn’t constantly ask me “why?” when I ask her to do something.

Beowulf doesn’t ask why, but he doesn’t have a great big brain, just a willing heart and the same lack of ego Zille has. He is, however, way more sensitive to disapproval from people than Zille is, and she’s pretty handler-sensitive. He will learn, but you have to break things down very small and be very patient with him, and if you sound anything but pleased then he wilts and gets confused. He’s a Good Dog and an easy one to get along with, but at the same time it’s great to have a dog who mostly grasped “STOP!” in one fifteen minute session and never once wondered if she were doing things wrong or looked as if she were getting confused.

I supposed I’ve rambled enough. I couldn’t really help it, it’s been a great week with the dogs, who have been exceptionally well-behaved and pleasant to live with. I’m probably jinxing myself saying that, and tonight and tomorrow they will decide to be absolutely awful because even the best relationships have their rocky periods when epic games of Bitey Face Ruler Of The Futon are played endlessly at all hours, but what the heck. I got some Good Dogs, y’all.

[1] THE WINDOW TEST IS WHERE YOU SHOW THE SUBJECT TWO PILES OF SOMETHING DESIREABLE, ONE OBVIOUSLY SMALLER THAN THE OTHER. THE SUBJECT MUST CHOOSE THE SMALLER PILE TO GET THE BIGGER PILE. THE “NO-REWARD PROTOCOL” MEANS THAT IF THE SUBJECT SELECTS THE BIGGER PILE, THE SUBJECT DOES NOT GET EITHER PILE. I USED ZILLE’S DINNER KIBBLE, HELD IN MY OPEN HANDS, WITH ONE KIBBLE IN ONE HAND AND THREE KIBBLES IN THE OTHER. AFTER 5 TRIES TO LEARN THE NEW RULE, SHE WAS CONSISTENTLY TOUCHING MY ONE-KIBBLE HAND INSTEAD OF MY THREE-KIBBLE HAND.

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Comments (2) | Dog Training — Tags: , , — Andrea @ 1949 on 22 April, 2010

2 Responses to “Zille has a great big brain, Tink has a great big ego, Beowulf has a great big heart.”

  1. Selma
    2220 on April 22nd, 2010

    According to S Coren, author of “The Intelligence of Dogs”, you have two of the top 5 most intelligent breeds with German Shepards at #3 and Dobermans at #5. http://petrix.com/dogint/1-10.html

    You not only have Good Dogs, you have Smart Good Dogs!

  2. Andrea
    0725 on April 24th, 2010

    I am always dubious about those “breed intelligence” rankings; usually they look like they’re measuring how *trainable* a dog is. And Beowulf, for instance, is very trainable but not very bright, whereas Tink would probably score low on “intelligence” because she’d rather make up her own mind, thanks.

    I’m often tempted to try training Roo to do tricks, he’d be easy because he’s definitely food-motivated. The trick is finding a treat that doesn’t set off his food allergies and make him vomit spectacularly.

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