Thursday, August 23, 2007

Teaching a dog the difference between apples and apples

Of all of the lessons Toby has been forced to learn -- don't lick random grains of rice off the inside of the dishwasher, don't pee on the carpet, don't jump out a window of a moving vehicle -- he now faces his most difficult concept yet.

Baby toys vs. Toby toys.

As in, this fluffy stuffy rattle thing is fine to drool on, gnaw and generally destroy, but this one over here? The one that pretty much looks exactly the same and makes a similar noise? Not yours. May the unbridled wrath of 10,000 Greek gods smite you if you even go near it.

He got his first introduction to the baby's toys yesterday afternoon while I was organizing the gifts we received from the shower. I placed all of the fluffy stuffy things in two baskets at the bottom of her bookshelf -- perfect height for Toby's taking. In fact, I think his neck just clears the top of the pink gingham liner. It's pretty much the same thing as when grocery stores put all of the sugary marshmallow cereals at eye-level for toddlers. An open invitation to throw a shit fit.

Sure, I could move the baskets up a shelf and do away with the whole problem, but then he won't learn the difference. And I'd much rather teach him now than when he bounds over to tackle our 3-month-old daughter on her play mat in the living room and rip the lamb rattle out of her uncoordinated fist, maybe stopping to straddle her a second to further show his one-upmanship.

So, in hopes of avoiding that scenario, I started training him now. As soon as the baskets started filling up, the allure of their stuffy goodness was apparently too much to resist. Toby pranced over to sniff and inspect, which was fine, but as soon as his jaw unhinged a millimeter, I gave him a stern verbal warning.

It's not even a word. More like a deep one-syllable grunt that says, "Yeah, I see what you're doing and, um, by the way? Don't even finish that thought, let alone execute it."

Toby knows this sound well. It's the same sound he hears when a piece of food accidentally flies off the kitchen counter that he isn't supposed to have. He instantly stops whatever he's doing and gives me a look that is a mixture of angelic goodness and utter confusion.

The entire afternoon continued this way as I unwrapped and folded and organized. Toby would wait until my back was turned for a second, walk over to the baskets of unfamiliar stuffy things and unhinge his jaw.

But I kept catching him and giving him the verbal warning. Then, when he stepped back, I would praise him and offer to toss around one of his toys. Toys he no longer had any interest in -- even the miniature stuffed ewok that is so enthralling he carries it around all day every day. No matter how much I played it up before tossing it, even employing some of our never-fail tactics like placing it on top of my head, he didn't care. One by one his toys sailed into the hallway without prompting so much as a flinch to retrieve it.

I could practically see his thoughts: "Newtoysinthebaskets, newtoysinthebaskets, NEWTOYSINTHEBASKETS!"

His persistence paid off. Briefly.

When I was fiddling with the Diaper Gene II instruction booklet, trying to figure out how in the hell that odd contraption functions, Toby saw his window of opportunity and seized it. I think it happened as I was trying to find the English directions among the 45 other languages printed on the pamphlet.

Seconds later I heard the pure jubilation in the other rooms upstairs. It was like Toby was throwing his own little party. The sound of his paws racing around on the carpet was enough for me to know that he had gotten a forbidden stuffy and was now tossing it into the air with his jaw and racing to catch it.


Then the party ended. He peeked into the hallway from the guest room just enough so I could see him from my sitting position on the nursery floor. Sure enough, he had the lamb rattle in his mouth.

He looked so pathetic and cute. I wanted to burst out laughing and let him have the toy and run and play and frolic with it until the stuffing was scattered all over like little tufts of snow. But that wouldn't teach him anything. So I stuck out my hand with purpose indicating that I wanted it back and said, "NO!"

Sure enough, the toy fell out of his mouth instantly. His ears drooped from their perpetually perky stance to tuck neatly into his head and his tail nub disappeared as he crouched his way toward me.

"It's alright," I said when he got to me. "But those aren't yours." Then I got up, picked up the rattle and placed it back in one of the baskets, adding another "No" for good measure.

It was a tough first lesson, but I think he's going to get it. Maybe we'll make the transition a little easier by getting Toby a little basket for that room, too. One he can put his ewok in.


Anna said...

We had to teach our dog the same didn't take too long for him to catch on. The kicker was teaching our daughter that really there were some toys she couldn't play with. Because we couldn't lay down the law with Buckley and not with her.

no toy in mouth plainsman said...

Good to start training him now and the idea of a basket where he can find his toys is a good one, even if he, like your little new one, is not going to be ever putting them back, at least for a long while...

Toby is smart and will probably make the connection, where he can find his stuff. But the fun will be teaching your new little one that she can't put Toby's toys in her mouth....Heee!

aahcoffee said...

We were so lucky with our dog. We got him at 9 months old, fully house-trained, already knew which toys were his and which weren't, and neutered. Woohoo!!!

kristin said...

Good for you for taking the time out to teach him. So many people let their dogs do whatever they want. I'm sure he'll be very well behaved when the baby comes.

Chelsea said...

Thats great you already started training him. My dog is around three yrs old, and he always runs up to my room and steals a teddy bear from it. He knows he's guilty so he'll always give me his puppy eyes and lay his head on the top stair, and pretend his cuteness is forgiven. It might even be worth it buy some cheapo toys and lay them on the floor, and test him. That way, you won't be as mad if he gets a cheap toy vs. the ones given to you.

Shalini said...

Om my goodness, I think his twin is living here with us! But our lil one is 2, so she chases our dog... That's a good idea to start training him now... but it's hard to be tough on them when they are soooo cute!

Lioncloud said...

Toby has many, many surprises in store for him.....


Kriston said...

Please tell Toby it's ok. This is only temporary. As soon as she can crawl she will not want ANY of those toys and will only want dog toys preferrably with fresh drewl on them. You will spend some time that's Toby's toy. But then after a while you will just have a place you put toys...for both your kids.
I know...if someone had told me...a terrible germaphobe...I wouldn't have believed it either.

Katie said...

Aw, poor Toby.. but I bet it'll be worth it for him when he has a best friend a year or so down the road.

So, you remember that "Nasty Pot"? I just had surgery on my sinuses and I'm required to use it several times a day. It has been horrible!!

Ray said...

Cute story. Toby sounds adorable. He'll catch on to it soon. And it seems that the lesson you're teaching him, you will one day be teaching that little girl of yours: when she's a toddler and wants to get her hands on everything. Or when she walks somewhere which should be out of bounds to her. Good luck in giving Toby hard love.

Take care, Kelly.

Candi said...

That is so funny. Your dog cracks me up.

Wendy said...

Will it help once the toys smell like the baby? I would imagine it would.

mercurial scribe said...

Smart you to take it on early.

Kristin said...

Aww...I wonder if he'll get jealous of the baby when she comes :P