Koala Cleans Up

Photo by Deni Elliott

Koala is learning a skill that all dogs need: She’s learning to pick up her toys before she goes to bed.

Wow, you might be thinking, that’s amazing.

It’s really pretty simple, once you get over the ridiculous human notions that dogs “can’t” do … whatever. Frankly, I believe that the only limitation on what dogs can learn is the imagination of the humans teaching them.

So, back to Koala. Koala is the smartest dog I know. She is also an excellent people-trainer. She’s got Deni really, really well trained. For instance, even though Koala celebrated her third birthday a few weeks ago (mazal tov Koala!), she has Deni convinced that she will not be able to work, and may well keel over and die, if she does not get puppy lunch every single day. Most Labs and goldens give up their puppy lunch at around 6 months of age. It was the single most terrible experience in Jana’s long and otherwise happy life.

The next thing that Koala trained Deni to do was provide a bedtime snack, just before the nightly cuddle. This actually was fortuitous, because it made teaching Koala to clean up very easy. While possibly not as smart as Koala, Deni is no slouch. She put one and one together and got a perfect back-chaining opportunity: Deni simply had to remember to ask that Koala clean up before she would get her bedtime snack.

OK, there is another step of course. Koala had to know to get her toys and to drop them in the toy basket. Koala is a very well-educated guide dog, but for some reason, a working retrieve was not part of her university curriculum. No matter. Deni easily taught her to bring toys to her. Koala did already know to drop items on cue, so getting her to drop them into a basket was also pretty easy.

With these essential pieces in place, and the very strong motivation of her snack, it took Koala only a few days to get into the routine. The biggest obstacle, to be honest, was Deni remembering to ask Koala to clean up before providing the snack. It’s nearly always the humans who hold dogs, back, not any lack of ability on the dog’s part.

A bonus: Koala, like most smart dogs, excels at finding shortcuts. She seems to have figured out the concept and, in the interest of making snack delivery speedier, she leaves fewer toys lying around. The other day, she had only two to pick up. Chores done, on to snacks and cuddles. Seems like an all-around win!

Growing Up

9 Weeks

Janas Bed age 2






Cali turned two recently, so by some definitions, she is an adult. I had this fantasy that, at age two, she’d “click in,” showing maturity and leaving behind the seemingly endless adolescent phase.
Hasn’t happened.
But all is not lost. She is showing signs of growing up.
For a couple of weeks now, she’s been trying very hard not to pull on the leash when we are walking to the park where we play every morning. She has excellent leash manners on most regular walks, but she’s so excited about the park that our morning walk there has been a constant struggle.
I repeatedly stop and ask her to stop pulling. She bounces into position next to me, then, within a few seconds, is out in front, pulling hard. As we walked, my patience would wear thin and my requests would grow sharper.
Then, a couple of weeks ago, I noticed that she wasn’t pulling so much as … well, vibrating. When Deni was here for a Thanksgiving visit, she asked why Cali was” bouncing like that.” Cali now walks out in front of me, but the leash is a bit slack and she bounces and quivers, and, every so often, moves back and walks next to me for a few steps. She is trying so hard not to pull.
Another sign of impending adultness is that she actually tried on her own, without being asked, to pick up her bowl after dinner this week. I’ve been trying to get her to do this, as Jana does, for months. The best she’s managed is to sort of lift it by one edge and drag it to my waiting hand. And that only happens if I have a really good treat in the other hand. But there she was — and, because of raging hotspots, she was wearing her cone — trying mightily to lift her bowl.
Finally, the best sign yet of maturity came yesterday. For a few months, every time our neighbors walk their dog, Ernie, Cali has barked madly at him. She does not bark when the people go by without Ernie. She is fine meeting Ernie in the parking lot or at the play yard, where they occasionally show up when we are there. But they walk Ernie a lot. Several times a day. And Cali has always done her crazy dog impression, barking her loudest, fiercest bark.
Until yesterday. Earlier, the other neighbors had returned from a walk with their two dogs, and both Cali and Jana let them know whose territory this was. I let them know how unacceptable their barking was.
About 15 minutes later, I saw Ernie and his people walking by. Dead silence from both dogs. Until I threw them a party. Good GIRLS! Lots of cookies!! Woo-hoo! When the trio came back from their walk, again, silence. This morning, again. Can it be that she has finally learned??
It’s easy to get frustrated at our dogs. And to assume that they know what we want them to do (or not do) and are disobeying out of spite. Or general badness. How many times have I told Cali that she’s the “baddest dog in the whole #$&^ town”?
But she’s not. And chances are, your dog isn’t either. They are trying. But it takes a lot of maturity and self-restraint to follow human rules that make no sense in a doggy world.