Dogs and Birds
If you’ve clicked through to here I’m assuming that you too have an interest in dogs and birds! I’ve been fortunate to have had some of the most amazing and character-full companions to share my life. My pets have taught me a lot about training. And they’ve taught me a lot about myself too. These are some of them and what they’ve taught me.
Ragz is my Tibetan Terrier and he was born on Valentines Day (Feb 14 for the non-romantically inclined!) 2010. Both his parents are NZ show champions and his father is a past Crufts champion as well. The breed is ancient, dating back over two thousand years. Just so you know – he’s not really a terrier.
There are various stories as to why they were called terriers, non of which make much sense as far as I can tell! The Tibetan name for the breed, Tsang Apso, roughly translates to “shaggy or bearded (apso) dog, from the province of Tsang”. Some old travelers’ accounts give the name “Dokhi Apso,” or “outdoor” Apso, indicating a working dog which lives outdoors. As you’ll see from my previous dogs, I have a penchant for long haired dogs. Ragz is the smallest breed of long haired dogs I’ve had. He’s very bright, funny and cuddly with a determination that belies belief. (Ah, maybe that’s why they got the terrier label!)
Here are a couple of videos of him at 6 months and 7 months.
I’m learning new ways of training dogs thanks to Ragz.
Shaggy is my blue Quaker Parrot. Shaggy couldn’t be more different to Chico, my first parrot (see below). He talks all the time and is too busy to have his head stroked for longer than about 20 seconds. I’ve taught him to fetch sticks. Huh? Yes, I know… I needed another dog! And he can do a few other tricks. See the video of him taking a stick through a tube below.
The singing bird
Shaggy loves to sing. Yes, I know most birds sing. But Shaggy tries to sing like a human, although I must admit he’s not very good at it. If I sing, Shaggy has to sing. So we often have little duets, interrupted by one of us laughing. One of the songs I used to sing on a regular basis was ‘The Happy Wanderer.’ Shaggy always joined in the laughing part.
From that, he associated singing with laughing
A great demonstration of the NLP anchoring technique at work! So now every song seems to have a ‘laughing part’. Or maybe he’s laughing at my singing! In the audio below we’re supposed to be singing ‘Beautiful Woman’ but it’s not that easy with a bird laughing in your ear! He’s also very good at inserting little ‘screams’ a la Michael Jackson!
Shaggy reflects back to me – in context – all the things I say on a day to day basis – which is really quite scary! Life gets quite surreal when he asks me, ‘What ya’ doin’?’ and I answer … I sometimes wonder who’s training who!
Shaggy has taught me that even the smallest things can bring laughter and delight.
Shaggy and Stephanie “singing” Beautiful Woman! Click the play button at your own risk!
Shaggy – delivering sticks!
My first pet in New Zealand was a cockatiel I named Chico. I got him as a hand-reared baby. He died aged 27. He never spoke a word in his life but he always managed to communicate his needs quite clearly. I learnt the power of non-verbal communication. Chico’s ideal life was sitting on my shoulder having his head stroked. He wasn’t impressed when I got my first dog.
My first dog, Kaiyou was a Keeshond – a Dutch barge dog.
He was the most intelligent – but wilful dog I’ve ever had. My property at the time was fully fenced yet somehow Kaiyou used to escape. To this day I do not know how he did it. Even when my whole family were keeping an eye on him he managed to elude us all and break out! I think he had a hidden super power of teleportation!
I took Kaiyou along to obedience training on the day he was six months old, which at the time was the youngest age they would take dogs for training. Initially I just wanted to have a better behaved dog, one that didn’t take off as soon as I unhooked his lead. After a few months of training, the instructor said I should enter him in a couple of obedience competitions. He won both – one on full points! I was hooked on competing.
Kaiyou wasn’t always so keen on obedience competitions
In winter, with his huge coat, no other dog could touch him. Rain, cold, mud – nothing worried him. In summer, however it was a different story. He would retrieve the dumbbell only to exit the ring to find the comfort of a shady tree. Embarrassing!
Kaiyou taught me patience and determination. After Kaiyou developed a leg problem I decided to retire him from the obedience ring and get a working dog.
Rowf was my first Bearded Collie. Rowf and Kaiyou were great mates and would play for hours. They were both terrified of Chico who would chase them, hissing at them with his wings open if he thought they’d invaded his space. Hilarious to watch, it just goes to show you don’t have to be big to have power.
Rowf taught me not to take myself so seriously
It was impossible not to laugh when Rowf was around. He taught me it was OK to laugh at myself.
I didn’t have much choice really. He was the rowdiest, bounciest, most enthusiastic of all my dogs. Barking constantly, life was like an ongoing and noisy conversation.
Even in the obedience ring Rowf was full of exuberance. He would spring up, all four legs off the ground at once and bark in my ear – in case I forgot he was by my side!
Silence wasn’t golden with Rowf
You’d think that I would have appreciated some quiet time with such a noisy dog. But if he was ever quiet it was time to get worried. It usually meant that he’d found something filthy, dead or smelly — or filthy, dead and smelly — to roll in!
Convinced he was born to entertain the world, Rowf was determined to be a fool and make one of me too! And he seemed to spend his life inventing new ways to make fun of me in front of crowds of people. Once I got over myself, I learned to just accept him as he was and join in the fun.
A natural ability
Rowf had a natural jumping ability. In fact keeping his feet on the ground was the biggest problem he had! At dog obedience club he was affectionately called, ‘The thing on a spring’. It was a natural step to do dog agility. Being the consummate entertainer, TV and film work was easy for him. I could write a book about Rowf and his exploits. I think this quote from a fellow obedience competitor sums him up best, “I love Rowf … I’m so glad he’s yours!”
Tawny, my last Bearded Collie was almost the complete opposite of Rowf, although, again, they were great mates. Whereas Rowf was like a kid with ADHD after a gallon of espresso, Tawny was so laid back he was almost horizontal! Tawny took everything in his stride.
Everybody loved Tawny.
Walks in Auckland’s Cornwall Park (which was about 200 metres from where I lived at the time) took forever as tourists would always want us to stop so that they could take his photo. Kids insisted on patting him. He’d put up with it for a few minutes and then start barking at me to move on!
People would walk past and just say, “gorgeous”, looking at Tawny. In fact they often didn’t even recognise me if I didn’t have Tawny with me. Tawny had an amazing time clock and would let me know the times to take him for a walk. He’d just keep whining until I took him.
Tawny taught me the value of consistency and persistence.
Tawny died in October 2007 aged almost fifteen. I wrote an article about him, which you can read here.