Nicholas Cage says "Yum," * but I say "EEK!"

As  those who have been keeping up with my Training Tuesday series know, I have been working with trainer Crystal Saling to get Frankie over his fear of the noisy outdoors. The ultimate goal: to get him to my car, parked in the driveway of my house which fronts a busy street, without stress. Methods to achieve that goal include leaving the front door open while Frankie is eating, so he will associate the outdoors with good things.

But I’ve been taking a multi-pronged approach to the problem, one that includes using the Through A Dog’s Ear driving CD, which got a very pawsitive review on this blog recently. Part of that program involves playing a soothing track on it to Frankie at a time when he is relaxed, then playing it in the car without the motor running, then in the car with the motor running… you get the picture.

All was going smoothly. The music was playing soothingly right before bedtime when all of a sudden a big roach comes scuttling by.

I did what comes naturally. I picked up a shoe and went “THWACK.”

Frankie jumped up and ran out of the room.

I thought I did sufficient damage control by playing the track three times in a row after I induced him to come back. He didn’t seem permanently traumatized.

But when I told Crystal about the experience, fully expecting her to be sympathetic and say, “Well, that’s okay, Frankie will get over it,” she said instead, “You’ve got suck it up!”

Sensing my confusion, she elaborated: “If you see a roach, wait until it goes into the other room. If there’s a snake on your arm, leave it be. You know, just suck it up.”

I generally trust Crystal’s advice implicitly but this time… not so much.

According to (I know, what isn’t there a site for?):

American cockroaches are 1.5 inches long, making them the largest of the house-infesting cockroaches. American cockroaches generally live in moist areas, but they can survive in dry areas if they have access to water. American cockroaches prefer warm temperatures.

I don’t think anyone doubts my devotion to Frankie, but when it comes to choosing between a slight setback in his training or getting insomnia from worrying about where exactly that roach went and if it’s going to visit me in my bed, I’m going to choose upsetting Frankie slightly.

A sleep-deprived owner is a crabby owner.

Besides, I’m an animal too. I was only doing what came naturally when confronted with an enemy. Until I’m counter-conditioned to do otherwise, it’s instant THWACK!

Who’s with me here?

*In “The Vampire’s Kiss” (1989), Cage plays a literary agent whose consumption of a live cockroach is the first of many signs that he’s either insane or turning into a vampire.

33 thoughts on “Training Tuesday: Suck it Up!”

  1. With practice you can do anything and get better at it! I have laughed as my favorite potted plant went crashing to the floor, smile like a fool when I stub my toe so I don’t shout out expletives and scare Sunny, and cheerily tell all my dogs that I truly appreciate their chorus of barking at the bicycles that have gone by so I do not add any negative associations to the experience.

    With time I’ve seen that even when I’m not successful at remaining calm in the face of giant bugs, Sunny does indeed recover more quickly and seems to have developed more resiliency. In your case I would have seen the bug as an opportunity to give one of my dogs something to do 😉

    1. I tend to be clutzy and drop things around Frankie but he has learned not to be alarmed somehow; he knows that the projectiles are never aimed at him. I wish Frankie were more interested in chasing bugs; he seems perfectly indifferent to them. Hmmm. I wonder how he would feel about a gecko as a housemate…? I actually like lizards and don’t mind snakes though probably not in my house. Spiders are okay too. It’s just the roaches that pose a problem.

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  3. Flies, mosquitoes, cockroaches, snakes – all are fair game no matter where the dogs are. If Frankie sees it enough, maybe you can train him to do the killing! Well, maybe not the snakes 🙂

    1. I wish! Frankie seems interested in the flies but not much else. I’m glad to hear you’re on my side, thwack-wise…

    1. I love the idea but that involves way more coordination — and forethought — than I have. It was thwack first, think of consequences (to those other than the roach) later.

  4. She is right. These things happen. As far as sucking it up? Well, I’ve only seen 1 cockroach in my whole life, and it completely skeeved me out. I sympathize with your response.

    Living with a sound-sensitive (or generally sensitive) dog isn’t easy. I have to wait until Lilly is outside to open up binders, and we had to change our agility cue word for the chute from CHUTE to PUSH because … it seems, I say SHOOT! a lot at home, and when I used it on course, Lilly thought I was mad at her.

    1. Because I have met you, I know you’re sharp and sophisticated so I’m not sure what astonishes me more: That you’ve seen only one roach in your life or that you say shoot — as opposed to the same word with the much shorter vowel. Luckily, Frankie doesn’t confuse that word with “sit” in our household; otherwise I’d have to censor myself, which might be more difficult than resisting roach thwacking.

        1. I did not hear any swearing that I recall, sailor-like or otherwise. But I saw the potential…

      1. P.S. Remember … I live in a DRY, DRY climate. Not a lot of roaches around here. The only one I’ve seen nearly ran across my hand as I opened a door to a Chinese restaurant. Needless to say … we decided NOT to go inside for lunch.

        1. As do I — which is why I was shocked to discover that not only were there roaches in Tucson but that they could beat up New York roaches blindfolded. All they need is a water source — which means sink, shower, any of the watery amenities in a typical household.

  5. I’m in the anti-thwack camp on this one. CC&DS is delicate work, and a misplaced thwack can have consequences.

    OTOH, it’s probably a moot point in my house. Caffeine would have beaten me to the roach. Yum!

    1. If only I could train Frankie to chase — and eat — roaches that particular problem would be solved. Hmmm. Maybe I should redirect my energies?

    1. Well here’s the problem — if I put headphones on Frankie (and someone who commented on another post just sent a link to doggie headphones) he won’t hear the soothing music. But it’s true I could shoo the bug with the shoe and then thwack in the other room.

  6. I feel for you! I used to be an involuntary screamer when surprised by a bug! Luckily, Jessie wasn’t too startled and quickly figured out that she was about to get to chase a bug, as that was my only provocation for screaming.

    Somehow, over time, I’ve learned to croak out BUG! instead of screaming and Jessie is my little exterminator. She’s thrilled to chase it down and kill it for me.

    With a fearful dog, I think I would have scared her to death. I’d probably have given poor Frankie a heart attack! It’s very easy, unfortunately, to reverse progress in a fearful dog. The dog just knows that you suddenly lost your mind and behaved unpredictably and somewhat scarily. 😉

    When I lived in warmer climes, we did get quarterly extermination service which got rid of all bugs but the few lucky ones who followed me through the door. That’s one way around the involuntary bug response!

    1. Believe me, if I could get rid of the bugs that would be my first line of defense. The city stopped spraying the sewers, which left the bugs a free run of the city’s residences. I would have to find a “green” extermination service, so as not to get poison in Frankie’s range (far more traumatic than thwacks)!

  7. Well, I believe the problem is in the conditioning. Dogs learn by associations. What such incident might do is to created association between the soothing music and major scare … see what I mean? So that is kind of the opposite what you want to achieve with the music. That’s why Crystal said what she did.

    I feel for you and understand your reaction. However, such incidents can be highly counter-productive.

    I read a story about a dog who coincidentally REALLY learned the meaning of the word “No”. In the kitchen, the owner was cooking something while dog was hanging around. She got clumsy and dropped a large pot. Just as the pot left her hands she exclaimed “No!” which was then followed by a huge crash of the pot hitting the ground.

    There was no doubt in the dog’s mind that the word “No” means “stop what you’re doing immediately and run for your life”.

    I don’t blame you for reacting the way you did, but I don’t blame Crystal for her response either.

    I think you do need to find a quieter way of dealing with the odd pest, whichever that may be. I think I saw a product “suck a bug” some place. Kind of like a tiny vacuum device, small and I imagine quite quiet.

    Not sure how that works, but might be worth looking into to keep both you and Frankie sane.

    Otherwise, the only solution I can see is to condition Frankie to the Whack being a positive sound, which I imagine could be quite an undertaking with him.

    1. Crystal will be pleased at the support she got here and on Twitter for the most part, though I did get some sympathy. Maybe I’ll try a WHACK treat WHACK program next? I hope I don’t have so many bugs as to warrant that…

    1. Geez. Gotta bunch of roach lovers on this blog! Fine, fine… I’ll go apologize to Frankie for upsetting his delicate sensibilities.

  8. Spare me! Sure, Frankie was startled. And then, trust me, he was interested and excited. I’ve seen both Frankie and Archie in similar circumstances, and that’s the drill. Then, after they recover from their startle (1 minute), they think they are big game hunters (even though they hid behind our thwacks) and stay on the alert for a half hour. I feel confident that you can restart the music training, and at the same time, in deference to the non-thwack (a freakin’ cockroach!!) experts, learn to flee the bedroom and sleep on the couch instead of thwacking. Don’t forget to take Frankie with you (being left behind would be a lot more traumatic than a thwack).

  9. Great comment to Roxanne…the whole “sit” confusion might be worth of a funny video contest;-) I get what Crystal, Eric, Debbie, and others are saying and I think this is the beginning for you and Frankie – you’re discovering how deep this goes in him, where his limits are and what that means for the types of amendments you’ll need to make to your reactions to smooth the bumpy bits for him.

    I met up with a cockroach(it came in from Bombay) once that was so big it must have had a name and address. I was afraid thwacking wouldn’t kill it, as easy and perhaps satisfying as that would be, so I had to, yes, crush it to make sure it would not run, scurry, flee away. So that would be my suggestion. I know you have to act fast, so – put the shoe on your hand and crush the thing. That way your vigilance is rewarded, Frankie undisturbed–as long as there’s no screams involved!

  10. Oh, and I only meant the “beginning” and “getting to know how deep fear goes with Frankie” comment in the context of according to a trainer and their recommendations on behavior modifications.

  11. It looks like, with Clare and Mary weighing in, the anti-cockroach contingent has gathered forces. A roach that had its own address indeed! I think the crush vs thwack issue is tied to roach velocity. I’ve done a one-two thwack and then stun. Crushing is only possible when you can surround the enemy…

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  13. I’m impressed that you were able to thwack a cockroach to death successfully–those suckers are fast! Before I had dogs, I was known to stalk the cockroaches in my kitchen with a can of Raid, waiting to see their antennae peeking through the crack between the dishwasher and cupboard. Yuck!

    1. Ha! Well that’s why I had to act quickly. And now I couldn’t even use bug spray if I wanted to, what with having Frankie on the ground, eager to lick up everything.

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