ALTHOUGH she was a winsome young honey-blonde, I wasn't looking for another Poodle. Watching April race her two littermates across our back yard, I winced when I saw her elbows swing out with every stride. But -- I also noticed her air of smug satisfaction when she won. Later, she peered intently down her "aquiline" nose as her breeder compelled her across our agility yard dogwalk. But -- watching them, my husband said, "She sure has great concentration for a six-month old puppy. Gutsy, too. She's the only one of the puppies willing to try." I knew he was thinking the same thing I was. April needed more from life than viewing most of it from behind crate bars. April needed a job. And, it just so happened, I had the perfect job in mind.
THE FIRST GRADE students sat on the floor in a semi-circle around us. It was our part of a demonstration on pet care and training. "April, they don't allow dogs in school," I said as I motioned her to backup towards the door. "Lie down so the teacher won't see you!" Then I motioned her to crawl towards me. The kids giggled. After she had crawled several feet, I said, "April, the teacher sees you, put your head down, pretend you're asleep. Okay, it's safe now." She stood and I cued her to backup. Then she leaped up to slap both front feet against my outstretched palms. "Allllright!!"
"April, models must walk properly." I placed a book on top of her head. "Okay, let's see if you can walk like a model." I could see her stiffen as she concentrated on finding the right balance point. Then, like any good model, she walked the runway. The kids shouted, "Hey! Her foot's okay!"
Note: Performs well under pressure.
DOG ARE NOT allowed in Home Depot (a huge home improvement center) so, while their Dad was inside, the Poodles and I waited under the canopy of the outside nursery. We sat against a wall on the fringe of the hustle and bustle that this type of place inspires. Standard Poodles attract a lot of attention and we soon had a steady stream of visitors.
"She's so pretty," said the young man as he knelt before April. I told April to shake hands with the nice man. "Cool," he said. "She acts almost human -- but, she has better manners than the people I know!"
Note: Good public relations skills.
I CARRIED A large load of clothes to the washing machine. As I bent over to stuff them inside the hollow drum, I felt a gentle poke.
"OH!" I turned to see April with a sock dangling from her mouth. "Why, I must've dropped that. Thank you, Pumpkin." Then, in her eagerness to be even more helpful, she went and got a place mat off the kitchen table.
Note: Takes initiative.
OUR DOGMOBILE pulled into the parking lot of a large hotel-office complex on Sunday morning. We had heard it was landscaped with a fountain, waterway and lake that would provide us with a good photo setting. The Poodles popped out of the van. We had the place to ourselves. We raced each other up and down the tree-lined walkway that bordered the canal. We hopped back and forth across large stone pallets that divided the canal from the waterfall. We strolled the pathway that hemmed the lake. "Okay, Sugarplums, let's take some pictures." I posed the Poodles in front of the fountain. "April, please, no profiles."
Note: Supportive in group activities.
By Charlene Dunlap
There were at least two avenues I could take to fulfill April's working heritage -- and thereby hopefully guaranteeing her happiness. We could trudge through brambles, fight carnivorous insects, and brave inclement weather in order to retrieve dead ducks out of a mucky pond. OR -- in the comfort of our climate-controlled house, I could teach her the skills of her distinguished performing ancestors. Yes! And then -- I could put her to work!
Karen Pryor said, "If you give your dog a tool with which to communicate, it will use that tool." Trick training is one of the communication tools I give my dogs. Now, I know there are those of you who say that "tricks" are "stupid and demeaning" -- but, I find just the opposite to be true. Many movie dog behaviors are taught to dogs for the handicapped (switching lights, picking up trash, pushing doors open or closed, bringing the phone, etc.) and are useful to any owner. In addition, people outside the family enjoy meeting dogs who interact with them in a unique manner (curtsying, shaking hands, ect.). These dogs are participants in the encounter rather than simply being objects of attention. Finally, learning a wide range of enjoyable behaviors expands their intelligence and makes Poodles feel IMPORTANT and USEFUL -- which is how I want my Poodles to feel. And now, our young butterscotch lass was about to embark on her own very IMPORTANT and USEFUL career.
Yes, April accepted our job offer and, after four years with our company (family) her performance has been exemplary -- with only a few, well, "minor" exceptions.
Now, I don't know why you choose to live with Poodles. Perhaps because you wanted to exhibit your dog in conformation and Poodles are the most visually stunning of all show dogs. Maybe you wanted an intelligent, versatile dog to compete in obedience, agility or hunting trails. Most likely you simply wanted a charming companion with whom to share your life. Me? Well, I'm basically lazy. I figure a dog as smart and compliant as a Poodle could learn to help out around the house. But, in order for April to do that, she was going to need an education -- an education as diverse as that of a dog movie STAR.
"APRIL, TAKE IT to Daddy," I said handing her a note. Dad was outside working on the lawnmower. It was too far for me to go out there to call him for dinner. (I told you I'm lazy.) Besides, it was April's job. She had other jobs as well. Sometimes, after lunch, I get to take a nap. "April, would you please untie my shoelaces." Tail wagging, she did. I pushed off my shoes with the opposite foot and stretched out on the sofa. Rats, I forgot to take off my reading glasses. "April, would you please come get my glasses." I felt her soft, fuzzy chin against my cheek as she carefully took the corner of my glasses in her teeth and pulled them off my face. "Thank you, Dandelion. Oh, and would you please go shut the door."
Note: Carries out duties in cheerful manner.
A LARGE GROUP of senior citizens sat at tables in the community center recreation room. Stoney and Keila had performed and now it was April's turn. First, April did a fairly long chain of moves that were set to music so they looked like a dance. She wove through my walking legs. She circled around my stationary body several times. We sidestepped together first right, then left. She spun in circles, she backed up, high-stepped forward and ended with a bow. "Perfect!" I gave her a big hug and whispered, "April -- FANTASTIC! You are SO smart!" Her eyes slid over to check the audience's reaction. When they burst into applause, she strutted like peacock.
Note: Carries through on complex assignments.
DOG MOVIE STARS have captivated me for as long as I can remember. Boomer was one of my favorites. I met him at the height of his career when he and trainer Ray Berwick visited a local shopping mall to promote the TV show, "Here's Boomer!" Before the show, Mr. Berwick wandered unnoticed through the crowd. I recognized him from pictures in his book, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR PET LIKE A TELEVISION STAR.
"Mr. Berwick, I'm a big fan of Boomer's," I said as I approached him. "He's a real actor. I loved the scene where the tough guy is threatening him with a stick and Boomer picks up his own stick and tosses it at the bully."
Well -- it was no surprise when Mr. Berwick picked ME out of the crowd to help with a trick. He and Boomer stood on one side of the ring, I stood on the other. I bent my knees, opened my arms, and tried to look inviting. Boomer raced across the opening, launched off my bent knees, and leaped up into my embrace. A perfectly trained movie dog -- in MY clutches?!! I had visions of a frantic Mr. Berwick chasing me through the mall to reclaim his star.
I TAUGHT MY Doberman to roll a soccer ball with her nose. She was not impressed. I taught our Bullmastiff to say his prayers. He loved learning but was limited by my teaching deficiencies. By the time Standard Poodles came into my life I had improved my training techniques by studying the positive reinforcement methods used by marine mammal trainers, Karen Pryor and Ted Turner. Training frustrations seemed to melt away -- especially for the dogs.
JUDGING from the thunderous barking coming from the music room, I figured we were under attack by a pack of quarrelsome cats. I hurried to check. April stood on the sofa, front feet on the windowsill, head stiffly forward, hurling threats through the window. Next to my agitated blond sentinel sat Daisy (dog), back legs flopped apart in uninhibited comfort, chin resting on the back of the sofa, gazing through the window in the same direction as April. I followed their eyes. Snagged by a scraggly tree limb, a small, white plastic bag fluttered limply in the breeze.
Note: Has sharp sentry abilities
IT'S EARLY AFTERNOON in another busy day. As usual my office is carpeted with dogs. I sit at my computer completing April's job performance review -- listing her strengths, her weaknesses; noting areas where she has done exceptionally well, areas that need improvement. I set goals and objectives for her next review period.