Life with a Smart Dog

Another windy, cold day here in the soybean field. Tried to walk this morning, but it’s as if the clock on the weather was turned back two months. We’ll try again shortly. Probably make cauliflower crust pizza tonight.

The trick on days like this is providing Oakley with physical activity and mental stimulation so that he doesn’t decide that it’s time for breakfast at 4 AM tomorrow. If I can get him out for one good walk, the former is solved.

The latter is a little more tricky. His trainers said that he was one of if not the brightest dog they’d ever worked with, and one of the contacts at the shelter said that the families who’d adopted his sisters had reported the same.  As with bright children, smart dogs need challenges. Otherwise, boredom sets in and the risk of destructive behavior increases. That’s why Oakley and I practice obedience training several times a week and he gets treats in a treat ball.

As he’s matured, the potential for chaos has decreased. While he was still a puppy and eating kibble, I fed him from a variety of puzzle toys to keep him from gobbling his food and make him think about  how best to get to the savory nuggets. I invented a game called Kibble from Heaven, sort of a canine quiz. I measured out his meal, then gave him a command. When he responded properly, I tossed a handful of kibble into the air, let it scatter on the floor, and waited until he’d cleaned it up, repeating until he was all done.

Nosework is another good way to enhance adverse weather days. I have some freeze dried liver that I keep for just such an occasion. I hide little chunks of it on end tables, stairs, the dining room chairs, any place that will challenge him a bit, but not so hard as to frustrate him.

It takes a little innovation, but the results have been worth it. I don’t need two holes in the drywall to get my attention.    

Quiet Triumphs

ImageThis is Oakley at three months old.It’s the photo that I saw on line and fell in love with.

ImageThis is the adolescent Oakley, about 5 and a half months old, when he came home. If you can imagine what it would be like to adopt a ten year old boy who was profoundly gifted but had ADHD and had to deal with the baggage of living in an orphanage for nearly his whole life after getting placed there in infancy, that should give you a rough idea of what training him was like.

ImageAnd this is the guy he’s grown up to be.  It took six exhausting months, but he turned into the dog that his teachers, the owner of the shop where I buy his supplies, and my heart all knew that he would be.

This week, he started walking at a large state park that had given him the heebie-jeebies in the past. Spending one’s first six months exposed to not much more than concrete and tile surfaces will do that to a guy. More than a handful of steps lead to a meltdown. Instead of throwing himself on the ground and shrieking as would a human child, he would jump and mouth my forearms until I stepped on the leash, forcing him into a down until he composed himself and we could continue. 

It took time. A lot of that six months, in fact. Finally, at a forest preserve with a paved trail, he did a lap without incident, and a couple of days later two laps, and then he wanted to explore the paths branching off of it. And then the part of his brains that knew that walks in the woods were part of the essence of dog-ness woke up. 

This particular park has a right-of-way near power lines for the local electric company. The  constant buzz and hum likely made his ears uncomfortable, leading to meltdowns the first times I tried to walk him there.

This week, however, we walked there twice. Once on a hot muggy morning; today beneath grey skies. We stayed away from the power lines, though. Oakley found new things to sniff and explore along the river while getting us both some badly needed exercise after this near-tropical week. 

A splendid time was had by both. A long enough time coming, but sweeter than sweet.