Another new puppy begins training humans in Anderson household

Sniffing out unexplored world

Posted: Sunday, July 28, 2002

It's been all bells and whistles at the Anderson household lately. Sometimes that's what happens when you get a puppy.

This is our second puppy in as many years. You'd think we would have learned the first time, but there's good reason.

For those who don't know, my husband, Mark, and I are into dog agility -- where dogs run obstacle courses and the handlers try to follow along.

I started agility 2 1/2 years ago with our golden retriever Bailey, but it didn't take long for Mark to get sucked into it, too. Soon, I was on the Internet searching for a puppy for him. That's when Tucker came into our lives.

Now it's my turn.

Enter Sophi.

Sophi is, hopefully, going to be the agility dog of my dreams -- not that I have high expectations for her or anything. After all, I am perfectly capable of keeping things in perspective. All I want is to be able to show Sophi a map of the course and know, with confidence, that she doesn't need my help in any way, shape or form in running it. I just never have gotten that far with Bailey.

Bailey is entering what are known as her "veteran" years at the ripe old age of 7. The idea is to train Sophi -- short for "She's Sophine" -- so when Bailey starts to slow down, which is not happening yet, Sophi will be ready to take off.

Actually, I think Sophi is ready to take off right now.

For a 4-month-old puppy, I don't think I've ever seen such exuberance. Not even Tucker's wild days compare to this little girl's bursts of energy.

I can be sitting in a completely quiet room with goldens asleep around me, and all of a sudden Sophi awakes and springs across the room, landing on Tucker for no apparent reason. The only thing I can figure is that Bailey has shared all of her horror stories about how Tucker used to torture her, and she's paying Sophi to help her get even.

"Here's the deal, see. I'll give you half my kibble, plus a rawhide if you go for the throat. Mom will just think you're playing. She won't suspect a thing."

Then they high-five it -- paw to paw -- and Sophi leaps into action.

The other possibility, of course, is Sophi is possessed.

Training Sophi has been a real treat. From the first week we had her, she was in obedience class, learning to sit, lie down, stay (sort of) and other cute tricks.

Dogs are quick learners when they are puppies. They absorb everything like a sponge. And the best part is, once they learn to learn, they love to learn -- especially when there's food involved.

Sophi is definitely food motivated. She'll focus on me for days. Unfortunately, she just won't stay in one position. She's what I would call very bouncy.

She's also what I would call very full of liquid.

Knowing that I would someday get a new puppy, I made sure to pay close attention to Tucker's cycles. In other words, how long does it take to potty train a puppy?

I quickly learned that if Tucker even looked at water, I should take him outside immediately. This was a good thing to remember.

At first, I did pretty good at taking Sophi outside. Like clockwork, I had her out in the yard every 15 minutes and made frequent trips out in the middle of the night. As time went on, her trips were less frequent -- 20 minutes apart -- and I could relax a little.

Unfortunately, as the days went on, I would lose track of time, and Sophi would wander off somewhere to, shall we say, decorate the carpet.

"What are you doing out there?" Mark would yell from the window.

"I'm waiting for Sophi to go potty."

"She already did. It's in the hallway."

Then one day I had the bright idea of attaching bells to the front door and teaching her to ring them when she wanted to go outside. I actually know quite a few people who have used this system with varying results, but I figured Sophi was a bright, young girl and quite capable of comprehending it.

First I taught her to touch my hand, saying "target" each time. After a while, I could say "target" and stare at something and she would eventually go to it and touch it. All I had to do was stare at the bells long enough and she rang them, so then I opened the door. If she went outside and went potty, I threw a huge party -- lots of treats and praise in a high, squeaky voice.

One evening, Mark and I were watching TV when we heard the faint sound of bells. Talk about a party! I ran to open the door and out Sophi went to go potty.

I'm sure many parents have felt this high when their child used the toilet for the first time.

I felt I had finally gotten through. Well, I sort of did.

It seems Sophi has turned into a party girl: It isn't so much how she gets to the party as it is that she gets to the party. I learned this the hard way.

One afternoon she rang the bells twice in one hour. I let her out, she squatted briefly and we had our party. When I came back to the living room, there in the corner were two little puddles.


Funny thing is, she can run through tunnels, climb A-frames, go over jumps and jump on the couch. She just can't figure out that there's a whole world outside to go potty in. Oh well, I guess that just means reading course maps is a ways down the road still.

Uh-oh. I got to go. I hear bells ringing ... Sophi, no!

Dori Lynn Anderson is the assistant editor for the Peninsula Clarion.

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