Before I do, however, a word of warning: Riley is a Shetland Sheepdog, which is a very smart breed. Most “Smartest Breed” lists show shelties as number six, behind border collies, poodles, German shepherds, golden retrievers and dobermans. Border collies are cool, but German shepherds and dobermans spend all their time studying (they never have any fun), and I’ve seen goldens looking over the shoulder of border collies on the test. And if poodles were so smart, why would they let people cut their hair that way?
Anyway, my point is, do not attempt these tricks with dumber breeds like your Parson Russell terriers (#38, 10 spots below Jack), your plott hounds (#61, and even its name is dumb) and especially your Afghan hounds, which, at #100, are happy just to know they don’t allow gerbils on the list, or they’d be even farther down.
So let me tell you what we’ve trained Riley to do.
1. START THE COFFEE IN THE MORNING. Riley likes to eat as soon as he wakes up, so, while we give him breakfast, he starts our coffee. To be fair, we have to prepare it the night before, and it was pretty simple to train him to hit the little toggle switch to turn on the brewer. The hard part was teaching him to get up on the counter where the brewer is located. We did this by showing him how to push a stepstool over to the counter. Then, by placing a treat on each step, we taught him to go up the stool, jump on the counter, flip the switch, and come right back down where breakfast is waiting for him. A few sharp “NO!”s got him to ignore the box of doughnuts on the counter.
2. TAKE OUT THE NEWSPAPER. Because of all the snow we’ve had in the Northeast, we’re only just getting started on training Riley to take his bodily functions outdoors. In the meantime, we thought the least he could do is clean up after himself. Using a series of “FOLD” commands, we taught him how to turn the soiled newspaper into a neat bundle. Then he picks it up and deposits it in a small basket on the front step.
3. TAKE SELFIES. My daughter Casey was spending way too much time taking photos of Riley to post on his Instagram page. So finally I said, “Look it’s his Instagram page, and he’s the one who has more followers than my blog does, so the least he can do is take his own pictures.” Fortunately, Riley is quite the egomaniac, so he was eager to learn how to tap his nose on the iPhone camera button (noses work as well as finger touches, although you do have to wipe the snot off the screen afterward). Alas, Casey still has to post the pictures to his account, because we can’t figure out how to teach him a password.
4. PICK UP HIS TOYS. If you’re like us, by the end of the day, there are dog toys all over the house. But we’re not like you, so we taught Riley to pick up all his toys before bed. That would be good enough, but we went a step further. He puts pull-toys in one basket, squeaky toys in a second, and balls in a third. As well-trained as he is, however, we do not know where he puts our slippers.
5. TURN ON ANIMAL PLANET. Casey and my wife Barbara have been binge-watching all 38 seasons of Gilmore Girls. It was a fine show, but they really should have canceled it before Rory had grandchildren. Sometimes I play with Riley in the living room while they’re watching, and, frankly, he and I are both sick of all the clever banter. But if I suggest turning it off, I get glared at. So one day when Barbara and Casey were both out, I rubbed liver scent on the two necessary remotes and, through the use of dabs of peanut butter on the appropriate buttons, taught Riley how to exit Netflix and tune to Animal Planet. Barbara and Casey can’t glare at Riley; he’s too cute.
6. SHOP. The local pet store allows dogs, so it only seemed natural to buy Riley his own little basket. He can’t lift the large bags of food, of course, but we’ve shown him how to carry his basket to the treat aisle, pick out a few things, then carry it to the toy aisle and choose ONLY ONE toy, then meet us at the check-out line. In this way, we know we’re only paying for treats and toys he’ll like, although, so far, we’re limited to items on the lowest shelves.
7. “PLAY” BASEBALL. I’m not much into teaching dogs tricks that have no actual function, but, really, we were so desperate for Spring to arrive, we thought we’d do this one thing. We put four treats in “base” positions. Then Riley uses a small plastic bat to hit a ball, and runs around the bases in correct order, collecting the treats. The best part is when he slides into home plate, although, to be honest, we didn’t train him to do that; it’s just that the last treat is on the wood floor.
8. FACETIME WITH GRANDMA. My mother lives in Ft. Lauderdale and hates to travel, so it’s unlikely she’ll ever meet Riley in person. So we showed Riley how to nose the Facetime icon (instead of the camera) on my iPhone and call grandma. He even licks the screen as if he’s licking grandma’s face. Unfortunately, my mother can barely operate her turn-of-the-century flip phone, much less a smart phone, and so has no idea he’s been calling her.
9. GREET THE UPS GUY. I work at home and between that and my family’s penchant for online shopping, we receive a package just about every day. So first we trained Mike, the UPS guy, to ring the bell and open the door (no treats were necessary, but I suppose I’ll have to give him an extra large tip at Christmas). Riley then uses his nose to sign for the package on Mike’s handheld device and, if the package is small enough, brings it to the person it’s addressed to. No, he can’t read–that would be silly. He simply counts the number of letters in the first name on the label (fortuitously, that’s different for all of us).
10. MATH. You thought counting the letters on a UPS package was good? Riley can perform complex mathematical equations by barking. For instance, I can say “Riley, what’s 12 to the 3rd power?” Then I’ll show him a giant inflatable cupcake (why we have such a thing is a story for another day) and he’ll start barking the answer. I assume he’s right, because I, personally, have no idea what 12 to the 3rd power is and, besides, I’ve left the room with a headache long before he’s finished.
Riley has learned lots of other great stuff, too, but I won’t mention any more because I don’t want you to feel that your pooch is inadequate, especially if you have a chihuahua (#89).
See you soon.
P.S. April Fools.