Nika and the Great Big Yip

by | Mar 22, 2023

Pup chewing a broccoli stem


This is Nika-speak for “I want dinner,” “I want to go out with you,” “I want that thing that’s out of my reach,” various versions of “hurry up,”or even just “Oi! Two Legs!”

For someone so small, she sure can use that diaphragm.

And for someone so young, she sure has learned the fine art of managing her Two Legs quite rapidly.

A single, shrill “Yeow” that sounds remarkably like “Now”…And to which I was responding accordingly.

I didn’t even notice the magical power of her Great Big Yip as a summoning charm until I found myself half out of my chair during a meeting in my office to tend to the puppy in the hallway who needed to consult with me NOW. This consultation would require my presence specifically; the other human just would not do at that moment.

Timidly, I piped up “I’m busy, Nika” and lowered myself into my chair again as her other human came to heed her call.

Nika’s a vocal dog. There are the wonderfully melodic sounds she makes during play with T, and these days she’s experimenting with a play growl at his suggestion. There’s her single whimper during the night when she’d like to be taken to a suitable toileting location. There’s the deep bark she uses to communicate to T that whatever he’s got is hers by right. And there’s the little throaty squeak that sometimes comes out when she yawns.
When she was very young, she made a distressed yowl that first night that convinced me instantly that she should sleep on the bed rather than beside it. In those days, too, she whimpered gently when the cat slapped her for looking at her disparagingly.

And while her whimpers, barks, and, even yowls are forms of communication that I want her to understand will receive a response, the Great Big Yip has a limited future.

The Great Big Yip means “regardless of what you’re doing, I want this specific thing NOW.” And it’s of absolutely no benefit to her to learn that she can control her world in this way.
Yes, I want her needs to be satisfied, her wants to be fulfilled; of course I do. But what of a day when those yips can’t receive the reward she desires? How would she handle that disappointment?

Instead, I want her to learn that the Great Big Yip receives a reassurance, whether verbal or via another reward, that her request has been heard, but that it may not be fulfilled immediately. This is how the majority of her world within and without my control will work as she grows, and I seek to teach her the skills to adapt to that. But it also means that I have to pre-empt and disrupt Yipping Opportunities in so far as possible.

Yipping Opportunities often involve patterns that she’s spotted in her day that signal to her that a reward is about to arrive. In these instances, the Great Big Yip is a sign of increased arousal at the prospect of that reward – the noise of such great excitement that she is unable to contain herself any longer. This is most certainly not in her interest: there is a potential for that Great Big Yip and the accompanying arousal to escalate to greater and greater levels each time, and for longer in advance of the rewarding event as she learns and responds to the patterns that predict the patterns.

And so the Great Big Yip that seeks to speed up the delivery of her dinner as it is being prepared could be averted if the process of preparation didn’t predict the process of delivery. The chain of the donning of shoes and coat, and the collection of lead and car keys, would now be made variable and interspersed with other activities so that the arousal at the potential of an outing wouldn’t slide back along it. The set-up of planned learning and its associated ample rewards, the placing of a tripod, the preparation of bite-sized pieces of food, would now occur in increments and, as much as possible, out of her sight.

This is not about teaching her to control her arousal; instead, it’s about taking care not to put her in situations where the stimulation brought about by expected events is likely to escalate, and about ensuring that she has the understanding of, and skills to adapt to, the variability of her world.
Nothing like a Border Collie puppy to make you realise how predictable you are…

More articles to read to help you survive Year One

Shaping by rewards

When I see a dog showing a behaviour that is heading towards potential conflict, my first question is “what rewards are available?”

The Experienced Dog

Knowing your dog has receive sufficient preparation does not mean every eventuality, but a range of different conditions so that when the unexpected happens they will draw on their skills and solve the issue.

The Power of Passive Learning

Active learning: the learner takes active choice of what to do, how to respond, is attentive and making conscious effort
Passive learning: little conscious effort, reward is delivered for minimum effort.

Teenage Tearaway

Running off. Pulling like a train. Jumping up. Eating everything that’s left unattended. Forgetting their name. Anyone who’s ever lived with an...

Building A Generous Future

Maybe it feels like a doddle because my life with her wasn’t one of competing against who she is, trying to mould her into something else, or even just worrying about the potential fallout of every decision I made.

Fast does not mean better

We are becoming surrounded by a culture of fast. We are being sold that immediate gratification is the only solution.

Obnoxious Puppy

The delight of your new puppy is probably going to last a few weeks, maybe four if you are lucky. When 12 weeks old hits, and you will feel a slam, the Delight is going to demonstrate ungrateful, obnoxious traits.

A Day of Learning

A no-training day does not mean he gets a lazy day lying idly in the sun. Learning is still happening and this is significant and important for his development.

One day you will love him again

The puppy that you adored, could do no wrong, is now a living horror story. We want to use positive reinforcement, and our mind focuses on the success of what is not happening. But reinforcement attaches itself to something happening, not an absence and cannot select for a multitude of different things that are being reinforced.

What’s Cooking? A Warning About Recipes

Recipes for “training” dogs are so prevalent in how we live with and talk about them that their existence often goes unquestioned.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

News on courses, articles and stuff you don't want to miss.