Saturday, 2 November 2013

You can ring my bell!

So how does a dog learn to ask her humans for permission to go outside?  I 'Googled' this problem (Google = the font of all knowledge!) and discovered dog owners who had bridged the communication gap by training their dogs to ring a bell every time they wanted/needed to visit the garden.  Bingo!  To me this seemed a very sensible solution to the problem of scratch marks on my door frame and dog prints on my glass window, so I chose a large cow bell to hang from the back door handle and set to work teaching Polly to 'touch' the bell.  It only took a few minutes before Polly understood I wanted her to 'touch' the bell (in fact, I didn't even need a clicker for this as she already knows the word 'touch' because when she was a little pup, my sister Fiona taught her to 'touch' her empty hand, before she would open her other hand containing a dog treat ... neat eh!)  As soon as Polly was reliably touching the bell with her nose on command, I opened the door each time it rang.  It wasn't long before she made the connection, 'touch' the bell with my nose and make it ring to make mum open the door' ... 

I invited Polly into the garden each time she rang and before long, she was ringing her bell vigorously every time she fancied some fresh air.  'Great' I thought, 'problem solved'!  

However, what I didn't take into account, was that in Polly's clever head, 'touch the bell' didn't only mean 'go out into the garden', it soon also meant 'make mum get up from whatever she is doing' - so now, not only does she ring the bell when she needs to go outside, she also rings it if I'm working at the computer and she wants me to play, or if I'm having breakfast and she wants me to get up from my chair ... I think I need to fine tune Miss Polly's bell training!

And in case you are wondering, I am also working on teaching Polly how to ask to come back inside politely - hammering on the door and barking is not acceptable, so she's part way through learning how to lie down and wait until I see her at the door.  Naturally, she's not fond of this method as barking and hammering are far more fun after all, but she has been asking to come in by politely 'downing' for the past couple of days and so far, this calming system is working pretty well for us ... not to mention saving my poor head!

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