Nika and the Great Big Yip

by | Mar 22, 2023

Pup chewing a broccoli stem

YEOW!!!!!!

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…

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