Because I am who I am, I have decided to choose the hardest challenge first for my personal Train Your Dog Year bonanza. I could have gone with something simple yet cute, like teaching Shiva to hold a stuffed animal in her paws, or conceivably something practical, like how to relax when someone is knocking at the door. Both would have been good choices. It could be Olympic fever – urging me to go for the gold – given that instead of basing my decision on logic, I’ve decided it is time to get serious. Mega Man style.
Any guesses? What is the one behaviour most dogs perform naturally that Shiva has never, ever, in her life, been able to do with any form of consistency? Sure, if I stand on my head and quote Patricia McConnell while humming the opening theme to The Littlest Hobo, she might occasionally pretend like she knows what I am asking. But even then it’s a toss-up. I am certain it’s an accident. The Cat probably puts her up to it just so he doesn’t have to listen to my cajoling any more.
If you haven’t come up with it yet, the behaviour to which I am referring, and the aim of January’s challenge is the basic retrieve. You heard me right. The action most dogs are born to execute, the reason some dogs are alive, is the same action Shiva has no aptitude for whatsoever.
I have tried teaching her this an infinite amount of times before. I have tried using a clicker, I have tried luring, I have tried running around like a crazy person. No matter how many videos I watch or how many books I read, none of the advice as worked. I still cannot get her to reliably return an object. No doubt the problem is me. My impatience is the stuff of legends, especially when it is something I want really badly. My childhood dog didn’t retrieve either. She loved chasing a ball, but she preferred to toss it up in the air and catch it all by herself while her hapless humans looked on. Shiva, on the other hand, prefers keep away, or chomping on the dang ball. Bringing it back so I can throw it again is such a foreign concept to her I may as well be asking her to translate Russian.
The biggest issue is, Shiva and I have already mastered most of the tricks in all of the dog books we own. She crawls, she rolls over, she closes doors, she dances, and she even jumps through my arms. All of the easy behaviours, we’ve had in our repertoire long ago. All of the ones that don’t involve her holding something in her mouth, that is. If we are going to be champions, even in our own eyes, we have to nail the retrieve. It is the only way forward. The retrieve is the only thing standing between us and dog trick glory.
Of course, if I am ever going to have a dog who plays fetch, my lifelong dream, I am going to have to grit my teeth and fight for it. No more diddling around. It will be frustrating. I am going to give up at least a dozen more times. But I have to remember that it’s worth it. Shiva one day bringing me a beer is worth all the tangled hair, all the tears, and all the sleepless nights in the world.
Luckily, I am not alone. I have the genius of Zak George to help me and I have your support. At least, I hope I do. I can do this, right?
Does your dog retrieve? Is it something you taught or does he or she do it out of pure joy? Do you have any helpful hints?