It's no secret that we have a house full. We are literally over run with fuzzy creatures here, but I'm not sure either of us would have it any other way. Sure, some days, it's a bit much and I wish the dogs could take themselves out for bathroom breaks or take themselves to the park, but the majority of the time I love having everyone around. There are always challenges when owning animals, especially when you have four dogs and one cat. The biggest challenge with the cat thus far is making sure he doesn't ninja sneak out the flat door when I'm taking the dogs out. With the dogs there are different challenges. For example, I had to figure out where everyone would eat so that they had their own space. I solved that dilemma by shutting Otis in the bathroom, Hermione eats on one of the couches so she is up above Otis's reach, Roscoe gets the kitchen and Nala eats by the front door. It took some juggling, a few spilled bowls of kibble and some curse words, but that problem was fixed in the first couple days of having four dogs in the house.
Another issue I face sometimes is making sure everyone gets enough exercise. I can always walk Hermione and Otis together which cuts down on walking time, but then that leaves the other two big dogs. Nala gets most of her exercise from working and her biweekly play dates with Toby the huge Chocolate Lab, but I hate leaving her at home when everyone else gets to go out for a run. So, I guess that is my issue. On top of that, Roscoe needs to go as well, but he comes with a whole set of issues.
He was attacked by a dog a few years back and ever since then he gets over stimulated by some dogs. He starts making this ridiculous squawking noise and runs full tilt at them in greeting and depending on the dog's reaction, he can either bark at them or play with them. Either way, this rushing at other people and their dogs is definitely unwanted behavior. I used to try to put him in a "sit stay" when he started making that noise, but it made him even more agitated. That usually resulted in him lunging towards the other dog, barking excitedly and trying to pull me over. That also was not okay. In fact, that was worse because then he looked vicious. So, I was walking him on his own for a while in an attempt to build up his confidence and work out a method that kept him grounded. However, this meant I was walking dogs for three hours or so a day plus the bathroom breaks and I was going insane. So, I had to come up with a new plan.
Thankfully, on occasions Carmen takes pity on me and walks with me which means I can walk all four dogs at once. I would never walk four on my own; three maybe, but not four. It's difficult enough using a cane, heeling Otis and carrying on with two off leash, never mind three off leash.
Aside from the number posing a bit of a problem, I was having troubles wrangling all of them when I called them. If it was just two, recall was pretty good. Nala's is always spot on with the whistle and I started introducing the whistle to Roscoe as a form of recall. However, it didn't always work with him. Hermione is never a problem with recall. Hers is probably the best, but it's because she doesn't want to let you out of her sight. But honestly, I was feeling like a complete idiot trotting around the park shouting,
"Nala come" and then ten seconds later "Roscoe come" and then maybe a minute later "Otis leave it." I felt like my dogs were out of control and people could see that. Of course recall treats helped, but the dogs often took their sweet time coming back as opposed to it being instantaneous. This often resulted in a second, "So and So come."
This went on for a few weeks and it was only getting worse. I knew something had to change, but for some reason I couldn't put my finger on what needed to happen. The funny thing is that if someone had emailed me or called to tell me about this problem and ask for help I would have known what to tell them. I guess being an objective observer is easier than being thrown into the mix of it all. So, I took a step back and tried looking at it as if someone was looking for advice and surprise, surprise-or not-the answer came to me. It was so simple that I berated myself for not thinking of it sooner.
My new secret weapon would come in the form of a cupcake.
No, not a real cupcake-a squeaky cupcake.
Remember the squeaky cupcake I bought Nala for her birthday? Well, the thing is stupidly loud and we really limit how often the dogs actually get to play with it in the flat because it could drive a person mad. Remembering how loud it was, I took it out on one of our walks, all four dogs in tow to see if it was loud enough to lure my rogue beasties back to me.
We got to the park and released the hounds. I let them burn off some steam for a few minutes and then began shamelessly squeaking the crap out of the cupcake. The response was marvelous. All four dogs came charging from across the field and stopped perfectly in front of me. Everyone was asked to sit, given a treat, told to wait and then released again. My recall woes of walking four dogs off leash were over.
I've only been out with the cupcake three times now, but it still works like a charm. I've even used it when walking along and someone's fallen behind. Just one squeak and whoever is scrounging about in the forest quickly catches up. I don't treat reward every time I squeak the cupcake. I keep that for the whistle since I think that the whistle recall is the "you come now" recall. It's the recall that is never to be ignored. So, treats are dispensed with every whistle recall which I use less than the cupcake too keep it novel and important.
I've even used the cupcake to get Roscoe to focus on me when he is getting all worked up about another dog coming towards us. I can have him sit, squeak the cupcake and then drop a treat into his mouth while the other dog is passing and he never moves. This is a bit harder to manage if I have more than one dog since I have to make sure everyone is safe, but it works. It even works if he is off leash and charging away towards another dog in the park. As soon as I hear the squawking start, I pull out my handy dandy cupcake, squeak like a maniac-okay maybe only two squeaks is necessary-and Roscoe turns right around and runs back to me. The 1.50 that I spent on the cupcake has made walks enjoyable again and stress free. I don't even have to sound like an angry dog mommy talking sternly to her dogs when they aren't listening.
I think others are noticing too. Last night I got a compliment on how well trained my dogs were. I just laughed and explained the power of the cupcake. The people I was talking to had a five month old Lab who was a wild one and they said that perhaps the 1.50 investment would have to happen some time in the near future.
So, yeah, I'm still the crazy blind woman with four dogs, but at least I'm the crazy blind woman whose four dogs come back and don't make her look like a fool who hasn't done any training with her dogs.
Thank you squeaky cupcake and may you ever retain your squeaking power.