Tuesday, May 17, 2011

You Say it's Your Birthday

Elka is two!

She is now, more or less, a doggie adult. It's been an interesting thing, picking out a puppy, bringing her home at eight weeks, and then watching her grow physically, mentally, and behaviorally. Elka has learned a lot over the past two years, and so have I.

The above picture was taken after some work with a clicker, cut up turkey meatballs, and finally just the hat and the turkey meatballs.  I only have two hands, so clicker and hat and treats and camera were just too much.  Granted, I put the hat on Elka's head straight, she started to shake her head and I said "No, thank you.  Stay still."  She then looked up at me and I got this picture for posterity, in which she looks like a slightly gangster, laser eyed clown.

When we first got Elka, I had perhaps only read one or two books about dog training.  One was by the Monks of New Skete, and the other by Tamar Gellar.  If you're unfamiliar with these names, I'll tell you now, the training styles are pretty much opposite.  When we first got Elka, I'd never had a dog before, but I'd walked every dog owned by a friend of my Dad's, and had a small dog walking "business" in my neighborhood, which included a black Lab named Mort who I somehow taught not to pull on the leash, and a Samoyed whose name escapes me who was I think very old, and thus very laid back.  Armed with this knowledge, this experience, my library card, and the Internet, we went boldly forth and got our puppy.

Since then, I feel like I've learned a lot.  I've learned that all these years when I've asked for a dog, I really did want a dog.  It was more than just liking the idea of a dog.

I've learned that I can be far more patient than I'm normally given to.  I've learned about canine nutrition, or at the very least how to eyeball whether a kibble is of a higher quality or not.  I've hands-on relearned the learning theory that I read about back in college, getting my Psychology degree, operant and classical conditioning in particular (Thanks, B.F. Skinner!)  I've learned that dogs can lie (a little, and not maliciously), I've learned that dogs can play pretend, I've learned that dogs can have a sense of humor.  

I've learned that mental exercise is just as important, if not more so, than physical exercise.
I've learned Dog People lingo, professional trends, and the interesting and perhaps unhappy fact that there can be a lot of politics and drama in the dog world.  I've learned about breed specific legislation, breed prejudices, and what insurance companies will give homeowner's insurance to the owners of a Doberman (New York Central Mutual and State Farm, for two).  

I've learned the importance of motivation and good rewards, and I've used how to use a clicker (more or less).  A year ago, when I tried the birthday hat thing, I had not progressed in my own learning enough to help Elka perform the silly task.  I had learned enough not to force her just because I said so, though, so good on me.  Putting up with a birthday hat is much, much less important than responding to Sit the first time.  A birthday hat doesn't have life-saving potential.

I've learned that having a dog in your life is wonderful, and that when people say that dogs are the definition of "unconditional love", they weren't just being sappy.  Unless I'm being sappy now too, I'm not sure.  But I am looking forward to many years to come with Elka, and looking forward to exploring what else we can learn together!


  1. Wow, it's been two years all ready? Seems like just yesterday she was being carried around at the Dragon.

  2. I know, doesn't it? I keep thinking about how little she was....and what a horse she is now.