Cheater, but not dumb

Spencer rarely eats from a dog dish, and not because we feed him from the table like so many French people do. We believe that it’s important for him to work for what he eats for a number of reasons including the mental stimulation it provides. Sometimes he gets food-stuffed toys, and often we ask him to perform specific “tasks”, turning meals into training sessions and games.

The weather has been sunny the past two days, so I’ve given him his lunch outside, at least part of the meal…it’s too cold to stay out for long. Greg and I sometimes play a game with Spencer where we each stand on one side of the house and call Spencer back and forth. Since Greg was at work, I decided to work on Spencer’s sit-stays in order to play the same game. He seemed to enjoy it a lot…galloping joyously back and forth and planting himself victoriously next to me.

At one point, he figured out the game and, anticipating that I would call him, more or less followeed me into the backyard. He’s not supposed to anticipate the release from the stay, so I put him back in a sit in the backyard and headed to the front yard. I hadn’t even made it around the corner of the house when he left his stay and went inside. Often when he does this during a game, it’s because he’s thirsty, so I looked inside…and found him at the front door, clearly with the intention of taking the shortcut through the house and cutting me off at the pass. Unfortunately, he forgot that the front door is kept closed in winter!


I think that figuring out this way to cheat was very clever. But he must think we’re pretty dumb. During dinner tonight, he suddenly “forgot” how to lie down and when he would lie down, refused to stay put, even though he usually manages a complex sequence in the down-stay position. We were puzzled. And then an idea came to me. I took Spencer into the living room and tried again, this time on the rug. Perfect execution.

We’d already noticed that Spencer is not a big fan of the cold (he is a short-haired dog with Italian roots after all). And he hadn’t forgotten how to lie down. He simply did not want to lie on the cold tile floor! He probably thought we were pretty silly to keep insisting that he lay on the cold tiles despite the “clear” message he was sending us.


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