Let me start this off by saying that I was never a dog person until I met my partner, Becky. At first, my interactions with her dogs Stella and Bertha were very measured.
I never had dogs growing up and I wasn’t sure what to do with them, and maybe I was a little intimidated. In fact, I used to wash my hands every time I touched one of Becky’s dogs, which amused her to no end.
That all changed one day when I got really sick. I slept on the couch all day with Bertha alongside keeping me company, and since that day I became a dog person. Bertha and Stella became my buddies.
Eventually, Becky and I decided to adopt a puppy together, not long after poor Stella passed away. This was going to be different; I was going to be this dog’s owner right from the puppy stage.
We adopted Peggy O in January 2018. She is a rescue pit bull who was found freezing on the streets of Atlanta behind a Popeye’s Chicken restaurant during a weird cold spell in December 2017. A couple of her puppy siblings didn’t survive before the rest of the litter was saved and brought north to A-Darrah Bull pit bull rescue in Roaring Springs.
One look at our Peggy and I was smitten. She was so little and helpless, and one of her ears would flop over her face. She was very sick when we got her we had to help her get healthy. I could tell that she would grow up to be a big, strong dog – and boy did she ever. We both felt it was important to train her and teach her to have good manners.
We took her to puppy kindergarten at Manners ’N More dog training school on the Benner Pike when she was 5 months old. She did great. I, on the other hand, needed lots of redirection. Peggy learned to sit, shake, come, lay down, and roll over. She even got a puppy school graduation certificate. I was one proud dog owner.
Since then, Peggy has grown even bigger and we go out on lots of adventures. And while Peggy can still shake and lay down, I would like to teach her some new things. But I was going to need some help because we haven’t been practicing much since Peggy graduated from puppy kindergarten.
I asked Karen Keller to help me teach Peggy some new tricks. Karen knows her stuff. She is the former president of Mt. Nittany Dog Training Club and teaches classes for the club and for Manners ’N More.
We met in the colorful training room at Manners ’N More. Poor Peggy hurt her foot a few days before the training session and was not happy to be wearing a protective boot, but she was glad to be out of the house, in a familiar place.
Karen told me to bring some treats that would get Peggy’s attention. At Manners ’N More, the training at first is based on treats since food is the biggest motivating factor for dogs, along with praise from their owners.
In kindergarten, one of the first things we had to do was decide on a praise word for Peggy when she was good. Most people use “good” as the praise word, but I had to be different and decided to use the word “bueno.” This threw Karen off a little, but luckily Peggy knows the word “good,” too. She is bilingual, at least with one word.
I explained to Karen that Peggy will play fetch in the house, but outside she gets distracted. And when we play inside, she doesn’t like to let go of the ball when she brings it back; she wants me to wrestle it out of her mouth.
Karen had a simple solution for that. She said that I should always have multiple toys when we are playing fetch and when Peggy comes back with the toy, get her interested in the new one and she will drop the other one. Genius!
Karen then taught me how to use a training clicker. When the clicker clicked, it meant Peggy would get a treat.
This was easy; click the clicker and feed Peggy. She was happy, I was happy, but I was a little confused at the point of the clicker.
“Did you ever see Peanuts, and the teacher goes ‘womp,’ ‘womp,’ ‘womp,’ and you can’t understand what she is saying? Well that is what Peggy is hearing when we are trying to tell her all these things. The clicker takes all that noise out of it,” Karen said.
It seemed to be working so far.
I showed Karen the tricks that Peggy knows, and she sat, and shook, and rolled over; all the while I used the clicker and gave her a treat and told her she was “bueno.”
We decided to see if Peggy would go through a tire. The plan was for me to stand on one side of a hanging tire and have Peggy jump through the other side. Peggy kept switching sides, and so I had to keep walking around the tire to the other side. Karen kept me patient as I let Peggy get her bearings. Eventually, she got the idea and jumped through to get the treat. Bueno! I knew she could do it.
Then I tried to have her jump back through the other way, but she wouldn’t do it and I couldn’t figure out why. Karen realized that Peggy was unsure about a part of the structure of the frame that was holding the tire up. On one side, the structure was visible and provided an extra obstacle, and for Peggy that was enough to make her think twice about going through.
I called for Peggy to “come” and try it again, and Karen stopped me. She said that if I tell her to come to something that she is afraid of, she will associate the word with something she doesn’t want to do and never come when called.
So I set out to lure her through the tire again with food, and eventually she did come for her treat and a click from the clicker. Bueno!
With Karen’s help, I taught Peggy to stand on her hind legs. She was sitting as I gave her a treat, and Karen had me hold the treat just a little higher. Eventually, Peggy stood up to get the treat, and I clicked and gave it to her. We did it again and again. Bueno!
Peggy was getting tired, but we had one last thing to practice. Sometimes, Peggy doesn’t want to come when I call her.
I tried to get Peggy to come to me by getting real excited and backpedaling, so she thinks something fun is happening. This usually works, but not when Peggy finds something really interesting to sniff. Karen said if that fails, I should fall down because any dog will come if she thinks her owner is in distress.
So I fell dramatically to the ground, and, of course, Peggy came running right over to me.
Peggy was happy on the ride home. I stopped to get a clicker and later that night I fed her dinner, one piece at a time, while clicking the clicker.
I’d received some great basic tips to train Peggy, but it is up to me to keep working with her. Maybe I’ll sign her up for the next class with Karen at Manners ’N More (mannersnmore.org) or the Mt. Nittany Dog Training Club (mndtc.org). It would be cool to teach her some different tricks. I think Peggy is smart enough to do it, and after Karen’s help, I think I can even handle it.
When Becky came home that night, I showed her how Peggy learned to stand, and she was very impressed. Karen helped me be a good dog trainer. Bueno!
Vincent Corso is a staff writer for Town&Gown and The Centre County Gazette.