Thursday, March 22, 2012

When the Student Surpasses the Teacher

Screw Up Fairies in progress...

So often, walking through our home makes me think the Screw-Up Fairy has detonated a grenade deep in the dog toy basket.  After big play days, the rooms are literally littered with the sad, squeaker-less forms of these war-torn toys.  The dog's lack of organization is rather impressive, really!

Nyxie, being the brilliant German Shepherd dog that she is, recognizes most of the silly names we give her toys - Dead Kitty (sorry feline fans, but the poor thing's head is hanging precariously to one side), Blue Bunny One Ear and MooCow, to name a few.  Feeling she'd be up to the challenge, I decide to teach her how to put her toys away.  But since I'm no trainer, I don't have the foggiest idea of where to start.

MooCow, Blue Bunny One Ear and Dead Kitty

YouTube to the rescue!  (At this point, I'm pretty sure I see Nyxie roll her eyes in disgust).

So I watch a couple of YouTube videos on how to do this trick, the trainer making it look so easy with her happy little background music and enthusiastic voice.  How hard can it be?  (Nyxie glances over at the clock on the cable box.  Did she just start tapping her paw?)

"tap, tap, tap"

The goal is to have the dog pick up each individual toy off the floor and drop it into the toy basket.  We've all seen it done and think "I wish my dog would do that!"  Each step is rewarded - pick up toy, bring toy, drop toy, eventually becomes drop toy in basket - the final progression looking seamless.  Clearly both trainer and dog are brilliant in every way!  It's not as easy as it looks, folks.  

Number One - The dog has to be interested in her toy.  I make the mistake of having treats on the table where Nyxie can see them, and since treats trump toys any day of the week, any toy interest goes the way of the Dodo bird.  I'll have to wait until she's in the middle of playing with her toys to reintroduce training.

Number Two - The toy basket must not be filled with a few gabillion toys (oops!).  Nyxie eyeballs this enormous basket of potential fun before her and thinks, "Ooooh!  I haven't played with this one in the past 3 minutes!"  I decide to take the toys out of the basket but I'm too late.  Nyxie follows me, my arms laden down with dog toys crunchy with old slobber.  I make a pile of these in the other room and she immediately plops down in the middle of the pile, happily chewing her old "buddies".  See Number One.

total distraction

Number Three - I discover that actually having a plan for this trick is crucial.  See, even after watching the chain exercise on YouTube, it's crucial to know how to make it work for your dog.  Also crucial to follow the steps in order and not try and skip ahead.  I don't have a plan yet and skip a few basic steps.

I feel so stupid looking into Nyxie's deep brown, almond eyes.  I can feel the intensity of her gaze, all the history and weight of her lineage dating back from 1889 when Capt. Max von Stephanitz began standardizing the breed in Germany.

I hear her sigh, her eyes saying,  "It's ok.  Why don't we start again tomorrow when you're more prepared."


  1. NO JOKE! I know that feeling of complete inadequacy. I mean seriously, how smart do these dogs need to be?!?! Nikki and Mac made me feel so dumb everyday! BUT I loved them for it!

    mamma heartbeat

  2. BOL!! That's hilarious!! I've been trying to figure out a way to teach my dogs the same trick. (Bout time they started earning their keep! bol!) Looks like you got further than I have. But, you know it could all be a ploy...I mean what kid ever wants to pick up there toys?? I think Max Von Stepanitz is probably laughing his ass off!!

    Don't give up and then let's us know how you do it. :)

  3. Isn't a good thing our brilliant dogs are so patient with us stupid humans??

  4. Wonderful post!!! I enjoyed it! Love the expressions on their faces!

  5. Never knew how this was done, interesting
    Benny & Lily

  6. Siku knows this trick well and can identify most of the toys by name in the WDA box since they were originally hers. To prove she knows the game, she will pick up Piggie, for example, and bring it over for your approval. then she will carry it to the box and show Piggie where it sometimes lives. Then she will return Piggie to it's original play place in the living room where YoYoMa will run over and grab it. In other words, never under estimate stubbornness in the equation

  7. Hardy Har Har ;) You know Nyxie, the longer it takes to master a trick, the more treats you get yes? ;D

    Waggin at ya,

  8. Maybe I khan send Khousin Harley to woo fur some instrukhtion on putting toys away!

    I mean, did woo see the trail of toys he left at Khamp Khyra???

    PeeEssWoo: GREAT WORK!!!

  9. You made a valiant effort. Funny how that's not always enough with our dogs. Training is so precise. You just can't cut corners. I've learned that the hard way.

    Great that Nyxie knows her toys by name. Very impressive!


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