Dog Behavior and Training, Godric, Sammy

Godric and Sammy’s 9-to-5

A horrible camera-phone pic of Sammy on the way to church this morning.

Sammy and Godric have had a few weeks to settle in and get used to home, so now the daily work has begun. Every day they go somewhere with us – a restaurant, a building where they have to climb stairs, someone’s house, etc. Sammy is ready to start public interior training – like libraries and so on – and will do that next; Godric’s bladder is still a bit too small but he’s not far off. The story that I want to tell is not whether or not they’re doing well (they’re doing great!) but how this has made me think about the work that dogs do.

Before I had these little dogs – Ginny and now Godric and Sammy – I had the same thought about companion dogs that most “big dog” people do: They basically sit on laps. Not a heck of a lot of utility.

Now I realize that I was totally wrong – because companion dogs don’t sit on laps – they SIT ON LAPS. It’s like the difference between chasing sheep and herding them, honestly – at church, for example, Sammy and Godric greeted many people, they sat on Honour’s lap without asking to get off, and they were handed around to the gentle old ladies and the not-so-gentle youth leaders and the kids getting lemonade afterward. In every set of arms they were still and accepting; to every face they were friendly; they never barked or fought to get down and they quietly stood between Honour’s feet when they weren’t greeting people.

If you want to appreciate how difficult that is for a dog, imagine carrying around and handing a one-year-old German Shorthaired Pointer to five eighty-year-old women in a row. A Papillon and a GSP are the same animal. Same brain, same basic instinctive reactions. It’s just as much a specialized behavior for a dog to sit still on a stranger’s lap as she plays with your hair and sniffs your head (everybody sniffs Sammy’s head; I know that it’s actually because she’s super, super clean and soft all the time and they’re surprised how nice she feels and smells, but I have to laugh because it’s like she’s made out of cheesecake) as it is for a dog to point a bird.

And you can tell afterward, too. When we got back in the car after two hours of being social, the two of them CRASHED. They were so exhausted they licked at food for a minute and then fell asleep with their faces in the bowl. These are dogs who run and play all day, but being still and perfect is concentrated, deliberate work.

It’s honestly amazing to watch; they change just as much as a corgi changes when they turn on to sheep. It’s not that they don’t need training, because of course they do, but the basic brain structures are already there. When we were at an outdoor restaurant on Saturday, we were eating fries with a three-month-old Papillon puppy lounging on the picnic table next to plates of food. He’s a complete wild man at home, but out and about he watched everybody walk by, wagged at them, didn’t move toward them unless told to, and took food only when it was handed to him. Trust me, it’s not because I am a great trainer. It’s because for three hundred years his breed has been refined until that kind of thing is hard-wired.

It’s given me a whole new facet of dog-ness to appreciate, honestly, and be fascinated by. And it doesn’t hurt that they are so cute it’s ridiculous.

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  • Reply Julie E August 1, 2011 at 10:23 am

    Well said. Companion breeds do have a job to do, and a very important one.

    My Cavaliers have lap-sitting down to an art. My mother swears that those are the only beings capable of pushing on the air to snuggle themselves deeper into a lap.

    …and I cannot wait until you find a new camera! Da Vinci probably scratched exquisite sketches in the dirt, when necessary – but hand the man paint, and the masterpieces came! I miss your masterpieces.

  • Reply Kitty Burke August 1, 2011 at 11:48 am

    So glad to hear that Sammy is doing so well.For others reading these comments, I am Sammy’s breeder and former “mother”.I had thought she could be good for Honour because she’s very sensitive and loving.Tibbie’s were bred to be watchdogs in the monasteries of Tibet and companions to the monks.They are wicked smart and very sensitive to their people.I had hoped she’s would tune into Honour’s needs and it’s appears that she’s on her way.Hugs & kisses Sam, keep up the good work in your new job!

  • Reply Kitty Burke August 1, 2011 at 12:02 pm

    Glad to hear Sammy is doing so well.For those reading these comments, I am Sammy’s breeder and former mom.I had hoped she would do well with Honour since she is very sensitive and loving.It appears she is taking her new job very seriously.Keep up the good work Sam , we miss you and are proud of your new mission taking care of Honour.

  • Reply Frances August 1, 2011 at 8:54 am

    Thank you for explaining so succinctly what the “purpose” of a papillon is! I got shouted down once when I said I was more interested in breeding pups that were superb companions than superb show dogs, but to me that is exactly the job papillons were originally bred for. Although Sophy also fancies herself as a search-and-rescue dog (as long as the target is reasonably close and probably has treats on them) and a mighty hunter of rabbits!

  • Reply Kathy Gertler August 2, 2011 at 11:21 am

    So glad to hear Sammy is doing so well. We all miss her very much and I especially miss her sleeping on my pillow and her thorough licking of my forehead. LOL .
    I sure hope you get a new camera soon. I miss your awesome pictures!

    Wow 2 litters of puppies that will be exciting! keep us all posted.
    Hugs to Sammy.

  • Reply Ann August 2, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    I see the same thing when I do therapy work with my pittie. While she’s not a companion breed, visiting with people when she’s on therapy duty (so being friendly but calm, dealing with kids hugging, chasing, pulling on her, etc) it definitely work for her. Afterwards she just passes out in the backseat of the car.

    I’m really glad the pups are working out!

  • Reply Renae August 7, 2011 at 10:26 pm

    Omg you take your doggies to church? Actually, having a doggie I could take to church would make church a lot easier for me. I am agoraphobic and have a bit of PTSD when it comes to church from some bad experiences.

    Mr Lukey is also a lap dog. Only problem is, he weighs 47kgs, and looks intimidating. But it truly is for him like you describe here. His specialized behavior is being petted and interacting with people. I’ve actually had him doing some “therapy dog” type work with intellectually disabled kids. They cuddle him and talk to him, and he really does participate and LAP DOG.
    Considering he’s a definite Heinz 57 maybe he does have some ‘lapdog’ breed in him, as well as big boof, lol.
    But he really is a “people dog” as much as Sherri is a guard dog and Britney is a lurcher.

    • Reply rufflyspeaking August 12, 2011 at 2:41 pm

      Yes, every dog comes to church sometime during his or her puppyhood and a few come every week :). We don’t necessarily take them into the sanctuary during the service, but they hang out in the nursery or in the fellowship hall.

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