Friday, 18 February 2011

Reach for the Stairs

Spud our little flat-coated retriever earned her stripes this season. Only 18 months old and still a baby, she worked as a full member of the dog team. In fact, the work seemed to suit her, giving her a constructive outlet for her considerable energy. I needed her when Dulcie got sidelined with the torn ligament, so Spud got an instant promotion. We had to skip a few training steps, so we're going back to basics now.

You might not think that you need to teach a dog to climb stairs. But sometimes you do.

Spud was crate trained and house-trained until she was a year old, but she never went upstairs. I've started bringing Spud into the house during the day, when I'm at home, to get her used to everyday domestic life. She follows me, or lays down and watches me, or brings me a sock from the laundry basket. But she was vexed by the stairs.

Training a food-oriented dog means you're already half way there. I sacrificed Mike's corned beef (he was saving it for lunch) and placed cut up pieces on stairs, each time encouraging Spud to climb another step.

It took a little time to master turning the corner -

Then it was just the final climb to the top -

I can totally do this..don't think about it...just run at it...eyes on the prize


Where I was waiting with more corned beef, and a huge pat for being so clever and brave.

Of course coming down the stairs was an entirely different concept. I worried if I put treats on the stairs, she would stop to eat them, trip over her own feet and end up in a heap at the bottom.

Mike's trousers were hanging on the bannister, so I borrowed the belt and looped it over her head - partly to encourage her forward and partly to stop her doing a superhero leap to clear all the stairs in a single bound.. After some hesitant straddling, a foot in each corner, she lunged for the bottom. Not the definition of a controlled descent, but she did it.

We did two more trips up and down the stairs, with copious praise and tidbits. The last trip down the stairs she did all by herself without breaking any bones or speed records -

Other things that I have learned from experience to teach a dog early on: having its toe nails clipped, riding in a car, a command to stop barking, no chasing cats or chickens (even if you don't have them yourself), and the vacuum cleaner is nothing to be afraid of. I've added climbing stairs to my list.

Spud was such a quick learner that I still had time to whip up a bowl of soup, and some cheese on toast, before Mike got home for lunch. He agreed that his corned beef went to a good cause.

There are just as many dog stories I could tell you, where we didn't get it quite right. Hazel has been our biggest failure. Smart and well-bred, but reeling from some hard and inconsistent training before we adopted her at four years old. As a pet, she great - obedient, fun-loving, kid-friendly, and very affectionate. As a working dog, she had some very bad habits. And a full day's work invariably ended with Hazel limping on a sore shoulder.

Friends of ours just happen to be looking for an older spaniel, to keep as a pet and take on walks. Their children are growing up and want a dog the kids can cuddle and play fetch with. And they live on a big estate too. They may take her home with them this weekend.

Hazel - always ready for a game of fetch

I will miss Hazel. I've never given up a dog before. She deserves a pet home.


Paula said...

Aw. but that just shows what good dog mommy you are- to out her needs before yours, even though you will miss her.

The phrase 'the vacuum cleaner is nothing to be afraid of' reminds me of the time that Steve managed to trap Tank, our Rhodesian Ridgeback/Rottweiler mix on the other side of the bed, and she vaulted herself over the bed to get away from him. This was something from a dog who knew she was never to get on furniture.

I think your early training choices are good ones. I miss my dogs.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I'm sorry you have to give up Hazel! It seems it's in her best interests, though, no? I hope the family loves her this weekend and decides to give her a home forever, and lots of visits from you. said...

I think you've just defined the acid test of whether someone is cut out for your kind of life. If you use your husband's lunch to train a dog, or you don't mind when your wife uses your lunch to train a dog, you've got the right stuff.

I'm sure you will be happier for Hazel, finding a good home, than you will be sad to see her go.

Karen Thomason/Gordon Setter Crossing said...

The greatest love is to give up a dog to provide it with a better life. Sometimes those decisions have to be made for the sake of the animal.

Maria said...

I loved your step-by-step photos of stair-training! and I agree with others here - your list of training needs is very sound. I like the 'having your toenails clipped' one especially. I imagine it makes life a lot easier later on..

If Hazel goes to a new home I'm sure you will miss her, but it is a very selfless thing for you to do - putting her needs before yours. Maybe you can visit occasionally?

Dog Hair in my Coffee said...

This is really, really funny. I have NEVER thought about having to actually train a dog to climb stairs, as my 4 have slept upstairs on the floor in our room from the time they were babies. Which meant they were climbing the stairs from the time they were babies. Who would have thought you'd have to TEACH a dog to do that. Very funny to watch and think about the process you had to go through. And Hazel will have a wonderful life as a pet - that's the kinder thing than keeping her as a working dog when she's not really into that. And I totally agree on the things you need to teach them when they're little - out of 4, not one of them likes riding in a car because I didn't keep at it when they were little. Wish I had! Hugs to all the pooches there.

Heidianne said...

You are so doing the right thing with Hazels best interest at heart. You will miss her, but it sounds like her new home is perfect.

Your don't think about how daunting and weird stairs must be to a canid , but if you have four legs and no clue what to do, then they must seem freaky as heck. She did good!