Acquiring Misty was somewhat of a bizarre event. Although I can’t remember the details of the entire event, I do recall the conversation my mother had with my grandad at the time. My grandad, who was the one responsible for bringing Misty into our lives, had told my mother that he had found a breeder of Weimaraners and that she had virtually sold Misty to him due to Mistys’ mother being ‘ruined’. The story goes that this particular breeder had bred award winning Weimaraners and had done so for years. She was, according to my grandad, a very well known breeder. However, one day a chocolate lab had managed to tie with one of her prized bitches, resulting in the birth of a cross-breed litter a short while after. Not wanting her reputation ruined, she had privately sought out people who would be willing to home the puppies. To this day I do not know how this breeder and my grandad had come to cross paths, but he was the sort of man that had used to get wild ideas in his head and just run with them. He was extremely social and was a friend to everyone so his story didn’t surprise me. I half envisioned that he’d had another idea of romping around all the markets in the UK for the fun of it and that this had been how he had met the breeder, or perhaps that he had decided to embark on becoming an Agility legend and had gone underground to find the best dog there was out there. Either way, as far as I was concerned at the time, there was a puppy coming in to our lives and that was really all that mattered to me.
A few days later, we visited my grandparents house again and this time as we all tumbled in to the kitchen, a small browny-silvered coated puppy was taking cover under the kitchen table. My sister and I were delighted and we immediately dropped to the floor and started tickling the ground with our fingers, bums high in the air, a position we by now instinctively adopted whenever we came across a new dog, to entice the puppy out to play. Of course the puppy did not disappoint and soon we were all rampaging round the house, whilst my grandparents stood with my mother in the kitchen taking it in turns to tell us all to ‘be careful’, ‘stop making such a racket’ and ‘stop putting the bloody dogs ball in your mouths’. Eventually when things started to settle down, we were all called into the kitchen. ‘So, what are we going to call you then?’ my mother said to herself out loud whilst looking at the new puppy. ‘Barbie!!’ I squealed almost immediately. ‘Oh for pity sake not this Barbie thing again, Kaley’ my mother responded. ‘What about silly doggy?’ my sister had said, whilst I glared at my mother for denying me, again, the chance to call a dog Barbie. ‘Hmmmm that’s not really a name though is it?’……’I know, what about Misty?’. ‘Misty?’ we said in unison. ‘Yes, she has really misty eyes, so that is what we will call her, Misty Dog’. And that was that, my mother had spoken and when mother speaks her final word, nobody argues back. It was true too, Mistys’ eyes were like the most beautiful and intricate pieces of crystal looking back at you. We had never seen a dog with clear blue eyes before, so blue in fact that if eyes really were the windows to the soul, you would have seen utopia. As she grew older, her eyes darkened to a more hazel/green colour, but they never once lost their crystal like appearance.
Misty turned out to be the most awe-inspiring dog. We were convinced by the time she had grown into an adult that she had been born half-human, which was strange considering how dopey she could really be sometimes! She was the first dog that we had ever really tried to actively train as children. I remember one day, my grandad handing me a book and instructing me to read it and when I had asked why he simply said ‘you’ve got the dog now haven’t you, so now you’ve got to train her’. Being about 8 or 9 years old at the time, the concept of training a dog was new to me. Of course, I understood that dogs needed to learn, but I had innocently assumed that this learning happened naturally. ‘But what IS training, what do you mean?’ I had asked my grandad, to which he went on to explain that training was just another word for teaching. ‘So I have to be her teacher, like the teachers at school?’ I asked. ‘Yes, that’s exactly what you need to be’ he replied and so, I set about reading the book as best I could given my ability to read at the time. It was a book about the Weimaraner breed and I found it quite interesting.
Of course, due to my inquisitive nature I wanted to know why the book was just about one type of dog and didn’t have pictures of other types of dogs in it. This was where I began to learn that dogs all looked different because there were different types of breeds. It was explained to me by my grandad that it was a little bit like people. On the inside all people are built exactly the same way, but some people look different on the outside. Some of us have blue eyes and some of us have brown. Some of us have white skin while some of us have black skin. Some of us are big and tall whilst some of us are short. We are all different but yet we are all the same. It was one of those pivotal moments in life where you can pinpoint the moment when your entire perspective of things change. Suddenly you’re alert to the world around you. You notice things you never had done before and although everything looks the same, somehow it just isn’t anymore. It made me think about the people I knew and how we were all unique and yet nobody ever seemed to pay any mind to. Just like that, the world felt different and exciting to me and I felt just a little more grown up.
The first time we ever tried to train Misty of course, we had chosen the ever popular ‘give paw’ routine. Now, even though I had read the book, I hadn’t quite been able to grasp just how you taught a dog to offer their paw. I remember developing a plan with my sister, Carly, who had decided to be the trainers assistant. After much plotting, we decided the best way to teach Misty was to show her and so, we plonked her on the small side table that we often used to make a platform with Carly sitting next to her. ‘Ok Carly, give paw!’ I instructed to which Carly obediently gave me her hand, which she held in such a way it resembled a paw. ‘Now you Misty, give paw!’. Obviously, Misty continued to sit there, head lolloped to one side, not a clue as to what the strange little monkeys next to her were doing. ‘It didn’t work Carly….maybe we should try again?’ I said, hands on hips in my best trainer voice. She agreed and so we spent perhaps the next thirty minutes of our lives performing this comical routine, with Misty continuing to sit and watch and lick her bum throughout the demonstration. Eventually we realised that trying to show her wouldn’t work. We realised then that as daft as Misty was, she knew we weren’t dogs and therefore wouldn’t behave as if we were (so really, who were the daft ones in all of this!). Mimicry is a topic that today I realise is possible but only at an advanced level and requires a little more work than we had been doing, although despite our lack of age and experience, we had been along the right lines in how to teach this concept.
‘Maybe we need to grab her paw and then tell her that’s what we want. I bet she thinks its hand anyway and not a paw?’ I said innocently. ‘Yeah, that has got to be what’s wrong!’ Carly said, and so we tried this new idea out on Misty, grabbing her paw and repeating the words give paw, before pausing to see if she would do it of her own accord. We managed about another ten minutes or so of Misty tolerating our stupidity before boredom finally overcame her and she sauntered off to go lick her bum somewhere more peaceful. Again, I realise today that what we were actually doing is something termed by professionals as ‘modelling’ and is a technique that not surprisingly, does not have a high success rate at all.
We did eventually teach Misty how to give paw. One day whilst playing ball in the kitchen, we elected Misty to be ‘piggy in the middle’. As Carly threw the ball, I went to catch it but missed. The ball rolled along the floor as we both chased it and Misty and I both made a dive to grab a hold of it. The timing was impeccable, as I reached out, so did Misty and her paw landed perfectly on top of my hand. Refusing to let go, Misty continued to paw at my hand when I suddenly screeched ‘She is giving me her paw, Carly!’….’paw, paw, paw, paw’ we chanted, over and over again until suddenly I dropped the ball and we all just looked at each other. Carly immediately thrust her hand forwards. ‘Misty, paw…’ she said, to which Misty suddenly placed her paw into Carly’s palm. We squealed with delight and
started throwing her ball around, much to Misty’s amusement and continued to ask Misty for her paw before throwing the ball. She performed the paw routine every single time and as a consequence, we managed to teach her ‘drop’ too as we repeatedly threw the ball across the room for her to fetch it back. In one day, we had not only discovered a new game, but had also taught Misty not one but two tricks and ourselves an insight into one way in which you can teach a dog to do something. It was a magical day and as we revelled in our delight at this new discovery and talent of ours, our grandad walked in to the room. ‘Look grandad, we’ve taught Misty paw AND drop!’ we chimed together before performing our new little routine. In true Misty style though, she decided at that moment that her bum needed washing and sauntered off back to her spot under the stairs, to go and lick herself.
We were not amused.