Great Little Communicator

11 week old Orly, a golden retriever, holds a red toy and stands up against a wire fence

Orly has definite opinions and wants — and she’s not shy about communicating them.

On day 2, she decided to try leveraging the cute factor to get her way. When she wanted out of her play pen, she grabbed a toy, stood up, and launched into full tantrum mode.

It didn’t work.

So she refined it. As soon as I walked into view, she instantly sat, perfectly quiet. That was tougher. I decided that the tantrum meant that she urgently needed to go out, so every time she threw a fit (and didn’t quiet within about 30 seconds), I let her out of the pen and took her straight outside. I let her do her business (or gave her a minute or two) and put her right back into her pen.

That helped a little, for a short while. Now we have a different pen problem: When she wants out, she simply launches herself over the top … I’m working on a solution to that one. Meanwhile, she’s spending more time outside the pen.

That has allowed her to figure out a more effective way to ask to go out: She rings the bells.

Over the years, I’ve tried several times to get Cali to ring a bell to ask to go out, since her preferred method is sitting in front of the door — not helpful when I am upstairs working. Cali has consistently wanted nothing to do with the bells, the buttons, or any other gadgets.

Orly is a different dog entirely. I put the bells on the doorknob and jangled them a bit when I let her out. After the second or third time, she walked over and nudged the bells. I figured it was a fluke or she was just playing with them, but I let her out anyhow and told her how clever she was.

Then she did it again. And again. Very intentionally walking over, touching the bells, and waiting to go out. Orly even did it when I had a friend over.

After a day or so, Cali even did it a couple of times.

Orly went through a brief testing phase — ringing, stepping outside, then immediately turning around and asking to come in. That didn’t last long; I think that she was just making sure I would respond.

I then put a bell outside, too, so she can ask to come back inside; she picked that up in a couple of days.

Orly has recently added a mind-blowing twist to the bell-ringing saga. I was sitting at the dining-room table, having coffee. Cali was outside; Orly at my feet. Cali (the bell-refuser) approached the door. Her usual MO is to stand there and wait for me to notice her. No longer.

Orly leapt into action, heading over and ringing the bell. I’m a little slow, and was on my first coffee of the morning … so I assumed that she wanted to go out. Nope.

I opened the door; Orly stood aside; Cali entered; they touched noses and … wow.

I don’t leave Orly unsupervised downstairs or outside, so I don’t know yet whether I’ll be able to hear the bells from my upstairs office. I’m pretty sure I will hear the inside bells, and I hope that I can hear the outside ones too. (I might not know that until spring!)

I suspect that the reason she picked up the bell use so quickly is that she enjoys ordering me around. Puppy and dog owners have this delusion that we’re training our dogs. In reality, they are training us.

When something doesn’t work (standing-up tantrum), they try something else (magic sit). If we could get people to do what we wanted just by sitting down and looking at them, wouldn’t we? And now that Orly has deployed her communication skills to get me to let Cali in, who knows what’s next. I’d better watch my back. She’s definitely the smartest person in any room of this house!