"You'll NEVER teach him to do that " my roommate Angela, insisted in her usual negative way. "He's almost eight years old, forget about teaching him new tricks", she added ,as if stating the obvious would prove her point, end the conversation, and kill my idea.
As usual, I didn't listen to her.
My idea was to teach my dog , Max, to ring a call bell.
Max was my eight year old dachshund; He had been rescued from the squalor of an abusive puppy mill. When he first decided to stay with me, he refused to be touched or held or pet. After lots of patience , love and cheese wrappers being opened, he had become hopelessly attached to my side, watching my movements intently and addicted to receiving praise, belly rubs and of course treats.
Sit ? Check.
Rollover ? Check.
Those were the simple tricks.
Get his toy? Took a while, but he did it .
Spin around? Took a whole cheeseburger but he eventually learned. Now he spins in circles when he sees a McDonald’s bag.
Go to your bed? He runs and jumps into bed if I follow up with a good night piece of bologna.
He was food motivated. I wanted him to associate good behavior with great rewards. He was eager to learn if it meant something tasty.
YouTube had hours of videos of dogs ringing a call bell with their paw to signal they needed to go out , or to be rewarded with a piece of kibble. One video even demonstrated cats pawing at a bell and being fed.
I placed the bell on the floor and armed myself with some left over chicken from dinner. Max watched as I sat down in front of him and showed him the chicken . His butt hit the floor as he sat with focus and intention. His eyes were frozen on the chicken.
“Good Boy Max” I praised. His ears perked up.
His eyes searched frantically as if to say, “Where’s my chicken?”
I placed the bell in front of him. He looked at me confused, before laying down and waiting, his eyes still focused on the chicken.
I put his paw on the bell demonstrating the motion necessary to make a sound. He withdrew his paw. He was scared and confused. His eyes searched to see if the chicken had fallen.
I put his paw on the bell again, and pressed down, forcing a little “ ding “ to sound and them immediately gave Max some chicken. He chomped greedily, licking his lips, then returning his hyper focus to my hand, not the bell.
Angela called out from her room," I know that was YOU, ringing the bell, not him!”
Max turned to look towards the direction of Angela’s voice.
“Shut up!” I called back to her, “Stop distracting him!” Max turned back to look at me.
Angela came out of her room to get a bottle of water from the fridge . After taking a large swallow, she said, “ You can’t do it. Just leave him alone and let him be a dog."
“He can so! He’s smart!” I held up a piece of chicken.
Max sat on the floor emphatically. Then he laid down . Then he rolled over. It appeared he was performing his entire repetoire of tricks until one of them resulted in the chicken.
“Told ya!” Angela smirked, making her way back to her room.
“Don’t listen to her” I told Max.
He looked at me. I looked at him, willing him, telepathically, to press his paw on the bell.
You can do this. You love your chicken . It’s MY dinner for goodness sake !
He whined a bit . Drooling. His eyes glued to the chicken in my hand.
I put his paw back on the bell. He left it there for a few moments, before removing it and placing it back on the floor.
I put his paw back on the bell. I pressed his paw down, forcing the little “ding” to sound and immediately fed him some chicken.
He swallowed it and returned his gaze to my hand.
I took his paw again and pressed it on the bell, forcing the emission of another sound, then immediately fed him some chicken.
My logic was that with enough chicken and repetition, he would produce the desired outcome.
I took his paw and pressed it again on the bell, then shoved chicken into his mouth immediately associating the bell, with the chicken. The bell lesson continued for five minutes until I ran out of chicken. He sniffed and looked for more chicken. His paw lay motionless. He seemed confused and no closer to making the connection than when we first started.
We will try again tomorrow. I felt angry. More than anything, I wanted to prove Angela wrong.
“All gone, no more “ I said in my affectionate sing- song voice, showing Max my empty hands as I always did when the treat had been completely consumed and then planted a kiss on top of his head .
I got up off the floor and turned to wash my hands in the kitchen sink.
I still have leftover chicken. Tomorrow is another day.
“DING”. The bell rang.
The bell rang? I turned to look at Max .
His paw was on the bell. He stared up at me, motionless.
I reached for the leftover chicken on the counter, ripped a small piece between my fingers and turned to look at Max.
“Ring the bell, Max” I said. We were silent. We were still. I waited. I think I held my breath.
Magically, his paw lifted and pressed the bell causing a resounding “DING”.
I immediately fed him the chicken. He chewed, swallowed, then rang the bell again.
“DING”. I immediately fed him more chicken.
Every teacher strives for the moment of recognition, when a student finally understands the lesson being taught or the solution to a problem that had once challenged them.
When that moment came for Max, his short stubby paw became a piston, slamming on the bell in record speed, over and over again, like an irate guest at the concierge desk of an upscale hotel.
“DING DING DING DING DING DING”
He laid down and the paw pressed at record speed.
“DING DING DING DING DING DING"
I couldn’t keep up with the chicken and Angela angrily came out of her room, “ Stop trying to pretend….”
She stopped and watched in disbelief as Max rang the bell nonstop.
She looked at me and said, “ Holy cow, I never thought he could…… “
"He did!" I stated triumphantly.
I picked up the bell and put it away.
Then I picked up Max and hugged him .
“YAY MAX ! “ I praised him ,” I knew you could do it ! You’re a good boy! “
We practiced every day after that. His tail wagging wildly when I put the bell on the floor. He rang the bell. He got a piece of chicken.
With the right motivation, anything is possible, even teaching old dogs, new tricks.
Eventually, just ringing the bell wasn’t enough. So we honed his skill a little more.
Now, Max can count up to five, and ring the bell in ascending and descending order. I will speak one number at a time in succession, and he will ring the bell the correct number of times accordingly.
Of course, learning that trick cost me several slices of roast beef, but who’s counting? Max is.
P.S. You can watch Max count to 3 on Instagram “ The dog gets to stay”
About the Creator
Polyglot. Sapiophile. Live in Slave for 2 rescue dogs. You can't make this up; Fictionalized Reality, names changed to protect the truth & the guilty. Everyone will think they are the heroine. What fools these mortals be...