Monday, 25 May 2009

Friday, 22 May 2009

Who ate all the cake?

Bingley is 2 years old today! Something which might come as much of a surprise to you as it did to us. It seems that dogs, just like children, have an ability to make time visible; and it certainly doesn’t feel like two years since he first turned up.

But his birthday is always welcome because it gives us an excuse to bring out his favourite cake!

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Resistance is futile

It occurs to me that after my last post some of you may have felt compelled to reassess your opinion of Bingley. In fact I’ve heard on the very reliable Bingley grapevine that some of you think he must be a very spoilt little pooch!

Well, the easy answer is: yes he is. Definitely! He is without doubt one pampered pooch, used to being the centre of attention and accustomed to getting his own way.

But the less easy answer isn’t quite as straight forward.

Anyone who’s seen him sit and wait for permission to eat will know that he’s actually very well behaved. On walks he’ll now sit and wait at the kerb without any prompting; his recall is reliable (unless he’s spotted a football) and he always leaves something alone if he’s told to (unless the manure is particularly fresh).

So, spoilt little pooch he may be; but utterly wayward he isn’t! And the recent issue with the car doesn’t have anything to do with him simply being used to getting his own way.

Over the past couple of weeks as we’ve tried to overcome this problem it’s become clear that he’s very uncomfortable with the whole scenario involving getting into the car. This might be a result of his past experience with cars: all previous journeys have involved a visit to the vet, and we’ve remembered that on our last visit to the dermatologist we had a real struggle getting him into the taxi. So to some extent there’s nothing new in his more recent refusal to climb into our car. We’ve also wondered if he doesn’t suffer from some degree of motion sickness, though I don’t yet know how we’d work that one out for sure.

I admit that recently there have been times when I’ve felt like just picking him up and popping him into the car: there you go Bingley, it really is okay! But anyone who’s tried to lift 38 kilos of writhing dog will tell you how unpleasant, and potentially harmful, it can be for all concerned. And anyway, what would that achieve? It’s not exactly positive reinforcement and unlike a child we can’t tell him that it’s for his own good.

So instead we’re left with the need for patience and understanding, along with a willingness to wait as long as it takes in order to flip that binary switch back the other way. We have to make Bingley want to get into the car.

At the moment he just won’t do that, but I don’t think that it’s because he’s a spoilt little pooch. Though I must admit that as he sits back and I look deep into those hazel eyes I often hear the echo of a voice in my head: ‘We are Bing, resistance is futile.’

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Pièce de résistance

Some of you may be wondering why you haven’t yet heard about our adventures in the Bingmobile. After all, I learned to drive so that we could have adventures in a car; and then we bought a car so that we’d have something to have adventures in. And you were promised that these adventures were coming, so where are they?

Well, some of you can probably guess where the problem lies and for those who can’t let me just say that life is never dull with Bingley!

In an ideal world the car would have been here before the arrival of the little brown pooch, and Bingley’s backyard would always have been shared with a car. But instead the little brown bundle has been here for nearly two years before he suddenly finds that he’s got to share his life with this peculiar room which moves.

Bingley, it has to be said, greeted this new addition with enthusiasm: he absolutely loves new things and can’t wait to explore them. And the car was no exception; even now when I unlock the car he’s pushing his muzzle in before I can open one of the doors. But unfortunately the rest of him just won’t follow!

Hang on, I can hear some of you say, he’s been in the car; you took him to the beach in it. In fact you did it twice. Well, that’s right, we did and everything seemed to be fine; he wasn’t over the moon about being in the back of the car, but he didn’t seem desperately unhappy about it either. Nevertheless when we tried a third trip out it ended in failure. Or rather it began in failure because he simply refused to get in. I’m hoping that this isn’t a comment on my driving!

On that occasion we’d packed up the car ready for a trip to the coast, I then drove it out of the yard as usual so that Jane would have plenty of space to jump Bingley up. But instead of leaping straight in as he normally does, this time he shied away like a horse at a jump. It was so unexpected. After 20 or 30 minutes we managed to persuade him to get in, but then on the way back he was even worse. At one point I thought Jane might have to walk him home from the coast!

Since then, although he’s still very interested in the car, he simply will not climb into it. We’ve been leaving the back of the car open during the day, and hiding toys and treats in the boot. But although he’ll try his utmost to get at them with his front paws, his back legs won’t leave the ground. We’ve also been trying to play with him around and inside the back of the car, trying to make it seem like fun. It hasn’t worked yet. Food is usually the only incentive a Lab needs, you all know this: it’s legendary. But trying to feed him in the back of the car has failed. Again, he’ll stretch himself as far as he can to reach the bowl without actually climbing into the back. I couldn’t believe it: it’s the first time he hasn’t done anything to get to some food!

We’ve come to the conclusion that it might be a matter of perception: fitting the car into the back yard means parking the back quite close to the kitchen wall. There’s enough room to open the boot, but not a lot of room for Bingley to manoeuvre. There’s definitely enough, but we suspect that he simply doesn’t realise this. Anyone who’s seen him do one of his excited on-the-spot sideways leaps onto the kitchen sofa will know that he could easily do the same thing with the back of the car – if we could just get him to believe it!

With all that in mind I’ve been thinking about strategies to overcome his inhibitions, and recently constructed (using some small stacking boxes) a set of ‘steps’ into the back of the car. One step-two step-and into the car! Easy peasy, I thought; surely it couldn’t be more straight forward?

But this is Bingley we’re talking about and the first challenge turned out to be getting him to realise that he really could put his paws on the boxes! OK, back to clicker training: half an hour with a bag of irresistible little cheese cubes and a clicker and at the end of that session he was putting front paws on both steps. The back paws however still won’t leave the ground.

That’s alright though, one paw at a time and I’m sure we’ll get there. I’m hoping that once I have him running up and down the steps then everything else will follow. But it’s taking much longer than I thought it would and on those occasions when he has made it all the way in, he’s leapt out again before you could say the B of Bing.

Vast reserves of patience and understanding are required in these situations and we’re both prepared to invest in that. I’ve noticed that Bingley has a very binary view of the world. I imagine that this is probably true with all dogs, for them there are simply no grey areas; and although it’s easy to flip that switch one way, it can be challenging to switch it back again. For some reason he’s decided that doesn’t like the back of the car and he’s not going get in there! I’m not certain how it happened in the first place, but we’ve got to devise a method to flip that switch back the other way.

When Mittens says to Bolt ‘I think it’s about time I introduced to you to the regular dog piece de resistance’, she is of course referring to the way dogs love to stick their heads out of car windows: ears flapping, tongue lolling. Bolt is one of Bingley’s favourite films and I think that watching it has made him realise that there’s more to car travel than being shoved in the boot.

The back of our car doesn’t have windows which open, so Bingley can’t satisfy that deep seated canine desire to face into the wind as we drive along. With that in mind we’re going to see if he’ll travel on the back seat of the car alongside, and firmly held in check by, Jane. That way if he wants to open the window and feel the wind in his ears he can!

Will it work? Well, it isn’t ideal; and this is Bingley we’re talking about so you can never be sure of what’s going to happen next. But we’re going to give it a go anyway and who knows? Maybe those long sought adventures really are just around the next bend!

Monday, 4 May 2009