We finally had a few days of sun last week. (The round, bright yellow thing in the sky that hurts your eyes if you look at it, just in case you forgot). But of course, it rained again, and since the ground never dried out we seem to be living in a second “mud season”. Typically, “mud season” was in spring, but given all the rain this summer and fall, we’ve had it seems that we’ll be living in the equivalent of chocolate icing until it freezes up. (Never has frost looked so good!)
Needless to say, that means lots of muddy paws around here, which reminded me how much I love the cue “Ready”. I’ve written about it before, but bring it back every five years or so because it is one of my favorite cues. It’d be great if it was part of every family dog training curriculum, hey?
Here’s what I’ve written in the past (which includes a lovely reminder of our Willie boy, who we still ache for):
As I was drying Willie’s paws a few days ago, I thought about how much easier it is now that I say “Ready?” right before I pick up each leg. Since I started communicating my intention (“now I am going to pick up this paw”), he is beginning to pick up a paw himself, or at least shift his weight so that it is less awkward for him. (Yep, I could train him to pick up each paw on cue… also a potential solution, but keep reading for some potential benefits of a more generalized cue.)
Keep in mind that this is the dog who, as an adolescent, growled at me when I picked up a paw to dry off the mud. That was many years ago, and I remember saying something like “Oh, don’t be silly” and continuing what I was doing. He growled one or two more times, but we worked through it and I haven’t heard him growl at anything in years. However, he doesn’t enjoy his paws being cleaned, as most dogs don’t, and the process got me thinking about how little control a dog has over having his/her body moved around, even gently, without any say in the matter. That’s especially difficult if there is any pain involved in putting more weight than usual on one limb. I’ve always been aware of Will’s bad shoulder, and have always been extra careful about picking up the other paw, but a few months ago I started saying “Ready?” right before I picked up a paw, giving him a chance to shift his weight himself.
It’s made a difference to both of us. I lean down and put my hand close to a paw and say “Ready?” and he either shifts his weight or picks it up. Paw cleaning is not only faster, it feels like Will and I are moving down the same path, instead of trying to go in opposite directions. This is a cue that has so many applications; Will’s structural troubles require acupuncture and chiropractic, and he’s not the kind of hail-fellow-well-met who takes being handled lightly. I would bet the farm (and, hey, I have one) that handling Will with force and punishment would have created a severe aggression problem within a few months. In both cases, we give Will lots of options, using patience and communication during the treatments. He adores both practitioners, but he literally hides behind me when the greetings are over and it’s time for treatments. But we work through it, sort of like a dance; sometimes asking, sometimes quietly insisting, but always with an awareness that Will desperately needs to have some say in what is happening to him.
I know many others use cues like “Ready” for a variety of reasons. I’ve heard similar cues most often in obedience, meaning “Okay, time to start working together”. But I’ll bet there are many examples from your own experience of using a cue to communicate your intentions to a dog. I’d love to hear them. I think we’d all learn something from hearing about all the ways that concept can be used. (By the way, signals like “Ready” are called “meta-communication,” meaning “communication about communication.” A play bow is an example in dogs, meaning “Everything that happens next is in play, don’t take these bites and growls seriously!”
MEANWHILE, down on the farm: Back from another sheepdog trial, again with mixed results. This competition, the Nippersink Sink or Swim Sheepdog Trial, presents the hardest course of the season, with a substantial creek between you and the sheep. Here’s a photo of it (It looks much scarier in person!):
You can see the line of the creek crossing the course, down in a dip deep enough that you can’t see your dog as she crosses it. The sheep are under the oaks to the left of the white truck, very hard for the dogs to see. Because of all of our rain the creek was deep and fast moving, and I thought long and hard about even running Maggie at all. She’s a small dog, and if she got in trouble I wouldn’t be able to see her.
Many people that I trust assured me that it was safe, and after thinking about it all night, I decided to give her a chance. I can’t tell you why, but I had a gut feeling that I should “trust my dog.” (A lesson from an earlier trial, you may remember.) Maggie may be small, but she is a working sheepdog in excellent condition. The challenge that most dogs faced was finding the sheep at all. Many dogs saw the creek (much larger than it looks in the photo) as a fence line, and continually looked for the sheep on this side of it.
When Maggie and I went to the post I just had a feeling she could do it. However, after I sent her on a right handed outrun, she immediately ran to the barn behind us, even poking her nose into the door. This is a new, bad habit she started a few trials ago; I’m pretty sure it’s her way of saying “I’d really prefer to work these sheep here. After all, they’re right here and we know where they are . . .”
Sigh. But I got her off those sheep and damn if she didn’t leap into the creek and got herself across. She “crossed over” on the other side, running to the left and making a figure eight pattern, but finally went around in a big semi-circle in a clockwise direction and found her sheep. Yay! Sloppy and inelegant as it was, it felt like a great victory because so many dogs never found their sheep at all. She did a lovely “dog-leg” fetch (sheep moving above the creek horizontally to the left), but got stuck trying to get the sheep over the creek. There had been a bridge there that the sheep were familiar with, but it had been moved because of flooding. All the hoof prints and related scents were in the old area, and that’s where the sheep wanted to go. Maggie didn’t flank them fast enough to get them to the bridge’s new location, and they ended up stuck in front of a deep pool of water enmeshed in a stand of trees and brush. I had to walk out to rescue her and help her move the sheep. At one point I honestly wasn’t sure that the two of us could get them out. They weren’t in the trees as much as they had become the trees. So we got RT for “Retired”. Here’s why I didn’t feel too bad about it–look at the last column on the right: (Maggie only got one point for her outrun because she “crossed over,” which loses you 19/20 points.)
Our second run, same day, was in wind gusts up to 30 mph. It was cold too, had been in the low thirties that morning, so before we ran each time I warmed Maggie up with some play:
I sent her left, avoiding the temptation for her to go to the barn and in the direction she’d found the sheep earlier, but risking losing sight of her for a long time. Be still my heart (it’s swelling as I write), she ran a stunningly beautiful outrun, leapt over the creek where it was narrow enough, and got herself behind the sheep. (19/20 for her outrun.) Her lift took forever; I honestly can’t even tell you exactly where she was, I couldn’t see her. But she finally got the sheep moving, and this time, no doubt trying to prevent the “sheep in the trees” adventure, tried to bring them straight to me. That meant the sheep would have to cross the creek where the banks were steep and the water was deep, so I had to stop her and get her redirected. This time she listened (it took a few tries), moved the sheep to the left, but then flanked fast enough to get them over the bridge.
She did a lovely fetch after that, made the fetch panels and started a brilliant drive, riding the pressure from the sheep like a surfer. But halfway there she lost her confidence and it got messy and sloppy. We finally got them back on the right path, I didn’t make the drive gates but thought we’d gone far enough to start the cross drive, which was going beautifully. “Points!” I thought. Finally we’re going to get some points!
Alas, I made another handler error and was DQ’d by the judge. I hadn’t tried hard enough to make the drive gates, and he had no choice but to DQ me. I couldn’t fault him, and probably should have be madder at myself for yet another stupid mistake, but I was so proud of her for what she did right I couldn’t get too upset about it.
Here’s what I’ve learned from our first season in Open: Maggie and I are very much alike. We can get lost in our fears, need to work on our confidence, and don’t think well under time pressure when things get complicated. (Why was I so good at working with aggressive dogs years ago? I could make really good decisions in tenths of a second–where did that skill go?) Although we didn’t do well in many ways this season, we both learned a lot, and in spite of Maggie’s attempts to work the “easy sheep” at trials, she appears to adore trialing, and is over the moon eager to try again each time. This weekend we are going to a training clinic with one of my favorite trainers, Patrick Shannahan, and I look forward to working on some of our issues. Maggie doesn’t have the push that most handlers want and need in an Open dog, but she’s my dog, she’s what I have, and we are just going to do the best with what we have. I love the idea of helping a dog be the best she can be. If it’s not good enough for Open in years to come I won’t fault her, and be grateful for what we’ve learned together. Meanwhile, time will tell. Stay tuned for next year!
Now that we’re home, first frost! It made the zinnia’s look extra pretty this morning.
I hope your challenges this week don’t feel too overwhelming, all best to you and yours.
“Why was I so good at working with aggressive dogs years ago? I could make really good decisions in tenths of a second–where did that skill go?” You still have that skill, it’s just in sheep’s clothing! Meaning it’s a transferable skill you need to transfer. Same quick wit, different context. You’ll get it.
Woohoo for a season full of lessons, challenges, skill, and grace. You both are amazing.
Olive hates, hates, hates having her feet touched (don’t even think about the nails). I say, “Okay, lift” so she’s not surprised. I lift her back legs up gently behind her so it doesn’t bother her hips. Lately, due to her bum shoulder, I’ve been asking for a few long, deep bows on a towel. It cleans her paws and stretches her joint. Win, win.
My challenge this week is trying keep informed without getting depressed or furious. We’ll see how it goes. . .
Although I don’ t understand sheep herding at all, it seems so difficult! Your quick decisions when working aggressive dogs may have come from not knowing what will happen next and trusting your reaction due to years of experience, and your great ability to read dogs. When competing, you know and anticipate what should happen, and it needs to happen in a certain time frame. This time pressure, and the fact that so many factors that can change what you anticipated seems to require the same amount of experience…. if not more! And trusting both yourself and your dog would be very important in that context. Sounds like you both are making great progress.
Thor hates his feet being touched. I always tap his leg lightly and say “Gimme this one”. Now it’s just routine. I use “ready?” when we need to heel across a street but he is preoccupied with various scents.
I also need to learn to trust Thor more. We did not bring him up as a puppy, and it takes awhile for us both to learn each other. It’s getting there!
Lisa Olinda says
I am in awe as I read about you and Maggie. I just finished basic obedience training with my Bordoodle who just turned 20 weeks. She did a fabulous job and most of the muck ups were with her handler (me). I was whining (chuckle) to my husband last night that the brain just didn’t respond fast enough. I feel this has challenged me to get out of my comfort zone. As I ponder next steps with Bella, I will enjoy reading your adventures.
Good to hear you made it through Nippersink which i failed to find after 15 hrs of driving up from MD. And Good on Maggie for getting across the creek and later the bridge with her sherp. Kandy worked with John and is just learning about a long outrun and finding her sherp without crossing over. We’re excited about the next step.
Donna Kellar says
Understanding,compassion,unconditional love. Second chances…
So much to stop and think about above all the other possible demands and pressures.
Thanks for sharing your insights.
Marie Conyers says
I now have small dogs who can’t jump in/out of vehicle, bed, etc. I always tell my dogs when I’m going to lift them by saying “up”. I’ve noticed one dog kind of hops into my hands when I say Up if we are standing by my car. I also tell them where we are going-to school(dog class) or the vet. I also tell them “bath time”. Oh, we have one more predictive cue: the Easy Cheese can always means brushing and they all beg to go first.
Christine Swilley says
I have used “meta-words” for a long time (over thirty years) to help my dogs understand what I’m doing. One I have not heard often is “Lookout!” when something I know they will not like is going to occur (shots, for example). Calmly said but with special force, I have seen it reduce fear in my dogs, and I imagine it helps to build trust. I am pleased to think it was also helping them to feel it allows them to have some choice in their lives. Current research is finally beginning to see them as whole beings (“Dog is Love”). As I learn more about dogs (yes, still learning) I am impressed with the importance of choice to their comfort and health.
As for your mental swiftness with aggressive dogs, I have wondered as a trainer if it was my emotional neutrality from some of the dogs I’ve tried to help that allowed me to be as “acute” mentally when working with them. I did care what happened, but not with the love and concern that I had for my own dogs. Just a thought.
Thanks for your ongoing blog – I drink them with great enjoyment and sustenance.
I have a short-legged but powerful 35# dog and I use a harness when we walk, attaching the leash to the chest ring to have a bit more control when he gets excited and pulls hard. Despite having a martingale, the leash often gets caught one of his front legs. When it seems to be annoying him, I will tell him to wait, then “fix”, which means I’ll pick up his paw to get the leash out from underneath him. He will sometimes lift his paw on his own but he’s still so reactive that he generally is on alert and focused elsewhere. I will try the “ready” cue when I dry off his paws when we come indoors. I love giving him as many choices as I can so we can have a collaborative relationship. It’s done wonders in getting him to allow me to Dremel his nails (thanks to the Facebook Nail Maintenance for Dogs group that has wonderful instructions & videos).
The best phrase in your post: “she’s my dog, she’s what I have, and we are just going to do the best with what we have.” My dog is not the dog I had hoped for (because of the reactivity) but your sentiment captures my feelings exactly. I’m far more attuned to dog behavior than I ever was with previous dogs and I like to think my patience is far greater as well as my compassion for those animals (and people) who have behavior challenges.
Barb Stanek says
Love hearing about the trials! Congrats on Maggie’s second day work. You two are just a hair’s breath away from the success you seek.
Can’t wait to hear about it when you get to where you want to go!
Vicky, 15 hours and couldn’t find it?! Oh nooooooo! Here’s to next year!
Wendy Green says
Tripp The Wonderdog is at least 15 years old now, and we have used different cues for different activities during the 14 years I’ve had her. “Ready” and “Want to?” For activities we must or we can do. When I take her sailing on my small boat I say “Hold on” if we are heeling (different vocabulary than dog talk) and she grips the bath mat I have placed on the deck for her.
Also, I taught her a silent bark as a trick, which we both now accept as her saying YES.
Thanks to DR. Kevin Schultz I read your book The Other End of the Leash before Tripp found me. We are both forever grateful.
Ron Bevacqua says
Thank you for sharing so much valuable information on your blogs. When my Beau ( another amazing Border Collie) was alive , I would simply say paw and then I would pick up his paw to be respectful. I would do this everytime that he had something in his paw or the leash got caught under his leg,etc.
I taught my dog “Lift” as I touch his paw. He relaxes the paw and allows me to lift and clean or lift and trim. Having his paw relaxed makes it so much easier. After a four paw clean up, he nudges me with his head to get a towel rub down…..his favorite thing!
Love reading about your sheep trials.
Jaye Mier says
I accidentally taught my Dot (and Robbie before her) “lift” as well, used on walks when her leash gets caught under her chest. Just a simple “lift” and she determines for herself which leg needs to lift to free the leash. It was mere laziness on my part, so I didn’t have to bend down to untangle things.
Lorraine Martinez says
When I go out with my two young Chihuahuas, off-leash, Leia especially seems to get very engrossed in various interesting spots in the grass, and sometimes forgets that one of the purposes of the walk is to do her business. I started saying, “You ready? We’re going to go inside…”, at which point she will then immediately get her business done and come trotting over to go inside.
Although Luke, her brother, doesn’t seem to have the same attention issues, he picked up on the “Ready?” comment, and now comes over to me and waits with me until his sister is…ready.
I’m always amazed at how quickly dogs (and cats) are able to figure out what we’re saying to them when we are just conversing with them, not trying to “train” them at all, yet when we are trying to train a behavior they sometimes seem so obtuse, LOL. (Luke, especially, is always very careful to notice whether or not I have treats with me — if not, he will happily pretend he doesn’t hear my commands).
Love your posts — I’ve been a lurker for a couple of years now!
I have toy dogs, and quickly discovered how much they hate being swooped on and lifted up without warning. A cupped hand means “Are you ready to be picked up?”, and as far as possible I give them the choice. “Just looking” is another one I use a lot – it means I need to look at something that may need attention (teeth, nails, a sore spot), but won’t do more than look. It is important not to abuse permission to look, especially with Sophy. If anything needs to be done I start a new session, with chicken and a gentle running commentary form me, and drama queen protests from Sophy (teeth cleaning and basic nail trims are acceptable, after long and careful work…!)
I love your shepherding posts. Getting a group of sheep across a stream you cannot see when the bridge has been moved is challenging, to say the least!
Alice R. says
I use ready to up excitement and drive for anything that might be difficult for my dog from following a cue in the midst of distractions to moving past something that makes him nervous that we can’t avoid. It really helps him gear up.
I do so love hearing about Maggie, and your trials. So fun, and I learn from your thoughts about how to work her.
Vicki in Michigan says
With my last two dogs I used a lot more language than I had before.
I told them what was happening next, all the time. “I’m going to pick you up.” “I’m going to work.” “I’m going to be gone for a very long time, and Cathy is going to take care of you.”
My corgi who had leukemia as well as kidney disease AND degenerative myelopathy (!!!) was painful on his lower sides. I needed to pick him up carefully, to cause the least discomfort. I would tell him “I’m going to pick you up. Scootch (which meant I would rotate him so he was sideways in front of me).”
I’m convinced that talking to him about exactly what I was going to do made it easier on him.
The things I told him and his “brother” about how long I would be gone also seemed to help. Maybe it was just because *I* felt better about it, so they did, but they seemed to be calmer.
I always cleaned feet in the same order, so they knew which foot would be next.
Kay East says
Our pups know their lefts and rights whether it’s running agility, retrieving sticks swimming in the lake, raising a paw for tricks or having their paws cleaned. Doesn’t mean they like the cleaning that follows my “Clean Paws” queue, but giving me the correct paw has made it bearable and I hope a little enjoyable. 😂😍🐾🐾
I use “ready” for “it’s time for your pill” (Rosie gets an allergy pill every night). She goes out for the last time, comes in & wipes her feet, and then I say “ready?” and she opens her mouth so I can pop in the pill. Then she gets 3 small treats (which is her favorite part!). She trained me to do this (I’m not nearly smart enough to figure it out!) She is the smartest dog I’ve ever had, and also the most anxious (I find this amusing because I have anxiety issues, too-hopefully we are helping each other…). But I think the “ready” and letting her open her mouth for me instead of me having to pry it open gives her a little more agency in the whole process, and I know feeling like I have a say helps my anxiety. Anyway, that’s what I hope…
HELP US- we rescued a female Mini Aussie four months ago- she was 2 in April-have loved working on all of her issues and have been very successful with most. The one thing we can’t get under control is in the car. She ramps up and is very excited from the get go- we have tried sitting in the back with her, treats, focus on me, on and on !!! the barking is none stop!!!! any suggestion would be helpful. She wants to go, gets in and out fine, she is just excited beyond belief and barks.
My Boston Eli has glaucoma and has to have several drops put in his eyes several times a day. When I go to put the drops in I say “Eli I need to borrow you for a minute” I know not just one command, but he gets it. If he’s chewing on a bone, etc. I can walk up and say this and he will stop and let me put the drops in. Of course the cookies he gets afterwards help a bit too!
Chris from Boise says
Sue: We went through the same high-pitched, excruciatingly painful to the ears, and extremely aggravating “excited-barking-in-the-car” with our new-ish border collie Rowan. What worked for us was breaking down the behavior into tiny, tiny bits to keep her under threshold. We fed her (puzzle toy – we used frozen stuffed Kongs) in the car (in her crate; hope you’re using a crate) while the car was parked. Then fed her in the car and turned the car on, then immediately off. Then moved the car a foot. Then ten feet. Then to the end of the driveway. And so forth. Once we were able to drive a quarter mile, we started going to Very Boring Places, then turning around and coming home. Then drive to VBP and bring the dog out on leash, walk around car, get back in and drive home. And so forth. The difficulty, of course, is that the dog should not ride in the car and have the opportunity to practice barking while you’re working through the issue.
It took a solid three months of daily work. Fortunately we had a thousand mile road-trip-with-dogs planned, so were VERY committed to our goal, and built a very solid foundation. To our amazement, she handled the trip like a pro. Since she’s been back, she continues to do well – even when we go to fun places. She still lets out the occasional yip, but I can just talk her down from her excitement.
Assuming you are using a crate in the car, you can simultaneously train relaxing in a crate, indoors, then in more challenging settings. Sue Ailsby has explicit directions in her (free) training levels (which are an incredible gift to dog owners everywhere): http://www.sue-eh.ca/page10/page9/.
It isn’t easy, but it is so very, very worth putting in the effort. Good luck!
Tails Around the Ranch says
What a brilliant cue! I’m going to start doing the same with my puppy mill dog who freaks out whenever I need to clean up her paws. Thank you for sharing a simply but wonderful idea.