Ever since our first dog, the amazing Gypsy, took over our lives and nearly destroyed my sanity, Allan and I appreciate the necessity of training our dogs and establishing leadership.
Our dogs are generally well-behaved. We work with them on training, and we've also seen them learn from each other. That's a fascinating thing to observe. With our second dog, Clyde, we never did formal training. She picked up everything from Gypsy, and quickly knew everything her big sister knew.
On the other hand, we're not into extended obedience training or any kind of certification. It looks terrific for the folks who do it. It's just not something we've wanted to put time into. We do the training to the extent that's needed for us all to live happily together, and the rest is play.
Lately I've been noticing that my favourite things that our dogs do are the behaviours they've made up themselves. Each of our dogs has done something like that.
Gypsy was very vocal. She talked a lot, and used all different sounds to express different meanings. In one of these, she would play a game. One of us would snuggle up to her, face to face, and emit a quiet mmmmmmmmm. She would reply. We'd do it again, then she'd do it again, each time a little softer and shorter. Eventually it was a barely audible mm. She'd keep going, and she seemed to want to out-do us, making sure she exhaled the tiniest of ms as you were leaving. She had to get the last word.
Clyde was a jumper. She would hit the ground and spring up in the air in the same motion, as if on a trampoline. We found Clyde on the street, so we didn't know her background, and had never had a small dog before. We later decided she was a terrier mix, part Jack Russell, part Smooth-coat Fox Terrier (and undoubtedly part many other things). Jumping is definitely part of their M.O.
We never did anything to curb the jumping, so she would just fly through the air whenever she got excited. I saw her kiss the forehead of a man who was 6'2". Then she'd hit the ground and rise back up again.
I'm not sure if this counts as inventing behaviour, as she was obviously hard-wired to jump. But when I came home, Clyde would catapult herself through the air, on a horizontal line. Her front paws would hit my upper chest - with force. She'd often knock me back into the door. She only did this to me. I hated it. I bruise very easily, and I often had small purple marks where Clyde had greeted me.
Buster was a soldier, and lived to obey. He wanted nothing more out of life than for us to tell him what to do, and for him to do it. His aggression towards other dogs - he would have killed any dog who wasn't Cody - was beyond anyone's control, the permanent scars of torture. And it was partly because the sadists who trained him (and then left him to die) took advantage of his fierce need to obey.
But the one area where Buster was spontaneous was in giving us affection. If I was doing something standing up, he would come over, lie down beside me, and put his head on my feet. He spontaneously would give his paw, hooking it around your arm or ankle, whatever he could reach.
I actually have a photo of this, taken on the last day of his life. Some of you read this blog then, and helped us get through it.
And for happier Buster times.
Tala invents lots of games for herself in the backyard.
I taught to her to fetch a ball so that she would leave Cody alone - a way of exercising her without taxing Cody. But she quickly grew to love fetching her kong ball.
It's always just been throw, chase, retrieve, throw, chase, retrieve. Then one time she caught the ball in mid-air, on the bounce. And ever since then, with no prompting from us, she seems to really want to catch the ball in mid-air.
Now we try to throw it that way, and she's really getting into leaping to catch it. You can see her timing the jump, either speeding up or waiting depending on the throw. I totally love it. This is the kind of thing that, for me, shows a dog's natural intelligence. She made up a game, a challenge for herself. She enjoyed it and decided to keep doing it. We're just coming along for the ride.
Together, Cody and Tala have played tug-of-war with a stick. The other day they found a length of rope, and were playing with that. It reminded me that when we did training with Buster, Cody would pick up the long training leash and drag Buster around the apartment. The leash was attached to his head-collar, and he would just walk obediently behind Cody and she dragged him through the rooms.
True to her quirky personality, Cody's creative behaviour is the oddest. She's dug herself a nest.
You can see how deep it is. She dug it one night last summer. Allan filled it in with soil over the winter, but as soon as the weather warmed up, the ditch reappeared. She doesn't like to dig when it's wet; she prefers the dry, dusty soil.
I often call it Cody's Womb, because she curls up in fetal position. (A bit of fetus humour that not everyone would appreciate.) She likes to hang out and relax in her nest. But she also goes in when she's had enough of playing with Tala. It's Cody's "home base," where Tala is not allowed to bother her. And Tala respects that.