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Sanders: Lucky Dog

What is a farm without a dog? In a word, quiet.

My dogs have always been collies (maybe I should write a song.) My last dog was a purebred, regulation, normal-sized, collie. When we got him, he was named sight unseen by our young, impressionable sons.

This was at a time when a commercial for a brand of dog food showed a slobbering dog repeating the mantra, "I'm a Lucky Dog, Lucky Dog," hence his name. We had Lucky Dog for 14 years and he rarely barked during that time.

Foxes and other animals would come into our farmyard and the foxes would get close enough that the dog could spit on them (if a dog can spit), but Lucky Dog didn't bark. He seemed a benevolent type that would share his neighborhood.

“Dixie has also warned us about skunks, coyotes and upside down lawn chairs

— all of which puts her family in danger.”

Unfortunately, as many large dogs do, he developed hip dysplasia. An aspirin a day kept the pain at bay — for a while until he was finally put down.

My brother had a Border collie that barked all the time. So after Lucky Dog went to Doggie Heaven, guess what my brother gave me. Dixie, a cute border collie puppy that didn't bark much because we kept her in the house for the first few months. But once she started staying outside at night, she barked at everything that just might be a menace to her family.

That included the dog's own shadow on a moonlit night. Dixie has also warned us about skunks, coyotes and upside down lawn chairs — all of which puts her family in dire danger. She lets us know.

Since she is "my" dog, I get the duty of stopping her barking in the night. I dutifully go out and call her to me. She is always so excited she nearly pops. "See, I am saving the family from the dreaded deer in the field! I am such a good girl!"

After giving praise to the dog, and I always hope, enough time for the objects de barking to escape, I go back to bed. Sometimes it works. Usually, it does not.

I came upon a plan. If I could distract her for more than mere seconds, perhaps her mind would wander to something else and we could all sleep again. She likes doggie bone treats, so I started giving her one of those when I called her down for barking in the night. If you remember anything about science, you will remember Pavlov's teachings on conditioned reflex, and you know he taught dogs to associate food with the sound of a bell. Apparently Dixie has become conditioned to receiving a treat when she barks at night.

So I figure that my dog has outsmarted Pavlov. She barks and I give her a treat. If she's quiet, she doesn't get her doggie bone. She truly understands conditioned reflex.

Pavlov would be proud of how my dog has trained me. ❖