Blank(ie) Stare

When Susan created Beanie’s special cave-like living room bed – known in these parts as “The Abode” – it made Beanie very happy, and it made me happy too; it dramatically reduced the number of “cover me with a blankie!” demands I had to handle when I was concentrating on work. I still had to deal with lots of seemingly urgent outside loo requests that were really about getting access to the kitchen, and sometimes the blankie requests kept coming because Biggles had parked his big white bottom on The Abode, but still, most days that bed made my life a bit easier and made Beanie a bit snugglier. Unfortunately this last week The Abode was rendered temporarily unavailable due to a messy barfing incident, and we were thrown right back into blankiesville.

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Honestly this couldn’t have come at a worst time. I was snowed under with work, and it was extra cold and windy outside; absolutely the conditions in which a small Beagle girl (and boy, for that matter) wants to be covered by a blankie. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the blankie requests had come at say, hourly intervals, but they were much, much more frequent than that. If I didn’t place the blankie just right, there would be a loss of containment during the “let’s go round and round” dance that precedes settling down, and another intervention would be required almost immediately. If the postman or a delivery guy went anywhere close to the house, a long orange blankie slug trail would be left on the way to the window or door, and I’d be up and out of my chair to fix things again. If either me or Susan got up to make a coffee, the possibility of kitchen access would lead to another shedding and subsequent re-application of the blankie, as would trips to the water bowl, trips to the loo, mention of a food trigger word (trust me there are a lot of them!), and of course visits to the toy box because someone decided that a mid-afternoon squeak would be a good idea.

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Look Dad, it’s not our fault that you said something that sounded like “chew”

Biggles’ blankie requests involved raising a front paw and looking pathetic, but if I was late in responding he’d just curl up and snuggle down anyway. Beanie however was relentless and impossible to ignore. She signaled her needs with a noise like slightly muffled fart, repeated at random intervals between five and twenty seconds; it was the Beagle re-imagining of Chinese water torture. Pretty soon my exasperation at the frequency of the requests became apparent even to Beanie, and being such a smart and empathetic little girl, she realized that she had to give me a break from the “fart-gone-wrong” signal. So instead, I got this:

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and this:

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and in particularly desperate cases, this:

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No noise, no raised paw, just a silent unbroken stare. Even from across the room, this was way more distracting than any vocal request. I tried to fight it, looking her right in the eyes and saying “No Beanie, you don’t need a blankie!” but she just stared right back at me. “Seriously, I need to concentrate. Go see your Mum and get her to do it.” Still there was that unbroken stare in the corner of my vision, commanding my attention. When I finally challenged her with “No Beanie, I AM going to win this one!” she knew I was close to caving in, and held on that bit longer.

Days later, I’m now happy to report that The Abode is back in action (even though it took a double scoop of Napisan to get it properly clean), so I’m no longer getting the stare treatment from Beanie. As for Biggles, well it seems he’s now having to deal with his own blankie requests from his best pal, Monkey.

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Einstein was wrong

Albert Einstein famously defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”.  Well, all I can say is that this Einstein bloke clearly had no experience of Beagles, otherwise he’d have realized that he was talking utter crap. Beagles try the same tricks and strategies over and over, day in, day out, and while most of the time they don’t work, there is always the chance that this time things will be different. The key is persistence; just keep going for long enough and eventually you’ll get lucky.

To demonstrate the truth of this, consider the classic “double-dinner” ploy. This is where a Beagle in a two-human family tries to convince humie “A” that he/she hasn’t been fed yet, even though humie “B” served up doggy dinner barely an hour ago. Beanie & Biggles have been trying to dupe us with this every day of their lives since they came to live with us. In Beanie’s case, that’s about 3700 attempts to get a double dinner, and 3699 of those attempts failed miserably. Einstein would have given up after two tries. A Collie dog would probably have thrown in the towel well before reaching 100 repetitions, but my pups kept on trying. And trying. And yesterday, IT WORKED!

Bear with me while I document the circumstances behind this remarkable event.

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In your face, Einstein!

Sick of doing boring local walks and beach runs in spectacularly grotty weather, I jumped at yesterday’s cold but sunny forecast and decided to take Team Chaos for a walk up Ben A’an. Hills are usually out of the question at this time of year due to ice and snow, but Ben A’an is small, has a great path and is hugely popular; conditions have to be really bad to take it off the menu.

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Aiming to do the hill in the early afternoon, I gave Beanie & Biggles an early breakfast without any prior walk and packed the van with all the essentials: water, coats, harnesses and leads, munchy sticks, cow ears, bone-shaped biccies, bowls and – crucially – a can of Chappie to provide a filling dinner when we got back down.

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We’ve been up Ben A’an several times before and I remember it being longer and harder on the legs than it was on this occasion. Maybe I’ve got fitter and stronger, or maybe it was thanks to a much improved path, but we reached the summit in barely 45 minutes even with frequent stoppages for photos / pees / poops / sniffs.

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It was very cold and windy up there but clear, and the views over Loch Katrine and across to Ben Venue were beautiful as always.

Ben A'an Close Up [5D4_8688]

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Ben A'an in Snow [5D4_8715]

It was a throughly enjoyable and uneventful walk, and after Beanie called “time” we headed back down, arriving at the van well before the light failed.  I swapped my boots for trainers, took off coats and harnesses, and then – most definitely and without the slightest room for doubt – I served up two bowls filled with “original” flavor Chappie, which happens to be Biggles’ favorite. Beanie and Biggles – most definitely and without the slightest room for doubt – consumed said Chappie in haste, and then proceeded to chomp through a cow ear each.

When we got back home I let the pups into the house to greet Susan, then set about the longer process of bringing every thing back in from the van. While I was occupied with this, Beanie & Biggles tried their favorite con trick on their mum. She’d been working hard so maybe she was distracted, or maybe the bowls I brought in from the van looked too clean to have been used, or maybe Beanie’s dinner-summoning dance was just really, really good this time, but whatever the reason, Susan took the bowls and started filling them with kibble. Just at that point I came back into the house with another load of stuff and heard the sound of kibble hitting thin metal.

“Susie they’ve duped you – they’ve already had their nosh!” I shouted.

But here’s the thing: once you start serving up dinner, you have to finish. This isn’t NASA; there is no big red “Abort Launch!” button for dinner. And so, after a decade of trying and failing to con one of us into serving up dinner twice, our pups finally triumphed and proved Einstein wrong in the process. That’s something worth woofing about, not that Biggles is ever short of an excuse.

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Drag me to dinner

Lots of different numbers get thrown around when discussing the number of repetitions needed for a dog to learn a new behavior; some suggest an average of 30-60 reps, while others say it can take around 10,000 to achieve perfection. Based on recent experience I’d suggest that if Beagles are involved and the reward is tasty enough, then 1-2 repetitions will be quite sufficient.

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Over the Christmas period I made the terrible mistake of preparing Beanie & Biggles’s dinner while Susan was out walking them. They came through the front door to find their food waiting for them in their bowls, sitting on the floor in their usual serving positions. Confused and elated at the same time, they stuck their heads in the same bowl. Rapid human intervention was required to make sure that they both got a proper serving, mainly because Beanie can eat at twice the speed of Biggles, having long since dispensed with the slow and unnecessary chewing process.

On their next walk I could sense growing anticipation and excitement as we returned home, but it was all for naught; their bowls weren’t waiting for them when they tore through the front door. There was brief disappointment, after which everything returned to normal. Then, maybe a week later, the “instant dinner” scenario happened again, and a switch was well and truly flipped in Beanie & Biggles’ heads.  That last 100 yards to our house is now an excited tugfest, especially when Susan is holding the leads.

It may be the fact that the instant dinners happened inconsistently and unpredictably that locked in this new behavior (trainers refer to this as the Gambling Effect) but regardless, two reps is all it took to hardwire it.

Just as quickly as we taught our two furries to pull like mad on on the way home, I believe I’ve relieved Beanie of her longstanding roadside assistance habit. The Beanster has always been very particular about her feet; she doesn’t like twigs or grit getting between her toes, and when that happens she stops dead, holds up a paw and waits for me to fix things. Usually the irritant is so small I can’t see it, so I fall back on the “magic rub” treatment. Maybe that shifts the offending particle, or maybe it’s all just placebo, but normally that satisfies her majesty and we’re free to continue on our walk.

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About a week ago however we had a really, really bad case of “paw’s not right Dad”. In fairness it was very frosty and the gritter lorries had been out, spraying not just the roads but the pavements too; I can imagine that if you’ve already got ice between your toes the sudden introduction of salt could lead to an unpleasantly nippy sensation. Regardless, a paw was raised, and seeing no obvious tootsie contaminants I administered the magic rub. The paw did not go back down. I repeated the magic rub, really working my gloves into the gaps between her toes, but still the paw remained in the raised position.

“Whatever it is, it’ll get better if you walk on the grass for bit. Come on Beanie, let’s get moving!” I said encouragingly.

Ever the stoic Beagle she tried a step, but then lifted the paw again and began hopping to keep up with me and Biggles. I stopped and saw that her raised leg was trembling as though in pain.  This was a bad one, and desperate times call for desperate measures. I picked her up, rolled her onto her back, and in full view of motorists, other pedestrians, a Westie and an outrageously coiffured Poodle, I cupped the affected paw in my hand and blew warm air on it.

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This mended the sore tootsie instantly, but did irreparable damage to Beanie’s street cred. She wriggled to get back on the ground as quickly as possible then double-timed it until she’d put some distance between her and the site of this embarrassing incident. We’ve since had more frost and even a decent snowfall – all of which brought the gritters out of hiding – but we’ve had no more calls for roadside assistance. I fixed it for good, and it only took one try. What breed are these dogs that need endless repetitions? Not Beagles, that’s for sure.

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This is what happens when one Beagle obeys the “wait” command, and the other one takes off as soon as he sees the biccie leave my pocket. Life is just not fair.