Raising Sage

The First Year in the Life of a WonderPup

Month: November, 2011

Clickety-clickety-click–Good girl!

So I’ve decided to use clicker training in order to preserve this dog’s creativity. Sage, of course, isn’t interested in my discussions of training theory. She’s much more intrigued by the practical applications. We started out tonight by avoiding the most common mistake clicker trainers–especially new ones–make: Teaching sit as the initial clicked behavior.

It’s not bad to teach sit, in fact, it’s almost compulsory. But the first few behaviors you teach with clicker training become the default behaviors for your dog when clicking, a fact that I was roundly criticized for by my younger sister because I taught a foster dog that she eventually adopted to back up as his first clicked behavior. She found it very aggravating when working with him years later because he would back up when he was frustrated.

So for Sage’s first behavior, I decided to teach her that she has a butt. More precisely, I decided to teach her that she could move her butt independently of her front end. It took ten click/treats total before she was moving her rear end three steps to the left. It took five additional c/t for her to move her rear end three steps to the right. Now, being that she’s a puppy and fairly new to the game (for all training should be in the spirit of a fun game), she hasn’t a conscious clue what she’s being reinforced for. That’s all right. We’ll get there in time so there’s no rush to put this on command right now. Tomorrow, we’ll work on a different behavior.


Yesterday, Sage watched me play fetch with Lacey and Missy. Last night, she brought me a tennis ball. I tossed it for her and she retrieved it, not once but several times. Perhaps her previous family played fetch with her but I think it’s much more likely that she learned by watching the other dogs play. I’ve seen her pick up other behaviors by merely observing the older dogs (sitting at the back door to go out or come in, for example). I’ve had other dogs who learned by observing (example: Ricky the Papillon learned to open his crate by watching humans do it, there’s no other explanation.) It stands to reason. Dogs in the wild have to learn somehow and observing other dogs perform behaviors must be one of the ways. Trial and error can be very difficult to survive but watching some other dog try something and succeed or fail is much more life-sustaining.

So today I tried to teach her to tug. I’m wanting to be able to use tugging as a reinforcement while we are training. She didn’t seem all that interested in the game but we’ll keep working on it. I have the feeling her teeth may be bothering her so she might be more enthusiastic later on. Usually, pups go through teething at about 16 weeks (4 months) but she could be starting early. I’ll be happy to see those needle-sharp baby teeth go though it does mean she’s growing up.


One of the most important aspects of clicker training is that you need to plan out what you’re going to do in each session. That said, you also need to be flexible. For example, tonight with Sage I wanted to work on reinforcing her for being in “heel position.” She was so distracted by the fact that I was standing (apparently I’m only supposed to sit when she’s around) that I decided to work on the movable butt. Both are goals of mine so it wasn’t a hardship to switch out one goal for the other but it does demonstrate that flexibility in training is important.

Sage exploring the backyard.

Sage takes time out from her busy schedule of playing to search the backyard.


Eatinrox Ys Beyond Her Ears a.k.a. Sage

My Papillon Ricky died just 5 days after his third birthday. When I got him in 2009 at about 4 months of age, I had great hopes for him. I wanted him to not only be my OTCH dog but also a MACH dog. In December, 2010, though, he got sick, so sick that he nearly died. It was a shock when we finally learned what was wrong with him, a combination of Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency, Irritable Bowel Disorder, and food allergies (to rice, chicken, lamb, and many other foods.) Despite hundreds of dollars in treatments and a valiant little heart, he died October 18, 2011. I wasn’t with him when he passed but the vet assured me that he merely went to sleep and his heart stopped beating. For a while, I hated the world.

But in my email correspondence with a wise man, I realized what Ricky had probably known all along. My OTCH and MACh aspirations for him were not to be. He was the ultimate lap dog (at about 3 pounds at his healthiest, he was easy to carry around) and though he tried his hardest, he didn’t have the desire to compete. He wanted to love and be loved, nothing more. When he got sick, he knew what I refused to admit to myself: he wasn’t going to be the dog I wanted. I realized, finally, a few days after his death that I had been subconsciously mourning Ricky since he became sick. After nearly a year of it, I was ready to move on and that Ricky would have wanted me to do so.

So it is that I started contacting Australian Shepherd rescues, shelters and individuals about an Aussie pup. Lacey, my old girl, will be 13 in January, 2012. I know I’ll never replace her but I also knew that I didn’t want to raise my new Aussie without her. She’s brilliant at communicating with other dogs and is wonderful with people of all ages. I need her to show the pup an example of what an Aussie is capable of. That said, Lacey has had some issues in her life. We got CDs on her in several venues and she has an AKC RE title. But she’s growing deaf now, and the joints aren’t as fluid as they once were. Her competition days are over and I believe she’s relieved about that. She wanted to please me and never did understand that any disappointment I felt about our failures in the ring were not with her but with myself. She is just a dog, after all, and can’t cure me of my faults (of which there are many!)

To my surprise, I found my pup at the Nebraska Humane Society. I had to wait until she was spayed but she is now in my home, learning to live with my pack (5 cats, two birds, two guinea pigs, Lacey, 2 male Aussies and a female American Eskimo–owned by my sister.) ¬†She was taken home by a family at 6 weeks of age. I suspect they had no clue what they were doing with her because by 11 weeks she was escaping from the 4′ fence they expected to contain her. By 12 weeks of age, they were finished with her and turned her in to the shelter. I will not pass judgement on them but I will say that the day they turned her in to the shelter was the best day in her young life for it allowed me to adopt her. My pets stay with me for life so Sage will always have a home with me.

Looking at her now as she sleeps in her crate, I know she has no idea the big plans I have in store for her. Instead, she’s dreaming of treats, chasing the other dogs, barking at the squirrel in the tree, and smelling all the great smells in the world. At this point, that’s all she needs to know. Training starts tomorrow and that’s when the real fun begins.