Training the trainer.

It hit me all at once: empty water bowl, stubborn dog, requesting to go out but then refusing, being off-schedule. It happened over and over, but putting the pieces together – all of that is what suddenly clicked.

Fenway is a smart puppy. She’s border collie, a breed known for its antics when they get bored, yes, but also for how incredibly smart and trainable they are. She learned quickly that when she needed to go outside, pawing once at the door – what can sometimes sound like a “click” when her nails hit the window – is a good way to let everyone know. (What she hasn’t learned is how to be patient when we tell her to wait just a minute, but that’s an entirely different post.) One of her humans will walk over, let her out, and off she goes.

Sometimes Fenway will simply sit at the backdoor and look outside. Before, she would only do that if she wanted to go out, and maybe just hadn’t gotten around to lifting her royal paw to make the request. I’d open the door and she’d go out. Except lately she’s learned the art of window gazing. So when I open the door, Fenway will look at me like I’m stupid, and after I’ve asked her a time or two if she needs to go outside, Fenway will sit. That’s her sign for “No, thanks.” I learned pretty quickly that when she says no, she means it. 99.9% of the time, she’s reliable, even if it’s last thing before bedtime. Even if it’s just before work. My dog has the biggest bladder in all the land, and if she says no, you can believe her.

Except I thought maybe she had gotten her wires crossed, starting a few weeks ago. Fen would ask to go outside, I’d admonish her not to dig (if she’d been digging), or mess with the dog next door (if she’d been taunting Bruiser). And then Fenway would sit down and refuse to budge. Now, Fenway really, really likes to please her pack leader. So I thought maybe the sudden refusal to do what she had just wanted to do was because she had gotten reprimanded and didn’t want to get in any more trouble. She’d been yelled at, so she better not do that. Except…that never used to bother her. In fact, telling her “no digging!” was a pretty good deterrent. She listened (mostly). So what the heck?

We’ve been a bit off-schedule since we got home from vacation. When I’m home with Fenway, I’m pretty good about keeping her water bowl full. When the girls are home, I try to remind them to fill it, but it’s not something they think to do on their own. So most days Fen’s been out all day, playing with her humans, but her watering schedule is…apparently not optimum.

The other night, she pawed to go outside, and as I let her out (and she went), I caught out of the corner of the eye the fact that her water bowl was empty. I filled it with water, which I assumed Fenway had heard with her supersonic ears, because when I turned around, she was waiting at the door to come in already. She headed straight for her water bowl and drank it all down.

The next night, Fenway again pawed to go out. I opened the door and – nothing. She sat down and looked at me like I was an idiot. An idiot holding a door open. I admonished her for asking me to go outside and then refusing, and then went back to whatever it was I had been doing. About fifteen minutes later, it happened again. Only this is when it all clicked for me. I remembered the empty water bowl from the night before. The fact that Fenway was clearly asking for something. And her water bowl was empty again.

“Did you want some water?” I asked her. I poured her a bowl and she immediately came over and drank it down. Five minutes later, she clicked at the back door again and refused to go out. “Are you testing me to see if I really got it?” I asked, incredulously. Yes, yes she was. I poured more water, she drank it down.

It took her an entire year to come up with the system, but still. One point to Fenway for figuring out how to signal to us that she needed something. Two points to me for figuring it out.

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One Response to “Training the trainer.”

  1. Puppy for sale. Cheap. | Can't Get There From Here Says:

    […] I had maybe read the signs wrong. Then I started checking her water bowl – remember how she trained me to get her some water? – and saw she had water, so what in the world?! Then when it kept happening, I started […]

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