I wonder whether anyone has experience they’d like to share in using Lassie movies as training devices for their own pooch. I am still learning to distinguish which of Sadie’s many barks means variously:
1. I have to go potty.
2. I *really* have to go potty!
3. I *really* have to go BIG potty!
4. I don’t really have to go potty and I really am bored and so maybe you’ll take me out to go potty so that I can:
3a. Find a poison mushroom to inhale before I even notice it’s there
3b. Bark at anything out of place such as a fallen leaf
3c. Pretend to be docile and then try to dislocate my shoulder when she sees a mosquito float by. Or a leaf. Or a hallucination.
On the other hand, Lassie is capable of communicating with cunning, compassion, and coherence with the adults in her life. I grant you that theoretically, it might be that the adults on the show are much cleverer than I am. It’s a reasonable hypothesis, but no…if I had abandoned mine shafts and unused wells all over my farm, I’d make damn sure any kids knew they were not to go there! And, I wouldn’t cover over an unused well hole with a couple of loose two by fours either. For that and other tedious reasons, I don’t think the genius in the Lassie family lies with the humans. It is Lassie who has the title role and she is the one with outstanding skills.
Witness episode N+1:
Lassie gallops into the kitchen and skids to a stop right beside Gramps and barks:
“What’s that Lassie? What is it, girl?”
“What? Something’s wrong with the roof?”
“I will not! Anyway, I already fed you.”
Lassie, noticeably frustrated, circles twice and grabs a can-opener in her muzzle, sprints to the liquor cabinet and begins banging the can-opener into the lock.
“What? You’re trying to jimmy the lock open? You want a drink?”
Lassie grabs one ear with her paw and barks.
“Oh! Sounds like ‘jimmy’! Oh! Let’s see…’Kimmy’, ‘dimmy’, ‘Limmy’, I don’t know girl. There aren’t many words that rhyme with ‘jimmy.’”
Lassie barks: “ARF! ARF!”
“Lassie, are you sick or something girl?”
Immediately, Lassie springs into the air and does a somersault onto her back and waves all four paws in the air.
Gramps muses aloud. “The opposite of sick. Healthy? Something is healthy? No? Hale? Fine Fettle? Hardy?”
For each guess, Lassie barks a sharp short “No!”
Gramps frowns and says, “Well, I don’t know what you’re trying to say, Lassie. I’ve got to get back to carving my pipe here.”
Lassie stands on her hind two legs and begins using ASL with her two front paws. However, she quickly notes the looks of bewilderment on the visage of Gramps and she rightly concludes that he still doesn’t know ASL, despite her admonitions. So, she begins again with the barking: “ARF! ARF!”
Gramps says, “You’re not making any sense, Lassie. Timmy wouldn’t fall down a well. Why would he?”
“ARF! ARF! ARF!”
Gramps frowns and tilts his head so fast he pulls his sternocleidomastoid. “What? He fell down the well just last week? No, he didn’t. That was two weeks ago. Last week, Timmy fell down an old mineshaft. Oh! Wait! Are you trying to tell me that Timmy fell down a well again!? Oh, no! Why didn’t you tell me?”
Needless to say, Gramps calls the sheriff and after he arrives Gramps explains. The sheriff draws his gun and charges out toward one of the 17 abandoned wells at Gramps’s place. But Lassie begins barking — again!
“ARF! ARF! WOOF! BOW!”
The sheriff glares at Gramps and uses his best shoulder shrugging head tilt as though to say, “Well? You going to shut up the mutt or am I?”
Gramps scratches several places; for instance, behind his ear. Then he says, “Lassie is simply pointing out that while a gun won’t help get Timmy out of the well, a long rope might.”
“I knew that!” The sheriff speaks in a huff while Lassie merely rolls her eyes and winks at Gramps. Then, off Lassie scampers to the tool shed, picks the lock with a handy nearby roofing nail, nudges the door open, and scampers back with a long loop of strong rope.
Soon, she leads them to one of the many abandoned wells. By the time Gramps and Sheriff catch up, Lassie has tied a loose bowline one one end of the rope and two half hitches around a sturdy nearby oak stump, tosses the bowline down to Timmy, and barks her orders to him. Gramps and Sheriff pull on the rope, and soon enough, Timmy, cold and wet but alive, politely thanks Sheriff and Gramps for pulling him out and then throws his skinny arms around Lassie. “Oh, Lassie! Thanks, girl, for saving me! You were right! I shouldn’t have tried to walk across the well on those rotten planks after all!”
Lassie merely rolls her eyes.
I’m not saying that if Sadie watched any one episode that she’d learn every skill all at once, but over time, it might help. Right?
Assuming, of course, that I can ever get her to notice anything on the TV screen. I’m thinking of smearing bacon grease around the edges.
Sadie is our Golden Doodle puppy (half poodle and half golden retriever). So far, she looks a lot more like a golden retriever. Anyway, a few short weeks ago, she learned to ascend and descend the stairs to our deck. She typically does that once or twice a day as part of our general walk around, exercise, and potty break. As she grew and became more practiced, the stairs became more and more easily scaled.
She started up the first step and began sniffing every inch of the step. Same for the second step. How could she have lost so much skill? She scrambled up to the third step and began sniffling at every single leaf and bit of random detritus.
Then, it hit me. She could sprint up the stairs, hindered only by my own oldish legs. She had always viewed the stairs as a means to and end, but now that she had mastered it, she wanted to experience the stairs in the way that she most likes to experience everything — with nose and tongue.
It took her about two weeks to realize that she had forgotten to properly explore the stairs which she did today…
It could be that the guy who cleans the pool once a week, and himself has a dog, came today and it was his scent that she was particularly interested in.
In any case, it made me wonder how often people think of their career ladders, or personal journeys as something to be instrumental; e.g., to get to the top of the stairs. There are advantages to being at the top of the stairs. You can see farther. And, you’re closer to the kitchen. But there are advantages to being at the bottom of the stairs as well.
Do we ever take the time to really experience and explore the steps along the way? If your whole life is using everything as a means to an end, then in the end, it all means nothing. What of all the opportunities to explore the steps?
I’ve been playing a sort of “ball chase” + soccer with our new puppy, Sadie. She’s extremely good at it, IMHO. She instinctively chases a ball & brings it back. I’ve reinforced it but it would be a stretch to say “I trained her to do that.” I sort of expect most dogs to view this as a game not completely unlike chasing a bird or rabbit & bringing it back.
The more interesting part came when I combined it with soccer. She learned (?) to judge carom shots off the baseboard and half closed doors. She tries to stop a ball before it hits the wall but judges that if she can’t stop it directly, she can stop the rebound. That she even tries to stop it is interesting. That also seemed “natural.” I probably reinforced her differentially, but again, it would be giving me far too much credit to say I trained her to “defend” against having the ball go past her.
I begin a few weeks ago to play with two balls at once. This makes it more challenging for me not to break my neck as well as Sadie. What I find interesting is that she immediately tries to hoard or herd; i.e., control, both balls. She has tried picking up two in her mouth at once, but she can’t manage it. So, she holds one ball in her mouth and “corrals” the other between her front paws. When she gets bored, she relents and lets me throw or roll or kick the balls.
I now sometimes use three balls at once. (I’ll let you know which hospital for flowers). Actually, I’m careful, but Sadie is sudden in her movements. Anyway, once I put a ball “in play”, I usually control or kick it with my foot. Sadie imitates (!?) me in this. She “controls” a ball by putting one of her front paws on it and she also pushes the ball with her paw, though she did try “nosing it” once but I think she found it uncomfortable since she shook her head and reverted to using her front paws.
On some occasions, I “grab” a ball with the bottom of my foot and move it slowly back and forth and feign kicking one way and then kick another way which routinely makes Sadie growl as she scampers after the ball. There’s something else. The slow movement followed by quick movement energizers her more in her quest for the ball than if I simply & directly hit it.
These types of patterns are found in human sports around the globe. Did they co-evolve with dog play? I’ve seen videos of many species of mammal playing “soccer.” From the video alone though, I have no idea how spontaneous the play is. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s pretty spontaneous.
Soccer, American Football, hockey, rugby, field hockey, and basketball share this notion of trying to “make a goal” by getting past the defenders. In every one of these games, there is also the notion of “fake” or “feint.” It feels as though Sadie and I, if not reading from the same script exactly, both of us have the same “playbook” of things that are fun in sports.
On a not completely unrelated topic, I am wondering whether any other new dog “owners” have noticed that their own sense of smell has been enhanced since sharing lives with a puppy. Perhaps it is not so much enhanced as that I pay more attention to it than I did a few short months ago. She goes sniffing and I go wondering for the most part, what it is she’s sniffing on about.
To some extent, it’s the same with sounds. I’m typically a pretty visual person and when I walk alone outdoors, I mainly noticed what I see. When walking with Sadie, however, she reacts to many sounds that I would ignore. I know what it is and give it a name and then reassure her that it’s okay; that trucks and cars and airplanes and helicopters are okay, at least in the distance.
I’m mainly a visual person. I’m much more distracted by, for instance, a butterfly wafting by than a truck backfiring. Like nearly everyone, I love music. But I don’t go out of my way to hear it nearly so much as do many others. But there are sounds that I love: Simple sounds. That is why the poem itself needs to be short and neat. Those are the kinds of sounds I’m talking about. Discrete.
And some of these sounds I think I inherited a love for. Others, I grew to love. And some sounds I believe have elements of innate beauty and of learned significance. The sound of a well-hit baseball is satisfying in some deep sense over and above the significance in terms of the game. It has a resonance of beauty beyond the even more important sense that it shows what humans are capable of. All of us feel pride when we watch an athlete perform some amazing feat of strength and skill and training and will and concentration all coming down to a moment of truth and *CRACK!* there it is and you know long before it clears the fence because you heard the Home Run first.
So, there’s that. But I can’t help wondering why we can’t find a way to also feel pride in all the accomplishments of all human beings. They’re all in our family. And, we recognize that, at some level. See paragraph above.
The snapping sound of a puppy’s jaws “missing” a toy is something I haven’t heard for many decades. Sadie reminded me of that sound from more than a half century ago. Some sounds you remember your entire life.