Monday, June 23, 2014

Training Cleo

Cleo, as I may have mentioned, is my third St Bernard, but my first St Bernard pup - Billy and Athena were both adult dogs when I got them and knew basic good behaviour.  Cleo is now seven months old and about the size of a full grown German Shepherd, though I think she weighs more than your average German Shepherd now.  She is what my Nana would have called a Gop (a term my Nana seemed to reserve just for me in my younger days) - Cleo is full of energy, a bit clumsy with those big feet and always racing around looking for mischief or fun and frolic.  She's not particular as to whether it's the former or the latter, just so she's up and doing. My son Josh, when walking Cleo to the lamb shed when we were bottle feeding the hoard, was heard to say to Cleo, "Where's the dignity?"  He was used to walking Billy who was both dignified and sedate on the end of a lead.  Billy always channelled his show days and walked with the air of a well trained butler leading visitors to the sitting room.  As I keep telling everyone that Cleo will settle down in a year or two and become the staid, sedate dog St Bernards are known for, but in the meantime training sessions and just walks in the garden are fraught with adventure - for both Cleo and me.

I'm trying to train Cleo in the basic good behaviour commands with little success at the moment, but I hold hope tightly in my heart. She's not too bad at "Sit" but the rest of the   commands are still an enigma to her.  She does "Heel" when told to, but only for a second or two then she's back to charging forward on the lead and towing me along as if she thought she was a Husky instead of a St Bernard.  Cleo is working on obeying the "Drop" command as well, but it always turns into a "please rub the tummy" position as soon as she's on the ground.  Let me tell you, trying to get a seven month old St Bernard up off the ground to continue her lessons when she's in tummy rub mode is not easy!  Especially when I can't give her the tummy rubs because that would be a reward for bad behaviour.  "Come" and "Stay" are closed books to Cleo. She is absolutely incapable of staying. Cleo will sit like a good puppy and look at me with her tongue lolling out the side of her mouth and she'll even acknowledge my hand at her nose to make her stay in the one spot. I know she's acknowledged it because she tries to lick my hand before I start to step away. Trouble is she's right there with me from the first step I take backwards. We go through the "Sit", "Stay" commands again and once again she's up and following me from the first step I take. The strange thing is the absolute opposite is the case with "Come". Cleo plants her bottom on the ground and refuses to budge, especially if there is an open gate between us. Her laughing face and enthusiastic greeting when I go to grab her collar are to show me there's no hard feelings, then she drops to the ground (as I mentioned, another command she doesn't get when asked to do so) and has to be dragged through the gate so I can close it and get on with my day.  She doesn't even have the good grace to stand up while I'm getting her through the gate.  She just sort of crawls along and pops up on the other side of the gate to lick me and tell me that was a good game and can we do it again please?  Of course training with someone to help would be the answer to the problems I've described, but Graeme is out on the farm all day and only gets back to the house late in the afternoon - not the best time for either Graeme or Cleo to participate in a training session.

Most of our training - while the ground is too damp for walks being towed by an enthusiastic pup - are conducted in the back yard after I put the ferrets out for the day.  Cleo is always available for escorting the ferrets to their cage and after she has had the opportunity to commune with them for a little while training begins.  Cleo is very keen to get the treats, but not keen to obey commands to get them.  She's more inclined to just snuggle up and push at the hand holding the treats.  Holding that hand above my head is not to be even considered.  Cleo is already big enough to reach up to my raised hand and that means she needs something to lean against.  The only thing close enough to use is me and you can imagine the consequences of Cleo leaning against me while I'm standing there with one hand raised above my head.  Commands of "Sit!  Sit!  Sit!!" only get the response from Cleo, "In a second, I'm a bit busy at the moment," and over I usually go.  I've tried putting the treat in my pocket, but Cleo's nose knows where to find them.  I'm now trying treatless training so that Cleo is more focused on the lesson than the reward.  Cleo is unimpressed.

Another bone of contention (if you'll excuse the unintended pun) is when Cleo comes inside. Graeme has a no dogs on the carpet rule, and Cleo does her best to get around the rule.  Things start well.  Cleo comes inside and sits on the kitchen tiles and looks like butter wouldn't melt in her mouth.  She even adopts the drop position and settles in.  The photo below shows the muddied floor from just the first visit today (remember we are having a lot of wet weather at the moment and towelling feet isn't enough with a large pup).

  By the time I've gone outside to get her blanket to lie on things have changed. 

And things just go downhill from there.  More and more bits of Cleo end up on the carpet, until nearly the whole dog is ensconced on the carpet with a look on her face that says, "I know you love me and really want me in the loungeroom with you and not here in the kitchen."  After a battle ranging from a few minutes to half an hour, depending on my patience at the time, Cleo ends up outside to think about her behaviour and to try again later.  Cleo has only managed to stay inside for a few hours twice.  We are still working on this behaviour, just as we are with all the other ones.

I've explained over and over again to Cleo that these are commands she has to learn if we are to take her away with us if we go away for a couple of days at any time.  We will be staying in caravan parks and her public behaviour has to be perfect or there will be trouble (for us, not Cleo).  Cleo just smiles and drools and rolls over for a tummy rub. She only discovered tummy rubs recently but she's hooked.