Mom's tricks only go so far Four-legged family members motivated to reach for, uh, the treats

Posted: Sunday, December 02, 2001

Having dogs is not unlike having children. Really. Each one has a distinct personality. Some are quicker to learn than others. Some are more ambitious than others. Some are more athletic. And some, like me, are food motivated.

It's been little more than a year since we first laid eyes on Tucker. He is the pride and joy of my husband, Mark -- no matter how many doggie doors he eats. We got him when he was 7 weeks old. He wasn't even here a week when he was enrolled in puppy class and on his way to a fine education.

Tucker was like a sponge. He wanted to learn everything and could heel, sit and lie down in a matter of weeks.

He made my "daughter" Bailey look a little shabby in the smarts department.

Oh sure, she can sit and lie down, but heeling is not her forte. Perhaps it's because we don't work on it much. But I find obedience pretty boring compared with the fun and fast sport of agility -- an obstacle course where dogs are guided through by handlers.

So while Tucker and Mark became the smart boys, Bailey and I took off running in agility.

Tucker was too young for the sport, but when he was old enough, he found no obstacle too challenging. He hammered the teeter down without a second thought, climbed the A-frame as if it were a mole hill and each jump was simply a hop.

The driving force in all of this training was merely food. A morsel of dog kibble, a pinch of cheese, a tidbit of hot dog, it didn't matter. If there was food involved, Tucker was Mark's slave.

Problem is, he still is purely motivated by food.

If there is one thing I love about Bailey, it's that she is multifaceted. She is not driven by food alone, but also by toys -- specifically, anything that squeaks. I have seriously thought about having a squeaker surgically implanted in my throat for competition purposes.

If it squeaks, Bailey goes faster. Never was this issue so proven as last Wednesday night in class when the teacher timed our weave pole runs. Weave poles are a line of poles -- 12 in this case -- that the dog negotiates slalom style, in a serpentine motion.

In round 1, Bailey was nudged out of first place by another golden retriever. So I pulled out all the stops in round 2.

When I said "Weave," I squeaked the ball repeatedly.

She was smoking, all right, all the way to the end, where she proceeded to snap the last pole right out of its welded footing. Forget cheese; behold the power of the squeaker!

Then there's Tucker. If Mark is lucky, Tucker might be vaguely interested in a ball for one run.

Being the good mom I am (and I work hard at it), I decided to try and help Mark get Tucker more motivated. A friend once let us use a gadget that looks like a gum-ball machine, but it holds dog treats. The handle is the shape of a bone, and it teaches the dog to get its own treats.

Tucker fell for this immediately and had to be yanked away to prevent serious injury.

Enter computer technology.

I'm not Internet savvy, but I decided to go exploring one day, and I bravely entered eBay -- an online auction house.

I simply typed in "doggie treat dispenser" and up popped the gum-ball machine. OK, so it wasn't that easy, but I'm limited in writing space, so for all practical purposes, it popped up.

I decided to bid on the thing and left it at that. Imagine my disappointment when I lost the bidding by a considerable margin.

After consulting my co-workers, I picked up a few tips and ventured into the site again a few weeks later. Another dispenser popped up. But I was smarter this time.

OK, so I lost again.

The weird part is not that I lost repeatedly, but that I was losing repeatedly to the same bidder -- deanny -- who, I'm guessing, is some guy named Dean in New York. This guy was getting my goat AND all the dispensers.

Now it was war!

I tried waiting until the very last second to bid, but Dean was still too quick. What on Earth was Dean doing with all these dispensers?

Mr. Dean's luck finally ran out when I found a "yuppy puppy dispenser" on the site and made my bid.

Aha! Dean never thought to look under that name! I placed my bid and won my prize -- except that I had to pay for it and shipping from Texas, but that's not the point.

The point is that Tucker now races past every agility obstacle to get to the treat dispenser, which means Mark has an even bigger problem than he started with.

Oh well. If anybody needs me, I'll be recovering from surgery. I'm having a squeaker surgically implanted.

Dori Lynn Anderson is the copy and features editor for the Peninsula Clarion.

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