Bernese Mountain Dogs - Breed Information & Education for Puppy Buyers, Owners and Breeders

"Butter Boy" - A Barney Tail continued ...

Article by: Michelle and Jay Larson, East Hampton, CT
Butter Boy's story originally appeared the the March 2011 Issue of the "BernerBlatt", The Newsletter of The Bernese Mountain Dog Club Of Nashoba Valley
Many thanks to the Michelle and Jay Larson and to the "BernerBlatt" editor, Susan Morrill, for granting their permissions to post the story.

  • Butter Boy Barney As you may have read in the January issue of the Blatt, in August of 2005 we agreed to foster and teach Barney good living/behavior habits so he could be placed in a new home.  He had recently come into the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of Nashoba Valley rescue program through the help of many friends.  

    It was only supposed to be a month of training and then Rescue would find him a home...
    but time went by and no one was interested in a dog who was very shy with strangers but was pushy at home with his mom and dad. Especially a dog who would "counter surf" any time food was left on the counter or table.  
    So we decided to provide him with his forever home and give him all the special needs training and love he would need to be a happy, normal dog.

    After a while, we started noticing that food was disappearing off the counter.  
    Very special things like the leftovers from the restaurant that you were really looking forward to eating for lunch  I was cooking hamburgers in a pan on the stove on low and went outside for a few minutes.  I would come back in and the pan was empty.  I would wonder if I forgot to put them in the pan and was frying air!  But nevertheless, no, I wasn't loosing my mind, the imprints of the burgers gave Barney away.

    Being a professional dog trainer, I decided I would do what I always suggest to my students: use prevention and management techniques.  Don't allow him to make a mistake because it can get highly reinforced.  So my husband and I decided we would be very careful and not leave anything on the counters/tables when we couldn't watch him.  Gradually, if he didn't have access to the food, the habit would become "extinct" and would die off after a period of a few months.  Well, that worked well up to a point, but if the phone rang and you turned your back for a minute, he'd be right there....he was learning: "Gee this is great, these humans aren't perfect.....when no one is watching I can....."

    So one sure thing I knew about dog training is this, if one method doesn't work, try another one.  

    That led us to Phase II which involved letting the environment correct him.  
    I tied some aluminum soda cans together with some string about 6" apart from each other and at the end I tied a Nylabone with a little whiff of peanut butter spread on it.  The whole affair was left on the edge of the counter while I disappeared into another room.  He took the bait and down came the soda cans making quite a ruckus. I popped my head into the room and said, "What happened?  Those cans don't like you stealing the food!"  That worked for a while, but then he got used to the noise and still pressed his luck. I thought about using pot lid covers instead of soda cans, but he was a little sensitive and I didn't want to totally traumatize him.

    Okay, it was time to go to Phase III:  teach him about the Stock Exchange Market or more preciously, the Trade Program. 
    By this time (6 months later), he was getting a lot better and leaving mostly everything alone. There was one major weakness left though, which he could not resist....BUTTER.  
    I started by holding a small, dry dog biscuit in my right hand at nose level, right in front of him.  He soon learned that as soon as he stopped touching/licking that hand, he would get a click with the clicker and a much higher value treat with the other hand.  Once he was leaving the food alone as soon as I held the food in front of him, I started adding the word, "Trade" just as he was starting to stay off the dry biscuit. Okay, good, we're now communicating in English. Next step was to increase the duration, so I started counting once he stopped touching the food....5 seconds....10 seconds up to 30 seconds.  Good, now we can increase the value of the food we hold in front of him--slowly to: moist dog treats, potato chips, crackers, cereal, omelet, steak, pork, cheese etc. to BUTTER....yeah!

    He left it alone because I gave him something better from the other hand...peanut butter.  

    It was all well and good that he would leave it alone with me right there in front of him, but now we had to generalize it. 
    That was quite simple and fun.  We would go through all the steps again, but we would set up a "course" of at least 3 paper plates on the floor.
    We put him on a lead and walked him up to each plate, said, "Trade" and waited until he looked up at me.  When he did, the clicker went off and he got a higher value piece of food than what was on the floor.

    The last step was to put the desirable food where he would normally find it and practice the same thing at first on lead, then off lead. 
    Things went very smoothly and quickly.  Actually, it sounds like a lot of work, but he started getting the hang of it in just about a week's time.  

    Then, one day, I really knew the training paid off and he actually understood....Barney had taken a quarter stick of BUTTER off the counter and brought it to me in the other room so we could TRADE!

    That's what he now does with other items too....the remote control, the cell phone, winter boots etc.

    Yaaaay, Barney the Butter Dog---we love you!!!
                      Michelle and Jay Larson, East Hampton, CT

good dog Butter Barney