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Scandinavian Dogs

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The Swedes, Norwegians, and Finns have every kind of dog you can imagine and some you can't. Lapp herding dogs are a smallish, Nordic breed with a curled tail. They seem to be smart, calm, and tough. In my Tromso seminar an eight-year-old female learned to bark on cue and to avert her head and keep silent on another cue, in five minutes on stage, with her owner doing the clicking.

Sight-hound mixes are apparently very popular in Russia (a short car drive to the border from Helsinki, Finland.) The Salukan, an Afghan/Saluki cross, had a great kind of coat—naturally short on the back and neck, with just enough feathers on legs, tail, and ears to add charm without requiring care. It was also the slowest-moving dog I ever met: shaping her to sit and come was like training underwater.

In Norway one superb puppy, a four-month-old Am Staff, learned to target in about ten clicks and immediately was willing to follow the target stick under furniture and over obstacles, calmly and without fear or hesitation. Most level-headed pup I've ever met. In Trondheim (a glorious fishing port, great shops, scenery, and restaurants) a young pointer came in to the seminar pulling on the leash in all directions at once, a real Unguided Missile. She quickly caught on to the clicker and learned to heel on a slack leash, first with me, then with the owner.

In Tromso, WAY north of the Arctic Circle, I met the biggest challenge of the trip. There were dogs in the audience, and dogs outside in the cars. I wanted to demonstrate how you add a new cue (a hand signal) to an old cue. I asked for someone to bring me a young dog that knew several cues.

The dog, presented as a young "husky mix," was pure white, with almond shaped eyes and a slinking gait. Her entire demeanor said "Look, but don't touch." A few years ago I would have rejected the dog, but I now know a lot more about the power of the click. I wouldn't have dreamed of touching her, believe me, but we quickly developed an excellent business relationship, based on clicks and hotdog treats.

As the owner stood, passively, on the stage, I taught the dog the following: to sit on the word, "Sit," promptly, squarely, anywhere on stage, and at a distance from me. Then I taught her to sit on a hand signal, promptly, squarely, off leash of course, and anywhere in relation to me. That all took about five minutes (The Norwegians have it on video, so I could get back to you on that. Maybe it was ten minutes.)

I then tried to transfer the behavior and the new cue to the owner, but it was too much for her—leash, clicker, word, signal, treat, all at once. It would have taken the person much longer to understand than it took her weird dog, so I dismissed them.

At the end of the day, the local newspaper sent a reporter and photographer, who of course wanted a picture of me with a dog. That white dog, tied to a bench, was the only dog around—and the owner was nowhere to be seen. I was very dubious about untying her and leading her out onto the lawn outside the auditorium. I used the clicker, and hotdog treats, to discuss it with her. Remember me? Yes? Click, treat. May I touch your leash where it is tied to the bench? Yes? Click, treat. May I untie it? Yes? Click, treat. Would you like to get up and come with me, where I'm going? Yes? Click, treat.

She actually romped at my side as we walked out onto the lawn where the cameraman wanted us to be. GOOD! Play behavior is extremely important news, whether you are dealing with a puppy or a polar bear. I felt less at risk, but still very wary. To please the cameraman I cued this animal to sit, and then used three clicks to reinforce three stages of me sitting down beside her, a foot away. I then actually clicked her to look at the camera, too. Yes!

The strange demeanor never stopped—no eye contact, no social engagement at all—but we got the behavior. I did have to warn the newspaper people away from her afterwards: they were assuming they could come right over and pat her. When I had her safely tied up again I danced for joy myself. Always a thrill, this clicker training.

At dinner I asked Turid Rugaas, the expert on calming signals and other canid behavior, "Was that a dangerous dog?"

"Oh, yes, I think so," Turid said, calmly. The other Norwegians with us agreed, and then someone told me the secret. The dog was half Husky, alright; the other half was 100% wolf.

The best clickertrained dogs I've ever had at a seminar were flat-coated retrievers belonging to my Norwegian hosts Morten Egdverdt and his wife, Cecelia. Cecelia's bitch, at four months, could do an entire obedience heeling exercise backwards, a display which horrified traditional trainers who assumed the puppy had been trained with aversives and therefore trained far too young. "She was never allowed to be a puppy." Wrong…

Morton's older flat-coat, now in the running for Norwegian national champion in obedience and tracking, knew so many cues that Morton could present an eight-step behavior chain, trained backwards on stage in front of the audience, as the finale of each seminar. Eight different behaviors in different sequences each time.

I took two other American trainers on this three-country trip, my old Swedish friend Ingrid, from Sea Life Park days, and my 10-yr.old granddaughter, Gwen Pryor. Cecelia's young dog, now over a year, had been badly frightened by a boy in the neighborhood with a big stick, and was now alarmed by all children. So, in each seminar, Gwen participated on stage in a training session with that dog. We went from the dog reluctantly nosing Gwen's outstretched fist, in Oslo, to Gwen being able to cue, click, and treat the dog for all her behaviors, in Tromso (photo). The dog ended up licking and playing with Turid's eight-year-old granddaughter as well.

A Finnish dog took the prize, though: a Pembroke Welsh Corgi named Wendy. After the first day of the seminar in Helsinki, again a local newspaper reporter wanted a photo of me and a dog. I borrowed this Corgi who was running around off leash in the hotel parking lot. She loved the click, learned a high-five in no time, and also learned to oblige the camera, sit here, sit there, cock her head, etc., while giving me the high five.

The next day, after the lunch break, I was signing autographs in the auditorium, and felt a strong tap on my foot. It's Wendy the Corgi, again quite rightly being allowed to run around loose.

"Remember me? I want to be on stage!" Okay babe, you got it.

When the afternoon session started, I got a nod from Wendy's owner and invited the dog on stage. Wendy came up the stairs by herself, took stage center without instruction, danced from paw to paw in her excitement, and showed off her new trick, slapping my hand with her upraised paw, for clicks and treats. Then, to thunderous applause, she went back to her owner in the audience, having done her star turn perfectly.

I wish I could show you these great dogs. I do hope that people in the US and Canada will soon get a chance to see and listen to top clicker trainers such as Morton Egvberdt and Cecelia, and Swedish experts Marie Fogelquist and Kina Molitar.

About the author
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Karen Pryor is the founder and CEO of Karen Pryor Clicker Training and Karen Pryor Academy. She is the author of many books, including Don't Shoot the Dog and Reaching the Animal Mind. Learn more about Karen Pryor or read Karen's Letters online.

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