Monday, May 26, 2008

Names of toys

An anonymous poster asks how Dozer learned the names of his toys. It's a really good question, since this particular skill can be expanded upon in a variety of ways (such as when we ask Dozer to find and put up his toys).

To put it simply, we never formally taught Dozer the names of his toys. But Dozer spends the vast majority of his time with us, and we speak to him constantly; he is utterly selfish, and will eagerly learn something that he might use to gain food or entertainment; and he is extremely toy driven.

Very early on, I spent a lot of time saying the name of each toy whenever we played with it. Sort of a nonstop babble: "Oh, you brought the rope. What a nice rope. Whose rope is that? Is that your rope? Let's play with the rope. Get the rope. Yay, rope! Rope! Where's the rope?" Like that. After a while, he started connecting each name to each toy.

After extensive name-toy-name-toy associations, it's time to firm up those associations. The easiest way to do that is to ask the dog to bring a specific toy. So at playtime, I ask "Where's the [toy name]?" This is Dozer's cue to find the toy I'm asking for.

He gets nothing whatsoever for bringing the wrong toy, and sometimes I even get up and walk off, the most boring result ever. Since he tends to persist if he thinks some toy might work, I will often give him negative feedback like "uh uh," just to reinforce the idea that the wrong toy isn't going to get him squat.

I respond very positively--praise, treat, petting, or playing--when the requested toy appears.

So you can see that it is to his advantage to learn as many toy names as possible. Consequently, his vocabulary, as it applies to toys, is very large.

Of course, it takes time for a dog to learn all the names of its toys. Dozer has spent a lifetime perfecting his understanding. He learned the first toy names gradually, through a process of trial-and-error. Now that he knows all his toys' names, he learns new toys' names through a process of elimination.

Now, this is in contrast to Felanie, who was not really very toy-driven at all, and was not a "mouth" sort of dog. She would rarely pick things up on command, and my request for her to "pick it up" was often met with an incredulous stare. "You want me to what? That nasty thing in my mouth? Riiiight." Of course, maybe the fact that Dozer would immediately bulldoze her over in his haste to respond to my command (never mind that it wasn't a command given to him) had something to do with her disinterest in fetch-type games.

My point is that not all dogs are going to learn these types of skills easily. It depends on your dog's personality and motivation.

I think most dogs learn the names of their toys rather informally, through a process of trial and error, rewards and no-responses. However, formal training is also possible. The keys are consistency in commands and names (you can't say "Get the octopus" one day and "Fetch Mr. Tentacle" the next); teaching logical precursors (first teach dog to "pick it up" or "get it" or similar commands that are not geared to a specific object, spend a lot of time playing with dog and toy and saying toy's name at same time); baby steps (teach one toy name at a time); and consistent and prompt rewards for correct responses, no-response or negative-neutral-response when incorrect.

(On a side note, Dozer finally confirmed, to his satisfaction, that he really does have to put his toys in the toy box to get a treat; lately, he'd been experimenting to see whether the toy could be up against the box but not necessarily in the box. We're still working on the part where he pulls the toys out of the box right after dropping them in. I think the process of putting the toys away just makes him want to play with them all.)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

No job, but lots of work

Being in a line of work that can manage it without logistical nightmares, I'm making the move to freelancing. I admit, it was a bit forced; I've been working full-time at a publishing company on a six-month contract, and it just expired (and the company isn't renewing any contracts, no matter what). I suppose I could have looked harder for a job, but it occurred to me that freelancing might give me time to manage the household—God knows my husband can't do that when he's working 50-60 hrs a week—and do some extracurricular activities on top of the money-making part (the freelance work).

It's day four. I have a laundry list of things to do, and I've tried to cross at least one thing off the list each day. So far so good. I've cleaned house, called landscaping contractors, gotten my car's oil changed, and cooked dinner.

I haven't slept in, I haven't watched TV, and I've only done a little web surfing (the same amount I used to do on lunch break, and strictly news articles, nothing "fun"). I "work" from 9 am to 5 pm, with a short lunch when I get hungry.

Dozer doesn't seem particularly concerned about me being home all the time. He sleeps most of the day, usually in the same room where I am (probably because I'm the Grand Master of the Fan, thereby guaranteeing a cool and pleasant temperature where ever I sit). When I change rooms to do something else, he trails along amiably; when I go into the kitchen, he rushes to the back door in the hopes that we will go out and play. (Frankly, I'm in no mood to be outside when the temperature is almost 80 degrees out there by 7 am, so poor Dozer's hopes are inevitably dashed.)

I haven't figured out yet if writing in my blog counts as "fun" or "work."

Saturday, May 10, 2008

One more for wildlife rescue

Danged if my yard isn't the rescue center for the neighborhood.

I knew something was wrong when I let Dozer out to potty and noticed an adult bird squished onto the edge of the garden shed's foundation, which is about four inches above ground, and sticks out about an inch and a half from the shed's walls. This was a rather strange place for a bird to sit, and even stranger still, the bird wasn't really moving.

Dozer took a leak, then made a beeline for the bird. He was as perplexed as I was, I'm sure; most birds fly away as soon as he comes outside. Confronted by a giant drooling beast, this particular bird made a valiant effort to take off, but never gained much altitude, and in a few moments it had slammed into the chain link fence on the other side of the yard.

I called Dozer (who had lost interest in the bird) into the house. Byrd tossed me a hand towel, and I went out and caught the bird. It was an adult dove with one closed eye and tons of downy feathers sloughing off its body. Nothing was obviously broken or bloody save the eye.

I put the dove in the cat trap with some dove food (yes, I keep a bag of dove food in the cabinet; it comes in handy more frequently than one would expect), a small dish of water, and the hand towel.

Tomorrow I will go downtown for the March of Dimes walk, then come back home, pick up the dove, and take it to the wildlife rescue center for treatment. I'm surprised they don't recognize me yet, but I suppose bringing in one injured animal per quarter is not frequent enough. (/grin)