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The Phoebe Chronicles

The Phoebe Chronicles XI: Family Dog—Working Dog?

One of my neighbors has a bumper sticker on her car that reads: Every mother is a working mother. I think I'll have one made up that reads: Family dogs are working dogs. McCaig and the expert in the park are right; Border collies are working dogs. That is precisely why I have chosen the breed for our family dogs. Of course they need training and an interesting, stimulating life. Every dog does. I provide that, and in return, rely on their intelligent, companionable usefulness to keep things running smoothly around here.

The Phoebe Chronicles XII: What Drives a Border Collie?

Clearly, Phoebe's comfort level with children, to the degree that she seeks them out and prefers their company to all but mine, is a gift from her mother. It's a part of "the inherited pack of traits," as her breeder Kay Laurence says, that could have been put to use gentling a lamb, but has been applied instead to coddling children.

The Phoebe Chronicles XIII: A Brick and a Click

Then Kay took over. She placed the brick again in front of Phoebe. Phoebe approached the brick, about to repeat the behavior but got a click before she got there. Kay kept clicking on Phoebe's approach to the brick, rather than for the desired ultimate behavior. What was she shaping? The slant of her shoulders and shift of her weight. Kay was marking Phoebe's muscle movements so that when eventually she did place both paws on the brick she would already be balanced and in perfect position; Kay was polishing the behavior before it was established.

The Phoebe Chronicles XIV: Clicking the Family (Dog)

My three boys live with all this clicking, and accept that this is how one communicates with dogs. They do it themselves, and have clicker trained old Esme to paw their foot when they ask any question beginning with "Who's the best... -looking in the family/basketball player on the street/skateboarder in town?" They've also trained Phoebe to bark on cue, run toward them and bounce off their chests with both paws, and nibble on their fingers when she wants the treat they're hiding in their fist. While I'm not keen on the behaviors they've chosen to train, they got those behaviors with solid, positive, marker-based training.

The Phoebe Chronicles XV: A Good Dog

Long before Phoebe joined our family, thirteen years ago, we brought home ten-week-old Esme. A nearly pure-white Border collie, she soon put her shepherd instincts to work, substituting a pack of kids for a flock of sheep.