Thursday, September 05, 2013

Don't Pay With Milk Bones

Second FittingI know I am always saying that my dog is smart. I'm sorry if it seems like overkill but I honestly believe that, objectively, it's true. Ed has a reputation with our friends for being dangerously deductive. Sara says she always feels like he's humoring her when she trains him. He's still a dog, though, right? His brain is still only the size of a lemon so there's limited capacity there.

Then he goes all Island of Dr. Moreau on me and I become terrified.

He's been on short walks for a few days because of an ankle injury so I've been trying to do things to work out his brain to make up for the lack of physical exercise. Tonight he's more peppy and I'm more lazy so I pulled out a brain game that I bought a while go. These games come in three levels. We'd borrowed a level one game from a friend and he loved it but he also figured it out in about fifteen minutes so when I bought one for our house I went to level three immediately. We worked with it a few times and it was frustrating for both of us. He sort of got it but it was slow going and I'm not sure he was having fun and I was helping a lot in a way that seemed like it probably wasn't actually helpful. Eventually he took a plastic piece and went off to chew it making it very difficult to fit it back into the game.

I haven't gotten the game out in, conservatively, six months. I move the damn thing every time I get out a pot lid (if fits nicely with the lids in the cupboard) and wonder if I've wasted my money. Tonight we were at just the right cross roads that I was inspired to try again.

OK, click through and just see which game we have so you can accurately visualize what happened here. The pie pieces slide around to reveal each compartment and you can hide treats in those, or just in some of them. The plastic bone pieces have a stem that locks pie pieces so you can lock 'em all or just some of them and you can hide treats under all or some or, ultimately, none of them. Since Ed's go-to move is his paws not his mouth, and without thumbs you have to use your mouth to move those bone pieces, that's where he got stuck all those months ago.

Tonight I decided to be a proper, methodically scientific trainer type so I went right back to the beginning. I took out all the bones and hid treats in the compartments. He absolutely remembered how to move the pie pieces and it took him no time at all so I increased the difficulty but only slightly. I put three bone pieces back in but at an angle so they wouldn't be as difficult to remove and it would be clear that there was a treat under each one. I put treats under most of the pie pieces as well so there'd be a big overall pay off. I set it down, he was amped to get started, and I worried that the frustration would suck the fun out of it for him. Before I even turned back to my dinner he leaned down, delicately picked up a bone with his teeth, extracted it, spit it out, and ate the treat below. He moved immediately on to the other two. No frustration. Pure memory or latent learning or something I totally missed when we were working before? I have no idea what just happened but I'm not worried about frustrating him anymore, that's for damn sure. To test him I put all the bones in and fully locked them down and they didn't slow him down even a little.

So, you know, if you don't hear from me for a while please come by and look for a ransom note, my dog is probably holding me hostage.


  1. we got a puzzle toy for Deck when he was like 5 months old, i think? he figured it out in 5 minutes.

    i'm tempted to give that one a try to see how Ripley will do.

  2. I can't wait to see video footage! And Janet has a good point - just a little additional maturity helps with the frustration level... I can hardly wait for that to kick in with Bu, any year now!

    Those toys are really cool - I like how the one you're using can be reduced/increased in difficulty. Pondering a purchase...

  3. Laura, he still loves the puzzle and it does work his brain but it's not much of a time waster. The kong toy he has to thwack like a weeble is more of a time waster.

    Janet, it's possible. I don't know!

    Sara, I haven't taped it yet. I'll have to do that this week. On the one hand, I like these toys and they're fun. On the other hand, your dog is fantastic with nosework and gets just as much out of searching for stuff under cat bowls and in cardboard boxes and he can't destroy those things (or if he doesn't it doesn't cost anyone anything).

  4. Smart boy! I like it when my cat tells me things. He opens the pantry cupboard where we store the kibble if he feels he's running low.