Lost in translation

I have lived in a number of houses with my bipeds and I’ve stayed with them in quite a few more on holiday. This meant that this time when we moved I knew that the rules stay the same and they’ll use the same old words like “kitchen”, “upstairs” and “garden” to mean completely different places from before. They may have a similar function to the places that were previously called those names, but it seems lazy and quite confusing to use the same words again!

I have noticed that humans think they are very clever at communication – yet they expect animals to learn to understand what they say. We try to understand you and interpret what you say, but I’ll start with a simple example to show you why things sometimes get confusing.

“Sit” is generally the first command that a puppy learns. The usual method is to move a treat above a puppy’s head so that the puppy naturally lowers his haunches to make it easier to raise his head to get the treat. Then the word “sit” is repeated with this action. The biped then usually thinks that the puppy understands that “sit” means the puppy should get into a sitting position, regardless of the location or circumstances.

Sitting pretty

Sitting pretty

Attribution: By Tim Dobbelaere from Ieper, Belgium (Man’s best friend) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The puppy, however, probably thinks that “sit” means something like “you are incredibly cute, we are in a safe place, I’m in a good mood, touch the floor with your tail while I give you a treat”. This will often cause confusion if the puppy is lying down and is asked to sit. The puppy doesn’t know what to do – his tail is already on the floor. The biped often does not understand why the puppy is confused – it seems so straightforward to the biped that the puppy should raise his front end.

We have one command that bipeds consider basic and already it means two different things – lower your haunches, or raise your front end – depending on the circumstances. And that’s before the puppy has even left the house! Once we venture out in the world, communication becomes even more complicated. How is a puppy to know that now “sit” means “however excited you are, stop moving around sniffing that wonderful smell you’ve discovered and bend your back legs”?

Sometimes it can mean “stop walking, lower your haunches and wait quietly while I speak to another biped”, or “stop walking, park your bottom on the pavement and wait until I decide to cross the road”. There are almost endless variations. I thought I had discovered them all, when I discovered that it can also mean “stop following those goats and put your bottom on the ground and wait for me to catch up with you”.

I’m sure I’m not the only one that lives with humans who has noticed that they don’t always communicate effectively. Do your bipeds give a command that can mean different things?

See you next Wednesday!

The point of distraction

I’m going to answer a Frequently Barked Question today.

FBQ: How do I stop my Great Pyrenees, or Pyrenean Mountain Dog, from jumping up?

It’s a fairly common cause of concern amongst people who live with dogs. We dogs tend to be more enthusiastic with our greetings than bipeds are. You only have to watch young dogs at the park greeting each other to realise that dogs don’t mean to be rude when they jump up. Of course, if your dog is as large as I am then convincing the dog that it isn’t very polite can be quite urgent!

My bipeds have used the command ‘sit’ to stop me from doing all sorts of things. They always say that there isn’t much mischief a dog can get into while sitting nicely! They taught me it’s a nice way to greet visitors.

Large dog jumping up

Too enthusiastic?

Attribution: By Rytis Mikelskas (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The first thing to do is to convince your dog that a ‘sit’ always brings good things. Little and often is the way to do this. Ask for a ‘sit’ at odd times and give a treat – this can be something tasty, or it can be praise or perhaps a game. You can also ask your dog to ‘sit’ before you give him his food. When ‘sit’ gets a quick reaction, encourage your dog to stay in that position for a little longer before he is rewarded. Then try asking for a ‘sit’ when there is some sort of distraction, but keep the sit brief at first so that the dog is successful.

When you have a fairly reliable sit, you can move onto the next stage with some help from family members and friends. Ask someone to go out and come back in, but ask the dog to sit before the person comes in. At this stage it’s helpful to stay by your dog’s side so that you can encourage him to remain sitting and reward him for doing so. The person who came in should make a fuss of him if he is sitting.

If you keep doing this it won’t take long for your dog to know that sitting to greet people brings rewards and it will become the natural behaviour. I always use a ‘sit’ when I want to ask for something, as I know how much my bipeds like and reward a ‘sit’.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and it is also Hannukah, so I’d like to wish everyone who is celebrating a lovely time!

See you next Wednesday!

Help! Kelp!

We had been walking along the shore and it was time to go home. We made our way up the beach, the last part was quite steep shingle. I had the male biped attached to me by a long lead. He said, “I’ll race you to the top, Clowie!”

Shingle beach

Shingle beach

We started running side by side. Our paws (and feet) slipped back with each step, it was difficult to go fast. I knew I’d be able to win because four paws are better than two feet on a slope. I started to get ahead of him and then I realised I needed some help with a problem, so I sat. He didn’t notice, he kept running.

The female biped wasn’t far behind us and she shouted, “Stop! Clowie wants something.”

He stopped just before he reached the end of the lead and turned round. The female biped arrived next to me and asked, “What is it, Clowie?”

I held one of my front legs up and she knelt down and took my paw. She looked at the pads, I think she was checking for something sharp in them. Then she checked between my toes – that tickles, but I kept still so that she would continue and find the problem. She pressed each pad gently and I just kept still.  She moved her hands up little by little until she’d almost reached my elbow.

Then she paused, she could feel something in the hair at the back of my leg. She leaned forward to get a better look. The male biped, who had returned, asked, “What is it? Can I help?”

She replied, “It’s dried out seaweed all tangled up in her fur. It’s really sharp and it’s digging into her armpit.”

Dried seaweed - photo from Wikimedia Commons

Dried seaweed – photo from Wikimedia Commons

They began pulling at the seaweed, but it was difficult for me to keep my balance. The female biped got up and stood beside me, so that I could lean on her. She held my leg up and held some of my hair out of the way, while the male biped pulled the seaweed away. After a few minutes of pulling and tugging, he asked the female to see if she could feel any seaweed left.

She said she couldn’t and she put my leg down. I stood up and moved my leg. I took a couple of steps. That felt so much better! I gave them both a nudge with my head to thank them. They smiled and patted me and then we climbed up the shingle together. When we reached the promenade a couple of bipeds approached us and asked if they could stroke me. They made a fuss of me and said they’d seen me stop and sit to get help. They told my bipeds that I’m really clever.

It’s always nice to get attention and to be told I’m clever, but asking for help from my bipeds was the obvious thing to do when seaweed was attacking me. Even a coral reef sends out a message for help to the fish that live in it, when it’s under attack by seaweed! Seaweed is usually harmless and smelly, but it can be nasty. Everyone needs a helping hand sometimes – those opposable thumbs can be really useful!

See you next Wednesday!

After you

I had this conversation with my biped when she was helping me with my correspondence this week.

Biped: Someone has left a question for you, Clowie. This person asks, “Why does a Great Pyrenees, or Pyrenean Mountain Dog, always have to go through the door first?

Clowie: We don’t!

B: Okay…

C: I always wait politely for bipeds to go through first, unless whoever I’m with tells me to go first.

B: Yes, you do.

C: You said that as though I wasn’t always that polite.

B: Well, you did want to push through the doorway first when you were a puppy.

C: Oh, I remember now! But there was always a knee in the way when I was small and as I became bigger the door would close again so that I couldn’t go through.

B: Yes, it sometimes took a while for us to get through a doorway. But you gradually learnt to sit and wait patiently.

C: Sit was the first thing I learnt to do well. When I was a bit older and had learnt the ‘wait’ command you would say ‘wait’ to me. Now you hardly ever need to tell me.

B: Why were you so keen to get through the door first when you were a puppy?

C: I think it was a mixture of puppy enthusiasm and curiosity. It’s always nice to discover what is happening on the other side of the door. Why do you want to go first?

B: The main reason is that I don’t like being towed along! It is important for a large dog to have good manners. It is so much easier to open and close a door, or a gate, if you’re waiting patiently and not pulling.

C: Yes, I suppose it is. But you always want to see what is on the other side of a door before I do when we’re in a place we haven’t been before. I sometimes think it would be better if I saw first so that I can protect you better – I am head of security!

B: So we have another reason why Pyrenean Mountain Dogs might like to go through doorways first!

C: Yes, doorways are very important in terms of security. You may have noticed that I often choose to sleep across the door to the room you’re in.

B: It would be hard not to notice you when I have to ask you to move so that I can open the door!

C: True! But I always move straightaway.

B: Can you think of any occasions when it’s been a good thing that you’ve waited to be told to come through the door?

C: Yes, when we stayed at that hotel in the south of France where that big dog was always loose in the corridors. He didn’t like me, did he?

B: No, I don’t think he was used to seeing a dog bigger than he is. It would have been very difficult for us to protect you if you’d gone through the door first.

C: Yes, he allowed you to shoo him away if he couldn’t see me. There was also that time when we lived in that old, stone house when we first came to Spain. There were workmen resurfacing the track by the house and they’d removed the steps down from the front door, without telling us!

B: There was a drop of about four feet when we opened the front door!

They had taken away the step and dug away a lot of the track.

The finished version – they had taken away the step and removed a lot of soil where the track had been

C: I don’t think I would have noticed the steps had gone!

B: It isn’t every day that stone steps just vanish like that! If you had charged through the door, I would probably have fallen over the edge and landed in a heap on top of you.

C: I’m glad that didn’t happen!

B: Me too!

C: It is now perfectly natural for me to wait for you to go through a door before me. When I was a puppy, you convinced me to sit. Then we progressed to ‘wait’ when I was less pushy and didn’t need to sit. Now you never need to tell me because I’m polite!

See you next Wednesday!

P.S. I won a prize on Dakota’s Den – thank you Dakota! Do pop over and visit Dakota if you don’t already know him. And if you do know him, make sure you have his correct address now that he’s moved! It’s http://dakotasden.net/

My prize is a candy jar from DogBreedCartoon with a Great Pyrenees on it. My biped is going to use it for herbs! I’m happy about that, even though it’s really mine! If you click here you can see the design I chose – a Great Pyrenees!

Where’s my doggy?

The other evening the male biped came into the room where I was relaxing and asked, “Where’s my doggy?”

I immediately leapt to my feet and rushed to him for a fuss and then I did a play bow and darted to the back door to invite him to come outside and play with me. He laughed and followed me. We had a lovely game of football and came back indoors.

I heard the female say, “It never fails to bring out the puppy in Clowie when you say that!”

They laughed about it and shared some memories of when I was a puppy. Like most puppies I wanted to leap all over them when they came home, but they didn’t think it was appropriate behaviour! They taught me to sit and wait until they told me that I could greet them.

I found it particularly difficult to do when the male biped had been away for a day or two, but he didn’t like me near his suits! He would tell me to sit before he came in through the door. He would tell me I was good and disappear to get changed. It used to seem like ages before he reappeared saying, “Where’s my doggy?”

That was my signal that I could approach him and tell him I was pleased to see him. We would have a lovely cuddle and he would take me outside so that I could bounce around and show just how excited I was. It gradually became our routine that I would have a cuddle and then dash to the back door to ask him to come outside for a game.

Playing with a puppy pal

Playing with a puppy pal

I don’t need telling to sit anymore. I go to the door when I hear them come home and stand with my tail gently wagging. I can usually tell whether my bipeds are wearing the type of clothes they don’t want me near, or if they’re carrying shopping. I watch them carefully for a slight nod of the head before I get close enough to touch them. If I don’t get a nod from them, I follow them and watch them. As soon as they’ve either put down what they were carrying or returned from changing their clothes, I’m there for a cuddle! I don’t usually mind waiting because they talk to me while I’m being so very patient and tell me how good I am.

My biped hardly ever says, “Where’s my doggy?” now, but when he does it’s a nice memory. I’m reminded of how exciting it was when I could rush up to him and have a cuddle after waiting, so I get almost as excited as I did when I was a puppy!

Are there things that remind you of when you were a youngster and bring back happy memories?

I have a piece of good news for you – Mary, aka MJ, will be going to a new home of her own soon.

See you next Wednesday!