Mindy-Penny and the Return to Ordinary Life

So Penny, née Mindy, is a pet dog now. Aside from the obvious things like no longer accompanying us into restaurants, church, grocery stores, etc., her life has changed in other subtle ways. Like, I can feed her what I want now, instead of sticking to a national brand available at any big box store. And she can have treats beyond her strict diet, like popcorn which falls on the floor during game night, which she previously had to ignore.

This has been a rougher transition than you would think. But really fun.

I feel sorry for people who don't have dogs. I hear they have to pick up their own food if they drop it on the floor.First, I introduced Penny to Bravo! Raw Diet, which is what I usually feed my own dogs. (There is no one perfect diet for all dogs, because they’re individuals, but I’m pretty happy with Bravo! overall.) She loved it, but she couldn’t quite figure out what to do with it. I mean, it tasted great, and it was really cool, but… how were you supposed to eat it? It was kind of gooey and not exactly lickable and it wasn’t in pellets, but it did taste really good, so… Eventually, she plucked a lump out of the bucket and carried it down the hall to her crate, to work on at leisure.

She’s figured out now what to do with raw, and she loves it.

But we did a really good job of teaching to her ignore available food in other contexts. Check out this pic of 15-week-old Penny (then Mindy) at the New Day Meadery, with a plate of prosciutto and honey-drizzled Brie sitting on a knee-high table:

young puppy lying down beside table with cheese and crackers

So after over a year of reinforcing that, Penny is pretty sure that she’s not supposed to pick up anything which we don’t hand her directly. Even if we tell her to.

Admiral Ackbar from Star Wars, "It's A Trap!"


So the other day I was pulling stuff out of the fridge, and I just was a klutz and I spilled meat juice on the floor. Big puddle. And I was irritated with myself and then I realized, Hey, this cleanup could be a whole lot easier if I just had to scrub up a little instead of a huge puddle! So I called Penny over, and she was thrilled to see it, and she looked at me and wagged. And I told her to get it.

And she looked at me and wagged.

I tapped the floor. “It’s okay! Get it!”

She sniffed, smiled, and looked at me and wagged. Wow, look how good I’m being with this massive temptation. This is totally worth some treats, I’ll bet. Cool!

“No, dog, this is the treat. Go ahead and lick it up.”

Totally resisting! Look at me!

“Seriously, clean this up.”

Man, I am awesome. Look how reliable I am.

“…..You’re not going to help me with this, are you. Some service dog.”

I should have gotten a picture. Her ears were up, her face relaxed, no inhibition or conflict or anything — just pure, happy confidence that she was doing the right thing, while I pleaded with her to eat off the floor like a dog.

And some people say that positive training is unreliable.

About Laura VanArendonk Baugh CPDT-KA KPACTP

Laura was born at a very young age and started playing with animals immediately after. She never grew out of it, and it looks to be incurable. She is the author of the bestselling FIRED UP, FRANTIC, AND FREAKED OUT. She owns Canines In Action, Inc. in Indianapolis, speaks at workshops and seminars, and is also a Karen Pryor Academy faculty member.

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One Comment

  1. Totally laughing at Penny. And thinking that yes, this is probably a behavior you might want to un-teach, since there’s nothing more practical than having a dog helper when you make a mess on the floor. Now with an 8mo baby in his high chair, I thank my Lab everyday when she cleans each scrap of food he throws around.

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