Thursday, August 22, 2013

Sing for Your Supper

There is a nursery rhyme about a little English lad that goes:

Little Tommy Tucker,
Sings for his supper.
What shall we give him?
White bread and butter.

Just like little Tommy Tucker in the nursery rhyme, 5-month Piper has started to sing for his supper. Well, not actually sing, but work for his supper, which is what little Tommy (an orphan) had to do in the England of yesteryear when unfortunate orphans often had to fend for themselves.


Master Piper is a puppy-and-a-half. If I could give him a Dickensian counterpart he would be a hybrid between Oliver Twist and the Artful Dodger. He is quick and smart and mostly sweet, but he does like to stay busy. As I have learned, if you don't give him constructive tasks to occupy the hours and his mind, he will find his own tasks - and they may not be to your liking. Tasks like bothering the cat or the more senior dog members of the family, or inspecting the counters in the kitchen, etc, etc. You get the idea.

One terrific way to diffuse some of that excess energy is prolonging Piper's mealtimes. Instead of releasing him to his food bowl, where he can polish off the contents in a couple minutes, I drag his meals out for a good 30 to 45 minutes. This is done in two ways:

This stuffable toy is called a Tux.

Part of his food I moisten with water or broth for about 3-5 minutes, then stuff into two Kongs and place in the freezer. The kibble isn't soft all the way thru, it's just wet and slightly soft enough on the outside that it sticks together when frozen. At mealtime I take out the Kongs, one at a time, and my lad Piper spends some quality time "singing for his supper", whether it is by licking or chewing or rolling or dropping the Kong on the floor. I can tell this Get-the-kibble-out-of-the-Kong game is very satisfying for him and a great way to expend some of his restless puppy energy. As an added benefit, because Piper is growing in his new set of teeth, the cold probably feels good on his gums.

Looking at the Kong photos above, it is interesting to note how many positions the dog gets into, how he grasps the Kong with his paws and the various ways he tries to manipulate the toy to get the chow out. He is totally engaged and working quite hard the entire time.

The leftover dry kibble I use to work young Master Piper thru some obedience. Right now we are working on good sits, with his back legs tucked directly under him, not flopped to one side (my lad can be rather a slouchy sitter). When Piper does it correctly, he gets a few kibble. Then I release him or make him settle, give him a few more kibble, ask him to sit again, give him more kibble, tell him to wait, release, give him more kibble, and so on till the kibble is gone. This can take about 5-7 minutes and really engages both Piper's brain and body.

The whole time Piper is "singing for his supper" he wears his Gentle Leader. He really does not like wearing the head halter, but all St Francis service dogs need to be accustomed to it. When he wears it while eating, the exercise serves a dual purpose. First, his mind is not on the Gentle Leader but on the chow so there is a positive association:  halter = chow = good! That is the idea anyway. Also it prolongs the amount of time he is wearing the Gentle Leader while not trying to rub it off - close to an hour.

Piper chews on a twig in a hay bale.

Some dog aficionados may think me a hard taskmaster, making poor little Piper sing for his supper. But I believe a higher drive puppy like Piper enjoys, actually needs, the challenge and interest of working for his meals. When the young master has finished the job he appears calm and relaxed. As they would say in jolly old England, "Well done, Piper, me lad!"

**Added to post 8-27-13:  I just realized that in the two weeks since Piper has started working for his meals, he has completely quit jumping on the furniture, going in my closet and stealing/chewing on shoes, chewing on the toilet brush in the bathroom (yuk!), bothering the cat as much, etc. In general his house manners have greatly improved. Coincidence? Maybe, but I don't think so.

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