On Tuesday Andrea had several private lessons scheduled. These were held in the clients’ homes and usually involved some problematic household behavior. Her first client today was someone new, Mrs. Carlson and her cocker spaniel, Buster. Andrea found the address easily and pulled up to a brick bungalow. The exterior was plain but tidy. She lifted her gear bag from the back seat, mounted the cement steps and rang the doorbell. From inside she heard a flurry of excited barking.
A short, elderly woman opened the door. She was neatly dressed, wearing a gray cardigan over a white blouse and navy slacks. Even at 9:00 am she was sporting lipstick and flower shaped earrings.
“Hi, I’m Andrea from Heaven Dog Training Center.”
“Come right in” the woman urged her.
Andrea held her gear bag in front of her as she entered the home. In case an over-excited dog rushed her, the large gear bag could serve as a shield. She was in a small front hall, with a living room opening to her left. A young, black cocker spaniel swirled around her, barking but not biting or grabbing.
Andrea remained standing and still, giving the dog a chance to calm down.
“Hush, Buster” the woman batted her hands half-heartedly at the dog.
“That’s okay” Andrea assured her quietly. “Just let him get used to me.”
Finally the barking stopped and after a few final sniffs at Andrea’s shoes, the dog sat and looked at her expectantly.
“What a good dog.” Andrea tossed a treat at his feet. While Buster snapped up the bit of food Andrea began moving slowly into the living room. Buster followed behind, stumpy tail wagging happily.
Andrea talked with the woman for several minutes, getting a picture of Buster’s daily activity and diet while at the same time watching the dog’s behavior. Considering that the dog was woefully short-changed as far as satisfying his exercise needs, he seemed even-tempered. She learned that Buster had been a gift from Mrs. Carlson’s granddaughter.
“So what’s going on with Buster today?” Andrea asked Mrs. Carlson.
“Well, he’s a naughty puppy” Mrs. Carlson replied. “He steals things and won’t give them back.”
“What sorts of things?”
“Anything he can reach.” Mrs. Carlson waved her arms expansively.
Andrea glanced around the room, filled with a lifetime of mementos. There were plenty of objects to keep an enterprising puppy occupied. “Do you chase him?”
“My granddaughter says I should spray him in the face with a water bottle.”
“It might cause him to drop the object” Andrea conceded. “But that sort of approach usually creates a new set of problems.”
“It does?” Mrs. Carlson looked worried.
“Why don’t we start with teaching Buster the Trade Game. Does Buster have a favorite toy?”
“He likes his duck.” The old woman shuffled off to find Buster’s duck while Andrea rummaged around in her gear bag extracting a Kong, a jar of peanut butter and a plastic spoon. She began smearing a small dab of peanut butter inside the edge of the rubber Kong.
Buster had poked his head into Andrea’s gear bag to see what other wonders it held. When his owner returned, squeaking the duck, the cocker backed out of the bag and turned his attention there. Mrs. Carlson handed the duck to Andrea.
“Look, Buster” Andrea prompted. “Would you like your duck?” She extended the toy to the little dog who pounced on it, squeaking it repeatedly.
Mrs. Carlson shook her head and covered her ears.
Next Andrea extended the Kong toward Buster. He stopped squeaking as he caught the scent of peanut butter. She allowed him to take the Kong and as he did so, Andrea picked up the duck. Once all the peanut butter had been licked off, Andrea reversed the process offering the duck and taking the Kong.
Andrea repeated the trades several times, not saying anything but watching the dog’s eyes and lips closely. Then she tossed the duck several feet away. Buster hurried off to get it while she extracted another toy from the magic gear bag. Buster trotted back with the duck, clearly wanting to play the game some more.
Andrea continued to trade with Buster, alternating a variety of toys and the Kong. She also started adding the cue word “Give” as she picked up whatever Buster released. Finally she scooped up all the toys, including the duck and the Kong, stuffed them back in her gear and zipped it. Buster lay nearby, panting from the excitement of the game.
Andrea turned to Mrs. Carlson. “Do you have a Kong for Buster?”
“No I don’t.”
“I recommend you get one. You can keep it in your freezer with some cheese or peanut butter inside of it. It will come in handy if Buster gets something dangerous or if you need to distract him.”
“Okay, dear” said Mrs. Carlson.
“The other thing I recommend is that you move anything dangerous or breakable to a spot where Buster can’t reach it.” Andrea paused. “Is that something your granddaughter could help you with?”
“I suppose” Mrs. Carlson demurred. She gazed sadly at her things.
“You don’t want him to get hurt” Andrea pointed out. “While he’s learning to give things back it will be safer for both of you if you don’t have to chase him around the whole house.”
Andrea turned to her gear bag, opened the zipper slightly and pulled out the duck. “Here, Buster” she offered it to the dog. Happily he grabbed the duck, pranced around the room with it then returned close to Andrea.
“Buster, give” she said.
The dog dropped the toy and looked up, tail wagging furiously. Andrea picked up the toy then gave him a treat. As soon as he finished the tidbit, Andrea tossed the duck a few feet. Buster scampered after it.
“Now you try it” she told the dog’s owner.
Tentatively, the woman extended her hand. “Buster, give.” Buster dropped the toy and looked at Mrs. Carlson expectantly.
Andrea handed her a dog treat. “Toss this on the floor near him while you pick up the toy. After he is done eating the treat, give the toy back to him. Buster is learning that when a person takes one thing, he gets something else. Something even better” Andrea explained. “Did you notice that when you said Give, he dropped the toy and waited for the treat?”
Mrs. Carlson nodded.
“Would you like me to stop by next week to check on how you’re doing?”
Andrea left her with a handout on Give and Take.