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Training Yogi

Oh no, what have I done now?

Have you ever done something with good intentions and not realised the implications until some time later? Jo Sermon tells us about the time she taught her Beardie Yogi how to retrieve shoes.

All the Beardies that I've had have been confirmed kleptomaniacs. Buster, because I had told him off for collecting, used to hide his pile of assorted odds and ends over the house. We used to find spoons, match boxes, cotton reels, hankies and later Duplo bricks, Barbie dolls, Puppies in My Pocket, etc. - all in perfect order in various hiding places. He liked to put them behind the chairs, at the back of wardrobes, in the cupboard under the stairs etc.

When little Yogi arrived I was determined to change this and decided to turn this instinctive behaviour on its head. I decided that I would reward Yogi if the item were brought to me. The idea was that as the dogs did not harm the items they were currently collecting, if they were no longer hidden, I would at least know where all the bits and bobs were!

I have no idea where this trait stems from or of what use it is to the dogs in their work. Most of the Beardie owners I have spoken to know what I'm talking about and can tell an amusing tale or two! I later discovered that Yogi's grandmother often collects hedgehogs and takes them to bed with her!

At the time my two daughters were aged two and four, and free time was non-existent. So picture this scene if you will. I'm cooking diner. The two children are sitting at the table colouring/fighting, and I'm chatting/supervising/breaking up fights/washing up/cooking/colouring etc. Anyone who has ever had young children about knows what I mean!

There goes little Yogi with a shoe in his mouth. I quickly grab a tit-bit, calm him and swap the shoe for the treat. I then go back to my colouring/story telling occupation. Yes, I'm sure all you smart alecks are saying that I should have put the puppy back in his pen, or at least had a look to see where the shoes were coming from. Did I mention the two children and the dinner? Out of the corner of my eye, I see Yogi with another shoe and repeat the process. He seems to be much more amenable to giving up his prize, and I'm quite happy. Within five minutes, my 'bright as a button' puppy is back, another shoe in his mouth, sitting at my feet waiting for his tit-bit.

Have you ever noticed that the things that you don't mean to teach are the things that are the most difficult to get rid of? I'm sure that anyone who has read Karen Pryor's book will be happily nodding and muttering about variable reward schedules, but the fact remains that Yogi will, to this day, bring me a shoe if he is bored and all else has failed! He also has a very reliable retrieve and will turn his paw to anything you ask. I wonder if the two are related? He still collects things, but those are generally in his bed, so at least if we have lost something we all know where to look!

Socialisation
The second thing that springs to mind is the huge mistake that I made whilst I was socialising him. When Yogi came to me, he was seven weeks old, covered with lice and full of worms. The breeder that I had booked a puppy from had gone to collect the puppies (hers was the stud dog) when she had heard about the state that they were in. I was there when she came back. Although I had made up my mind that I was definitely going to have a black bitch from healthy stock, I had to have Yogi, and so I came home with a brown dog in a truly horrendous state. Huh, nothing changes my mind when it's made up!

The litter had been kept in a box and so the pups had not seen much of the outside world. Poor little Yogi was worried about everything that he came across. When we got him home, he promptly caught kennel cough, and we nearly lost him. By the time he could go out, he was 11 weeks old and our 'window of opportunity' was nearly closed.

So I started a frantic program of socialisation that included my friend's horse. Little Yogi had a wonderful time with this very 'dog friendly' animal. They even started playing together. We were standing chatting and catching up on the gossip when my friend pointed out that her horse had taught Yogi his favourite game of tag. The horse chases the puppy; then the puppy chases the horse, barks at him, and the horse chases the puppy. I was ever so chuffed. At least I wouldn't have to worry about him being frightened of horses!

I happily went on to other things. It was only when Yogi began his adult dog walks at about six months that I discovered just what he had remembered about horses. He took one look at a beautiful horse, went flying towards it at full tilt with glee written all over his oh-so expressive body. He then barked and went a short distance waiting to be chased. When nothing happened he tried again. It was only then that I managed to get my act together and call him away. I swear that there is nothing so pitiful as a dejected Beardie puppy!

In retrospect I suppose that it is quite comical, and I was lucky that the horse was another that was used to dogs and was not at all phased by Yogi's antics. It took me months to get rid of this expectation. Yogi learnt instead to lie down when he saw a horse, which is, I suppose, what I should have taught him in the first place! Oh well...


About the Author...
Jo Sermon
started her training career with a supposedly untrainable GSD. It was during the quest to train him without beating him to a pulp, that she discovered working trials. When the dog developed spinal disease, she (I) borrowed her husband's (old) Beardie and took up Agility. With Buzzy she won four Starters trophies and never looked back.

Her family consists of her ever-tolerant husband Geoff, (who says that it is bad enough living with the dogs, never mind training them!) and her two daughters aged nine and eleven. The rest of the zoo is made up the two Beardies, Yogi and Jester, one rabbit, a Water dragon called Puff (that'll teach her to tell the children that they can't have dogs….) and a hundred or so tropical fish.

Jo has qualified has qualified for all sorts of finals including Eukanuba, Spillers with her Senior Beardie Yogi. They have qualified for (the) every ABC final to date, and have been invited to Olympia three times, where they have won twice.

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