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Are you smarter than your dog?

By June 5, 2015 No Comments

How Many Tricks do YOU Know?

By Dawn Todd Take a moment if you will to consider how many “tricks” you’ve taught your pampered pet. Go ahead… I’ll wait.If you’re like me, you’ve got “sit” nailed, and after that it gets sketchy. Now think for a minute about how many “tricks” your pet’s taught you.

This month’s question is, who knows more tricks?

Dr. Todd discusses vaccinations

I had a lovely conversation with Mr. Peters last week about his cat. He shared, “My cat has my whole day planned for me. She gets me up at exactly 6:00 am and she wants to go out. Then at 7 am she comes in for a little milk. By 8 am she wants to go back outside, at 9 am she’s wants back in for a bit of canned food, then she naps, by noon she likes just a tablespoon of her dry food….” and on it went throughout the day.

Count up the things this clever cat has taught her human to do: get out of bed, walk and use those handy hands to open a door, use her voice to get her person to come back and open the door again, get her human to pour milk into a saucer, fetch canned food, fetch dry food… you get the picture.

In a recent behavior consultation I was doing, the canine we were working with was exhausting his human with a brilliant game he’d devised to play when he was bored. 

Here are the game’s highlights:

1. Mom and Buddy the talented terrier are sitting on the sofa watching TV. Suddenly, Buddy runs to the back door and barks excitedly.

2. Mom jumps up and runs to the back door and lets Buddy out, then goes back to the couch.

3. Buddy runs at warp speed around the large house up to the front door and barks excitedly.

4. Mom jumps off the sofa and lets Buddy in the front door.

5. Both go back to the sofa to relax.

6. Two minutes later Buddy jumps off the sofa and runs to the back door barking excitedly…

7. Mom jumps off the sofa…. well you get the picture.

You gotta give Buddy credit! From a dog’s perspective, that’s a pretty complicated trick he taught his human, and in this case, it was so much fun for him that he wanted to do it over and over and over again.

I am by no means immune to being trained by my furry friends. My constant companion, the four-pound Emperor Caesar has me trained to do all kinds of things with his sounds and body language.

Here’s an incomplete list of the “tricks” he’s taught me to do on command:

•Pick him up

•Take him down off his throne and put him on the floor

•Fetch a saucer of warm foamed milk for him in the morning

•Get him a new dinner when he doesn’t like the first offering.

•Freshen up his water with an ice cube

•Let him share my dinner…. you get the picture!

Dear Dr. Todd and I often joke that Caesar is not the smartest dog we’ve ever known, just the cutest. But then I remember that I’ve only trained him to do one thing (and only if he feels like it), while he’s trained me to do at least a dozen things on command… begging the question, who is working for whom?

I guess my point is that while many of us (maybe even the majority of us) have allowed our pets to train us more than we’ve trained them, we should probably give some thought to balancing the scales. 

I do believe that working full time for a spoiled rotten canine or feline boss is only a problem if it’s a problem for you. I don’t believe in any of those silly rules like “dogs should never sleep in the bed with you”… it’s your life and your relationship.

However….. As the person who does all the behavior consultations in our practice, I can assure you that sometimes when a pet has shaped your behavior more than you’ve shaped theirs it does in fact cause real problems, especially with canines. 

Here are this month’s top three tips to balance the training scales:

1. Take time to train.

Pick one small thing you’d like to train your dog (or cat) to do and work on it for 5 minutes up to three times a day. Short frequent sessions are much better than longer sessions. Practice daily and add new tricks to keep training fresh and fun.

2. Keep it positive. Never use force, inflict pain, or use a harsh tone.

The primary purpose of training is to strengthen your relationship with your pet, not damage it. 

3. Pay close attention to exactly what behavior you’re reinforcing.

If your dog barks at you and you open the door, you’ve just confirmed for the dog that barking works to open doors. If your dog potties outside and you snatch him up, bring him indoors, put him in a crate and go to work all day–you’ve just accidentally punished him for eliminating outdoors. He’s learned to delay eliminating outdoors because as soon as he does–all the fun stops and he goes into a crate.

Bonus tip: The golden rule of behavior shaping is this: dogs, cats, kids and husband only do what works. If your dog makes a particular sound and it causes you to look, or better yet, pick him up immediately – he’ll do it more. If your kids leave the dirty dishes in the sink and you do them, that worked… and you can expect dirty dishes in the sink again!

Want to learn more?

We’re now offering fun and interactive training classes for teaching good manners. Although the opening of Noah’s Playground has been delayed by all the rain we’ve been having, when it opens we’ll offer more fun activities for building your relationship with your favorite furry friends.

Looking for some one on one advice? 

Dawn’s available for Behavior Consultations at Noah’s Ark. The fee is $60 for a one hour session, which includes a written summary of recommendations and follow up. WELL PLAN MEMBERS… one behavior consult is included in your plan!