Train Your Dog Month Challenge – All You Have is Each Other

I attribute my success to this – I never gave nor took any excuse ~ Florence Nightingale

When the month began I was full of plans. I said an official farewell to 2013 and all of its days of aggravation. Nothing was going to get in my way of deepening my neglected relationship with Shiva. Not the office, not the new season of Community, not even my winter ennui. This time we were going to get things done. I vowed.

002Only, in all my swearing and promising I forgot one fairly vital aspect to my scheme. In order to meet my goal, I would need the committed participation of a partner, a canine partner with ambitions and desires of her own. I could be as motivated as I wanted but it wouldn’t make one bit of difference if I couldn’t convince Shiva to join in on the fun.

I’ve written the well-known agility phrase on this blog many a time before – “great dog, shame about the handler” – but in some, limited cases it can go the other way. Even if I am over-the-top enthused about something, if Shiva is more interested in napping on the chair, there isn’t much I can do. This is a lesson my former trainer used to try to drill in my head every time I complained that all the other dogs appeared smarter, saner, sharper. It only took me four years to learn it.

I have to work with the dog I have.

And she has to work with me. Don’t worry, I know all too well who has the shadier end of this deal.

This realization doesn’t mean this month was a failure. I didn’t give or take any excuses. The primary goal of Train Your Dog Month is to spend more quality time with your dog. I do think I have accomplished that.

Before I get to the exciting results of The Great Challenge of Getting Shiva to Hold an Item in Her Mouth, I first want to share a small, but important, victory.


Due to a lot of patience I have been able to re-teach Shiva that the camera is not a scary Gorgon who will turn her into stone if she looks it in the eye.

I don’t know where she got this notion. She used to pose so well. All I’d have to do was pull out the black box and she would leap into action, presenting her best side for all the world to admire. Somehow, though, something altered. Was it the time I posted the picture of her with her tongue sticking out? Was she upset that I would share such an unflattering image? Or perhaps The Cat has been telling her about the time I captured his fur-less behind for all the world to see.

For the record, I never posted any of those pictures online.


Whatever the reason, it was getting a bit annoying. She has such a pretty face. This is – mostly – a dog blog. It should feature photos of said dog, and not just the back of her head. I don’t think the world needs to be inundated with Shiva butt pictures, as cute as they may be.

So we got to work. A few handfuls of well-placed treats, multiple withheld sighs, and my best squeaky cartoon voice, and she forgot all about the mythical creature in the camera. The most vital part of this formula was the withheld sighs. I had to remind myself that Shiva is not inclined to respond to frustration. Instead of growling at her to pay attention to me and not the birds flying overhead, I had to force myself to relax and wait. And wait. And wait. And sometimes, I had to call it a day and try again another time.

I had to work with the dog I have.

It paid off. Just look at these puppy eyes.


I even managed to get a picture of her in which she doesn’t look freaked out.


My Shiva model is back. I am going to try not to lose her again.

004Now, I guess, I need to own up to this whole retrieving business. I wish I had a wicked video to show you. I mean, I have a video but it isn’t the one I wanted to make.

My clever PH realized that the trick to getting Shiva to return with the toy is to have another one in the wings. Since her favourite ball is this orange and blue wonder, he purchased a second. The results were solid. He had some pretty decent success getting Shiva to run back with the ball in her mouth, drop it on the floor in front of him, and then chase it across the room once again.

He had success. I did not.

Is it because I approach her at the wrong time of day? Do I just not throw as well? I try to match my energy to his and I spend a few minutes beforehand revving her up. But after the ball is thrown, she’ll pick it up, run around with it, and then come back to me with an empty mouth. I am beginning to think that ball games are just not going to be part of our relationship. It is not easy to admit defeat.

This doesn’t mean I am giving up on the challenge entirely. Even if Shiva won’t properly fetch for me, I am still determined to teach her to hold items in her mouth for photographic purposes. It. Will. Happen. Just not yet.

I’ll let this video speak for itself:

Not quite the trick I was hoping to show off at the end of this month.

Sure, I could say that Shiva has done much better with this behaviour than it appears. I am also much better with my timing when the camera is not running. I wish I could show you all of the other training sessions in which Shiva held that stuffed snake for five whole seconds. But I can’t. All I have in any given moment is the dog in front of me. Not the Shiva of yesterday who was a bit more interested in the game, or even the Shiva of tomorrow who might have benefited from a bit of latent learning. Shiva is a dog with emotions as important to her as mine are to me. It doesn’t matter how well she performs in a video. What matters is that we tried to do something together and we are going to keep trying. Because it isn’t about the results.

This is what I tell myself, anyway.

Now it is your turn.

I want to hear all about the fun things you have done with your pets this month. Have you learned any lessons that will help you in the future? Did your pet surprise you? Add a link with your story to the tool below and brag about all of your hard work. Every entry has a chance to win a $25 donation to your favourite pet charity and a prize pack for you and your dog!

The linky will be open for one week. While you are there, make sure to read about the challenges faced by my talented co-hosts at Something Wagging This Way Comes and  Alfie’s Blog, as well as by all the other participants. You may be newly inspired to join me in my Year of Training!

What is one thing making you proud of your pet this month?

6 thoughts on “Train Your Dog Month Challenge – All You Have is Each Other

  1. Shiva is definitely showing off her smarts in the video. She wants to make sure her mouth is empty so she’s ready for her treat. 🙂

    It’s interesting that Shiva is more interested in retrieving for your PH than for you. Honey will retrieve for anyone. It’s in her blood. But she’ll only wrestle with my husband. When I try to rough house with her, she responds by giving me a high five.

    I hate playing strategy games with my husband so I guess we all have our quirks.

    So when did you develop this retriever envy? And do you feel better knowing Shiva can do it even if she’s less likely to do it for you?

    Thanks for being such a wonderful co-host for the challenge. Everything’s better with a little insanity.


  2. That is funny that she will retrieve for him and not for you. I’ve been gently trying to teach Mouse to retrieve but she doesn’t quite understand it yet. Mostly, we have been working on her leash reactivity and I think we are making progress. I don’t think her reactivity is fear based, more an issue of self-control when she gets herself amped up but can’t do what she wants, because she is tethered to me. She has quite redirecting and trying to snap at me when frustrated. She still bounces sometimes but she doesn’t vocalise so much either. I feel like headway is being made.


  3. Both my dogs are Retrievers that don’t retrieve. I take that back, they do retrieve but will concede to do it only for so long. After two maybe three throws, Sampson will come half way back with the prize and lay on it and Delilah will run to chase it but then head off doing her own thing somewhere else.

    EXCEPT for water. Delilah will retrieve bumpers, sticks, toys anything that will float in the water all day long, it’s just what she prefers.

    I’m thinking perhaps Shiva has come to think of you as the one who takes her for walks and teaches her fun tricks, while she associates your PH with certain other tricks. (Not that you asked, just my observation.)

    I think you’re making progress and you’ll get there. Good job!!


  4. very interesting that she will fetch for him, part of me thinks there has got to be something he is doing different… but as others mentioned it probably just comes down to their relationship. Have you tried furry toys or ones with real feathers or fur on them? Maybe a winged bumper? Luna is not a huge retrieving fan, especially if it isn’t a critter of some sort.

    As far as holding objects have you tried setting it on the ground and working towards her picking it up? Are you opposed to gently holding a thumb under the lower jaw to encourage holding it a little longer then praising when she does? Sometimes it helps settle them so they can focus on holding it. I bet you will get there, and I am sure you have tried most of these suggestions already.

    Luna and I worked on relaxing on a mat. I have her physically relaxing quite well, just not mentally as she is not patient. But we will keep working on it, and I enjoyed seeing the bit of progress she did make.



  5. Our Alfie is a herding dog and not a retriever but he will happily retrieve *anything* for *anyone*. I’d love to teach him to hold on to a toy in his mouth so I can snap some cute pictures, no idea how he’d respond! Shiva looks like she is really enjoying your training in the video, so you definitely worked on that bond 🙂


Comments are closed.