Rather than correcting Rebel with a pop of his collar when he was doing something wrong, Denise showed the guys how to point out when he was doing something right with a well-timed use of the word "Yes!" After distributing a handful of dog treats to everyone in the room, Denise had the guys take turns calling Rebel's name, then saying "Yes!" just as he turned his head in their direction, followed by a food treat. Rebel soon learned the point of this round-robin game, and as the guys called him from different directions, his responsiveness to his name grew faster and faster.
While Denise used food treats, a reward can be anything a dog wants that a human has control over. After the name game, Rebel was thirsty, but instead of giving him his water bowl right away, Denise used it as leverage to teach Rebel how to stay. Holding the water bowl at waist level, Denise waited for Rebel to sit. Then slowly, she lowered the bowl. As soon as Rebel stood, she raised the bowl. When he sat, she lowered it. Up, down, up, down, in ever smaller increments Denise withdrew the water as Rebel broke his sit, then lowered it when he leaned back on his haunches, until the bowl had reached the ground. Understanding now that his waiting got the water bowl where he wanted it, Rebel sat patiently. Without even a word of instruction, he had mastered the sit-stay. And with an enthusiastic "OK," Denise released him, and he slurped the water contentedly.
Sitting around the circle, the guys were impressed. "You could see the dog thinking," said Joe in genuine amazement. "He was trying to fi gure out how to manipulate her, while she was really manipulating him."
When Eric went home that day, he tried the water bowl technique on his min pins. So did Mary with her little yapping pack. And Joe did the same with Bond. It worked.
You can teach old dogs new tricks. And sometimes you can teach their owners, too.
Rebel was transformed. It was just three weeks after his arrival, but this was a different dog from the one G and Joe had brought back on that cold, bumpy flight from Kentucky.
In defiance of the vet's prognosis, Rebel's hair had grown back, even around his ears. With daily cleaning and medication, his ear canals had shrunk almost back to normal. His ribs and spine no longer poked painfully through his skin, and with his weight gain his chest had filled out. He never did recover his ability to bark.
Rebel experienced snow for the first time soon after he arrived at Rescue Ink. At first he had to be coaxed out of the door. "When he stepped into a world of freshly fallen snow, a world that lacked all the smells he was looking for, he was really disoriented," says Bruce. But, true to form, Rebel eventually waded out into the cold white stuff and decided it wasn't that bad after all.
Rebel's story is still a work in progress. Though he was intended to be a clubhouse dog, his life since his arrival has been a series of sleepovers at different Rescue Ink homes. He spent some nights at Joe's, getting introduced to Bond. And of late Bruce has snuck him into his apartment, despite the no-pet lease and the cranky landlady. "I feel like a teenager sneaking a girl in and out of the house," Bruce admits. Forget clubhouse dog; Rebel deserves a permanent home of his own. And what everyone knows is that eventually, he will go to one of the guys' homes and just never leave.