What can Micron do? asks a co-worker. How many commands does he know?
Well, I say. That's two entirely different questions now.
Like many of my cube partners, she knows that in his prior life Micron was in the Canine Companions for Independence puppy raising program and went through an impressive three months of Advanced Training to be a service dog. Though he was later released due to . . . well, I prefer to say that he just loves people too much. CCI's official word was Micron exhibited a high level of distractibility. He was unpredictable in his unpredictability, I was told. If the golden boy determined that someone wanted to greet him, and who wouldn't, he would drag his trainer across the room to see said person. Hi! he would say. I'm Micron-DON'T. And I think you love me.
And that, people, is not becoming behavior for a service dog.
So he was released from the service dog program and CCI graciously allowed us to adopt him as our beloved pet. But considering the eighteen months of raising him to be a service dog and adding in those three months with a professional trainer at CCI, you would expect him to recall the thirty-some commands he was taught.
And you would be mistaken. Because you see, recalling and performing are two different kinda things. Micron has three commands he will do with proficiency: Sit, Down and Extreme Down.
|Look at his back legs. No, I mean, just look at them. This dog is like a|
Black Belt in Relaxation.
Naw, just kidding. He knows Speak, too. And sometime you can get a Shake from him, if the mood strikes. Everything else requires inspiration in the manner of a dog cookie. Pull out a favorite treat and he's your wingman. Robin to your Batman. Tonto to . . . .well, you know . . . he's your ever-lovin' partner. Just putting my hand in my right jeans pocket, the magic treat pocket, allows him to instantly recall all thirty commands we taught him. On his best days, he'll perform a series of them all in a loop, too. Sit ... Speak ... Down ... Sit ... Shake ... Speak ... and so on until you give him the treat or he short circuits. Either one.
|Past experience suggests that problem |
solving may not be his strongest skill set.
Ah, my flunkie dog. Yeah, but we don't call it that in the CCI world, actually. Micron is a Change of Career Dog.
But are they right, my friends at work? Is Micron using more canine brain cells than I'm giving him credit for?
Wouldn't it be interesting to take a closer look and understand more about how the neurons are clicking in that gorgeous golden noggin of his?
I think so.
So I signed Micron up for sessions with Dognition*, an online program designed with a set of activities with your dog to give insight on how they see their world. This isn't just some silly personality test that you see on Facebook, I want to be clear on this. The developers of the program read like a Who's Who of experts in canine cognition. My respect of these folk are giving this a solid dose of street cred, in my humble-ish opinion.
From the Dognition** website:
What is the Dognition Assessment Toolkit?
Each online Toolkit includes: observations you share about your dog through your canine personality questionnaire, science-based sets of games to play with your dog and a friend, and your dog’s resulting Dognition Profile report. The report details the strategies your dog uses to solve everyday problems and tips on how you can apply this new perspective. See more in How It Works._____________
The Dognition program has five components: Empathy, Communication, Memory, Cunning and Reasoning. Each set can be completed in a comfortable time frame, but Dognition recommends breaks between. Even performing the activities should be spread over more than one day to avoid fatigue. And on this I would agree.
|Dang, I hope there's no math on the test.|
After completing Micron's profile and initial questionnaire, we got things rolling. Empathy is the first evaluation. No prob here, I think. My dog's got him some mad empathy skills alright. He's a certifiable pet therapy dog after all.
Micron has this remarkable thing he's done enough times to show that it's not just something I'm imagining. When among a group of people, he places himself nearest to a person who is stressed. I've observed this in meetings when I've allowed him to walk freely about the room. He'll work the room, greeting folk for a few minutes, then will flomp his mass down on the feet of a chosen troubled soul. Even if they are a self-proclaimed "not a dog person."
Sure, I have no idea if this is the most stressed-out person in the room, it's not like we're taking blood pressure readings or something. But the person is usually sharing their frustration with the goings on of corporate life.
And the dog knows. Even more awesome, he wants to calm them. Something in Micron's deep psyche is sensitive to human emotions.
You're gonna ace this Empathy session, I tell Micron. No worries.
Dognition is clear on this though. There are no right or wrong responses to the exercises. Ok, got it, I understand. The Empathy session starts off with the Yawn game which evaluates if Micron will catch a contagious yawn from me. We try this as I pull off a few rather impressive fake yawns when real one shows up. I caught my own contagious yawn. That's how empathetic I am, people.
The mighty Micron, not so much. He stares at me until he gets bored enough to lie down. But no yawn.
Now when I tell the kid, a double major in Psychology and Sociology, about this non-event, he tells me sociopaths don't catch other people's yawns. Because they can't feel empathy. And maybe Micron's a sociopath. I tell him that's not very funny and yet I wonder why my sensitive and he's-not-a-sociopath dog didn't pick up on the yawn. A curious thing.
The next step in this session is Eye Contact. Oh, we're big on doggie eye contact around here. I figure if the dog is looking at me, then he is listening as well. So I'm not surprised that Micron makes it through the exercises never breaking our staring competition. He did wink his left eye a couple times, which had me wondering if I should wink back. And about half way through, Micron got a little uncomfortable with thinking maybe he should be doing something other than looking at me.
I don't understand what you want!, he thinks. Maybe it's Speak. Is it Speak you want me to do? GerWOOF wuff wuff WOOF! Or Shake? You wanna Shake? And he smacks my leg with his paw a few times. While barking.
The dog is confused on this one. To his credit though, outside of the occasional wink and blink, he never once looks away.
|Keep the coffee comin'. I'm gonna be up all|
Four more modules to complete for his Dognition evaluation. Next up is Communication when we'll evaluate how Micron interprets my gestures for making choices. We'll use hand pointing and foot pointing to give instructions for his dog brain to work out. The results will be on a scale from Self-Reliant to Collaborative.
What's my prediction for Communication, you ask? A good question, that. Keeping in mind there's no right or wrong results, there's only Micron, let's say Self-Reliant is a 1 on the scale and Collaborative is 10.
I expect Micron to fall in at about a 7 on the Communication scale. I think the foot pointing, which is not something I do much in spite of my professional pedicure, will throw him off.
Stay tuned for the next blog post to see how this plays out.
|No idea, really, how the dog will do, but|
I should ace the Foot Pointing exercise
just for style alone, right?
* When I mentioned Dognition to the kid, he said it sounded like "ignition" like starting a car. Which led us both to making rerrrr rerrrr rerrrr growly sounds like a car struggling to start, but sounding like a dog too. She won't roll over, says my son. We laugh and laugh like the geeks we are. I know, you kinda had to be there.
**CCI puppy raisers and Graduate Teams, contact me if you think you want to sign up for Dognition. There may be a discount available for CCI folk.