Orly (like her cousin Dusty) is a member of the Dog Aging Project “pack.” (Your dog can join too!) It’s a group of vets and researchers who are gathering data from thousands of dog owners to try to learn more about dogs’ health and behavior as they age.
Orly joined back in May 2022 but only got her first assignment a couple of weeks ago. We were asked to play a game called 1-2-3 Treat. Orly’s eager to try anything that has “treat” right there in its name, so I got busy.
I had to construct three identical boxes from pieces of cardboard. As a person who flunked arts and crafts, over and over, throughout my childhood and who still cannot cut a straight line, even with lefty scissors … well, let’s say it was a labor of love.
Equipped with my three non-identical, lopsided boxes, I moved on to the next step: Marking out the space. This entailed taping an array of x’s on the floor at precise distances, with space to walk around them with Orly.
This was a challenge. It’s March in Montana, which means it’s winter. The nasty part of winter where the back yard resembles a lumpy ice rink. But that’s my largest open space (you need a 10×10 foot area). I moved some stuff around in my basement and figured out a way to get the four x’s the right distance apart with just enough space to squeeze by if Orly walked right next to me (she didn’t but … that comes later).
One x was the starting point, and the other three were where the lopsided boxes went.
The warm-up was where the fun began for Orly. We got out treats!
Then, we followed instructions about which box to approach and when I was to put a treat in which box and whether Orly was allowed to eat it. Amazingly, she cooperated, leaving some of the treats and gobbling down others.
Orly was n leash, and I could choose whether to have her on my left or my right. We’d approach the boxes differently depending on that choice; Orly was supposed to be on the outside, with me between her and the box.
While she stayed close to me, she kept sticking her nose out, across my legs, to try to get to the boxes. She also kept trying to get ahead so she could get to the box first, not realizing that until I arrived, there were no treats in the boxes. Once she caught on, she mostly stayed next to me, though.
The Main Event
We finished the warm-up, recorded Orly’s behavior, and, finally — we were ready for the main game. 1-2-3 Treat, here we come!
We needed 30 treats for this! Orly was enjoying it already.
We followed nine rounds of instructions — variations on put a treat in each box and let Orly eat two of the three; return to the starting point, let her go, and record which box she looks in first for the remaining treat.
Orly made only one mistake, which means that in eight of the rounds, as soon as I let go of the leash, she trotted over to the only box with a treat in it and scarfed the treat. On the error round, she was heading to the correct box after quickly realizing her mistake. But the cruel rules required me to take the treat and not let her approach a second box.
(You are correct if you are thinking that nine rounds time three treats equals only 27. I guess they figure we’ll mess up somewhere and they don’t want us to run out of treats.)
The final step was recording Orly’s stellar performance and submitting her results.
We’ll be asked to do this once a year. The researchers will look at Orly’s results, along with the probably less-stellar results from thousands of other dogs. They say that they are interested in how dogs’ responses change as they age. We’ll see!
Meanwhile, Orly wonders whether a monthly check would provide better data …