Wednesday, March 2, 2016


No dog behaves perfectly, even a highly trained service animal.

Trooper’s greatest failing is his tendency, like a bottom-feeding pond loach, to vacuum up everything loose and possibly but not necessarily edible.

When we’re in restaurants I have to watch him while he eyes tidbits that drop from the tables next to ours. At home we have to make sure nothing’s on the floor except his doggie toys.

The other day he got hold of a pencil that had fallen from my desk and ate it—almost all of it except the metal ferrule and eraser. I gathered lots of cedar shreds and broken graphite scattered about the floor, but clearly not enough to make a whole pencil.

We called the vet.

Don’t worry, he said. Trooper’s likely to be OK. Mix some cooked rice into his food, watch his poo for a couple of days, and call if there’s any bleeding.

Yesterday morning there were a few scraps of wood in his otherwise normal poo—boy, that was quick, barely 16 hours from guggle to zatch.

When we returned home Troop was even livelier than usual, tearing about the living room in high gear for half a dozen circuits.

Same thing today. Bullet apparently ducked.

How to break him of the habit?

Start with hiding a treat in your fist, say the experts, and while the dog noses your hand, refuse to open your palm while saying “Leave it! Leave it!” When he stops bumping your fist, give him the treat amid a shower of praise.

Trooper is wise to the trick. He ignores my fist and patiently waits till I open my hand.

On our walks I have been watching carefully  as he trots along, nose to the ground, ready to bark “Leave it!” and lift his head with the leash when he approaches a juicy target.

Now I’m going to try another training strategy: whenever he gets ready to hoover up a morsel, speaking to him and offering a treat. The idea is to get him to concentrate on me rather than the ground as a source of goodies.

It’s going to be a long process. Trained service animal he may be, but Trooper is a dog, and dogs have a long evolutionary history of going for the main chance. It’s how they’ve survived all these millennia.

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