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  • Writer's pictureReyna Bradford

Kitchen Witchin' (written 12/7/20)

Generally speaking, training dogs is a long-haul operation. It takes time. This is especially true if, like me, you are obsessed with competition obedience. Some of the exercises a dog learns in that kind of training can take years to perfect.

So when I begin to teach a dog a new skill set, I do it with the expectation that we'll be working at it for a while.

But every so often, there is a breakthrough. Sometimes, in the midst of doggedly putting one foot in front of the other and painstakingly notching up tiny victories, there is a combustion of white-hot brilliance, a dazzling blaze of understanding, and your dog just gets it.

Tassie and I have become more and more serious about tricks training over the last month. Since obedience trials are out for me until further notice, tricks are something fun and constructive that allows us to keep training, learning, and earning AKC titles even at home.

Tassie easily earned her Trick Dog Novice title this past week. (You can see a video of her AKC submission here.) And with four more tricks titling levels beckoning us forward, I set my sights on the intermediate level, sat down, and sifted through the list of

specified tricks.

The AKC provides a list of tricks for each level of tricks training. There are twenty or thirty possibilities on each list, and the handler needs to pick at least ten on any given list for the dog to earn a tricks title at that level. You just pick the things your dog naturally does the best, or possibly ones the dog already knows.

Some of these intermediate tricks were easy for Tassie. Wave hello, hand signals, a retrieve of at least twenty feet. No problem. And then I got to the one that said, "open door." Right below that was another that said, "Open drawer."

The wheels in my head started whirring. This I had to try.

I went in to the kitchen. Tassie was there. Tassie is always there when it comes to the kitchen. For one thing, she is fully aware of the treat/crumb potential present in the kitchen. And for another thing, she feels it to be her inherent responsibility to be my personal supervisor. Someone has to make sure I do things right, especially in the kitchen.

She watched as I found an old dish towel, tied a knot in one end, then ran the free end through the handle of a cabinet drawer. And here's where it gets fascinating.

Up until now, Tassie had learned plenty of retrieve exercises. She can fetch a dumbbell thrown across the ring. She can fetch the same item both ways over a shoulder-high jump. She can bring back whichever glove I indicate from one end of the utility ring. And she can pick up and return to hand anything that I've dropped -- socks, keys, credit cards, and so on. But those are all obvious retrieves where the item in question is already on the ground, and has usually been thrown or placed there deliberately.

She's never seen a pull towel before, and she's never pawed at or been mouthy with the cabinets or drawers. But as soon as she saw that pull towel hanging from the drawer handle, she tugged at it. Before I even told her to "pull" or to "get it," she had the edge of the towel in her teeth and was experimenting.

So I let it happen.

"Good girl!" I said excitedly. "Get it! Pull! Pull!"

She stepped back, flipped her head, and the drawer slid open. I laughed. So did Tassie. I just know she did.

And we did it again. And again. And a third time for good measure. And then, just for the heck of it, I attached the towel to the cabinet door, and she pulled that open, too.

I think we've found two more tricks to put on her list for the intermediate title. And, more than that, I think we've had another special bonding moment. Like I said, sometimes they just get it.

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