Wednesday, September 2, 2009

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A Pig with a Broom

By Fred
I spent one summer in college working as a musician at a theme park in Arkansas, and I got to know a professional animal trainer. He was only about my age, but he was so good with animals that he had his own animal show, probably the most popular show at the park because it had a pig that could sweep sawdust from the floor with a broom, pick it up with a dust pan, and put it in a waste basket. After watching the show a few times I learned that few things will delight a tourist more than seeing a pig with a broom it its mouth.

I became the animal trainer's friend and often went to have lunch with him and his parents on a farm with probably a dozen dogs, many of whom were in the show. I was amazed at how he talked to them and how they listened. But, I asked him, what about the pig?

He said never used food when training animals, except when teaching chickens to play tic-tac-toe (apparently chickens have a short attention span for board games). But, he whispered, a pig is just like a dog, and just as smart--a pig will do anything if you just show them how. Although with pigs it helps, he said, if you get down on your hands and knees when teaching them, and this can get mighty tiresome.

I was glad to learn that SEGD does not recommend using food as a training device. In the end there is one basic truth: dogs will do anything for you, and do it just for your approval.

With Bingo we go through a routine at mealtime to help teach him some patience, working with Down-Stay, which is something that he is reluctant to do at mealtime, considering that it might give the wrong impression about his true feelings.

Fortunately our Chocolate Lab, Willow, is here to provide some leadership and guidance with Down-Stay. Here they are, waiting patiently for breakfast while he licks her like a Popsicle. Of course, Willow knows that breakfast will come at the end of Down-Stay, so she is being extra good. Anything that keeps me off my hands and knees is appreciated.

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