Hi everyone, Kirsty here! Cooper and I have both been through a lot in the past year. I recently re read some articles and interviews about Cooper and me, and I realised that some information is outdated. Also, I realised that my daily training habits with Cooper have gone through a number of changes that are worth mentioning! So here it goes, a few corrections/updates:
Cooper the Counting Dog
A number of articles claimed that Cooper could count. I have always stated that although Cooper was answering independently, I don't believe he can actually "count." I never saw evidence of that. I don't know how he was able to get so many of the answers right, but my best guess is that he was memorising the arrangement of the kibble. With 1-3 pieces of kibble there aren't too many different arrangements you can create!
I have not practiced the counting trick with Cooper since summer 2015, because I felt that it was too misleading and his performance was not reliable enough. He could only perform this trick decently if I practiced it many times in a row and then tested him soon after. With his complex tricks it's not uncommon for him to need some "ramp up time" or practice time; this is the case with his shape sorter. However, with the "counting," it took much, much longer for him to be able to get a decent percentage of answers correct. It seemed more like he was re learning it.
Communicating using Buttons
Cooper's use of talking buttons also received some attention in the press. The buttons are something where he did seem to demonstrate an understanding that persisted over time, unlike with the counting trick. However, I haven't been using these buttons lately. I still believe that communication devices could be used to help dogs be more useful to us (if they aren't already) - especially for guide dogs and other working dogs - but for our day-to-day communication, Cooper and I get along just fine communicating without the use of buttons. For a while I was so focused on the use of the buttons that I wasn't paying close enough attention to the messages he was already giving me through his body language and expressions of love.
For a while I was spending a lot of time training Cooper, both practicing old tricks and teaching him new ones. Since a series of recent events, I have no longer been training him on a regular basis. I will occasionally teach him something new based on an idea or request, and I sometimes have him do a few tricks to get a treat, but overall we are not currently spending very much time on training at all (December 2016).