In 1995 a little papillon was born. Thanks to an impressive overbite, she was labeled "pet quality" and made available to a "pedestrian" like me. Papillons can be hard to come by, so I jumped at the chance to meet her. After a long drive to the breeder's home (sadly, more like a puppy mill), I found a litter of pups cowering in the corner of an oversized terrarium. The room's pervasive odor must have choked the voice of reason in my head, as I found myself handing over $500 (cash only, please) to rescue a two-pound bundle of fuzz.
Before leaving the breeder's house, I met the dam, whose nickname was "Frantic Franny." Despite her alarming name, she turned out to be only a wiggly dervish of a dog who loved to lick. The breeder had already spoken to me about papillons needing Froot Loops in their diet, due to their tendency toward hypoglycemia. I suspected that Franny had been popping a few too many Froot Loops herself.
That is how I became the besotted owner of my first toy breed dog. I named her "La Miette," which sounds delightful if you know how to pronounce it (la mee . 'et). Most people would make a best guess by calling her Minuet, and one vet just called her Meat! La Miette is French for crumb, and was selected because my Miette was a wee crumb compared to the large cats and dogs already in my home at the time.
The animals happily accepted this odd-looking pup with satellite-dish ears. I, on the other hand, spent weeks terrified of stepping on the little hairball. A bell on her collar did nothing to assuage my fear, as I shuffled around the house like a prisoner in ankle cuffs.
Miette taught me a lot about toy breeds. She made it clear that, to her, humans were hulking monsters. So, I taught her a "pick up" cue to alert her before I lifted her up. Her diminutive size and quick movements forced me to hone my handling and training skills. Miette also brought new life to the word finicky; she had endless fun carrying her kibble around and dropping it in front of other dogs, daring them to steal it. They all cringed appropriately when she soprano-snarled (in French, of course), and, thus, a princess was born.
Despite some Princess and the Pea tendencies, Miette was actually a real dog trapped in a frou-frou body. She ran with the big dogs, played tug like a vicious, midget badger, and loved car rides. Most exciting for me, she was the first puppy I trained from day one as a clicker dog!
A few months before adopting Miette, I attended my first clicker training workshop, given by Karen Pryor and Gary Wilkes. I was so smitten with the technique that I began using it with my own pets right away. Seeing my pets' enthusiasm and the speed at which they learned made me a clicker convert in short order.
By the time Miette joined my family, Sherri Lippman and I were planning our first clicker training video. The princess made her acting debut on Take a Bow Wow at the tender age of 4 months, having already learned a nifty repertoire of clicker trained skills. She starred in two more Bow Wow videos after that, and also earned her keep doing some print ads and TV commercials, as well as by making visits to a local nursing home.
As my first completely clicker trained dog, Miette happily served as my guinea pig and paved the way for all of my pets since, as well as for my clients' dogs. Positive reinforcement techniques have gradually seeped into my daily interactions with people, too. Dog trainers can have the reputation of being control freaks, and that particular description fits me. But thanks to clicker training, I have pleasant techniques to manipulate and shape behaviors to suit me!
Early this year, Miette was diagnosed with cancer. As the disease progressed, it became an increasing challenge to find foods she'd eat, and her energy waned significantly. Despite this, her desire to work resurfaced a few times well into her illness, surprising me and reminding me just how powerful clicker training is. Miette would present herself during another dog's training session, looking at me expectantly. As I cheered her on, we'd work our way through all of her tricks, to her great delight.
Those were very poignant moments for me. It was plain to see just how much joy Miette felt working, and the dog's enjoyment is undoubtedly the loveliest benefit of clicker training. Miette is no longer with me, but I feel lucky indeed to have had this precious dog in my life, joining me on a wonderful clicker training journey.
"La Miette Frivole"
July, 1995 - September, 2006