Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Doberman Do's: a short list

Elka is my first dog, and my first Doberman.  We've been over this, I know.  And of course, as my smart and beautiful girl, I find her to be unique and, well, some days more perfect than others.  Of course, some days I'm more perfect than others.

What I'm going to lay out for you I'm sure applies to living with dogs in general, but definitely applies to Doberman living.  Their distinct intelligence and personality makes life with them both easy and hard, from what I've experienced and from what I've gathered visiting Doberman forums.

1. Sit always means sit.  Not sometimes, not when one of you doesn't feel like it.  Not only in the kitchen, or only in the backyard.  Sit means sit every time, every place.  If you are unwilling or unable to actually enforce a command, do not ask your dog to do it.  If I ask Elka to "Sit", and she looks at me like she doesn't have a brain left in her head, I will take her by the collar, and put my hand on her back, right in front of her tail.  That's enough to keep her in place, and remind her that I mean it.  Similarly, don't call your dog if you don't know for sure she's going to come.  "Sometimes you just have to try and see" is true, but if you're going to try and see, do it when your dog is on a long leash, so you can at the very least make sure she doesn't take off when you call her.

2.  When your Doberman does something right, make it the best thing in the world, or at least pretty cool.  I'm working on teaching Elka to heel on my left side.  I'm going to put a different word to it (perhaps the German "fuss", so it's like I did it right all along!), but right now, I pretty much start with her on my left, pat my left leg, and walk.  If she does it right, even for only a few steps, I exclaim "Yes!" I pet her, and maybe rough her up a little, and we jump around together.  Her eyes light up, her ears are up, and she looks extremely pleased.  It's easy to focus on what your dog doesn't do right, and we are our own worst critics.  Find what your dog is doing right, and reinforce the heck out of it!

3.  Make your Doberman's name important to her.  Elka's name is not her recall cue.  Elka's name is an "I'm talking to you" cue, and a "pay attention to me" cue, and frequently a "you should probably stop doing what you're doing" cue.  When I say "Elka" and she looks at me, I say "Yes!" (you may have noticed, that's our marker word if I don't have the clicker and even sometimes when I do.  Simultaneous marking, confusing or doubly rewarding?  You decide.)  I will frequently say Elka's name before a cue, so that she isn't confused about whether perhaps I'm talking to somebody else.  I frequently say Elka's name just to see her perk up and look at me, and then I have an excuse to give her a treat or start a game.

4.  Be absolutely clear about what is never okay.  Jumping is a good example of this.  For whatever reason, jumping was a hard behavior to extinguish in Elka, and she continued to jump up on people until she had been spayed, and I threatened our acquaintances financially that if they let her jump, and she ripped her stitches, they were paying for it, and she would be in a lot of pain.  I can't swear on a stack of Bibles that Elka has never jumped up on anybody since, but it's been rare enough that I can say she doesn't jump anymore.  She'll rear up like a horsie next to you to smell your face, perhaps, but won't make contact.  And, indeed, in our early days of clicker walking, she would get excited and think she deserved the treat if we were going an extended stretch of sidewalk heeling, so Elka would rear like a horsie, next to me.  I put a cue on it, "Elka, are you in the circus?"  She doesn't spontaneously jump like that anymore.  Interestingly, she also doesn't always do the cue right either, or at least not the first shot.  "Try again" is in her vocabulary.

5.  Sure, it's nice to give your Doberman a treat, but make her work for it.  Just as sit always means sit, it's easy to blow off a cue if you think you're going to get the treat anyway.  It's very very rare that I give Elka a treat for free; rock bottom rewarded behavior is a sliver of attention.  Eye contact is a good one, and something a dog won't necessarily offer all the time.  A direct stare is rude, you see.  Frequently, Elka will play a game where she asks to go outside for potty, and then will kind of sniff around a bit, and frequently will pretend to be a Doberman statue.  So, if she cues me for potty, we go outside, I encourage her, and she goes with reasonable expediency, once we're back within the fence we'll play with the tennis balls for a little while.  In fact, the only times I take Elka out back to play with the tennis balls are if we didn't go for a walk (or didn't have time), but I have a wedge of time in which we can go out back, or if she's just gone potty.  This seems rather abstract, but every time Elka has successfully peed outside, once that fence closes, she tenses up in anticipation and looks at me to see if we're going to get the ball.

6. Cherish the time your Doberman spends sleeping.  When Elka was a puppy, I couldn't get anything done when she was awake.  It was contant management and entertainment as long as she was going.  When she crashed, though, it was usually in a sweet smelling pile in somebody's lap, and I'm not exaggerating; when Elka sleeps, she smells like brownies.  A little less distinctly as she's gotten older, but if you put your nose to sleepy puppy Elka, she smelled like a pan of brownies just out of the oven.  Even now, I can tell if she's been sleeping by how she smells (well, and by finding the warm spot on the couch).  A sleeping Doberman is one who isn't getting herself into trouble, and who is letting you accomplish non dog related things.


  1. Good advice. We don't always follow these with our Dobie, but we should

  2. I hear that! Being a dog owner has at the same time been more hard and more rewarding than I thought it would be.