One of the questions I am asked most often is, “How long did it take to train your dog?” Of course, I don’t know the answer. Her training began with her breeder, Denise Wall, who began to use words that meant “Go potty.” Actually, “Go potty,” were the words she used, changed by me to “Smoke,” as in “Smoke ‘em if you’ve got ‘em.” If you don’t know the reference, you’re more than likely a lot younger than I am. In fact, you’re more than likely a lot younger than I am anyway. But I digress. Denise called the litter to come, en masse and one at a time, because we all, all the puppy buyers, had sent her names. So by calling them, she was teaching them to come to Puppy, Puppy, Puppy as well as to their individual names. She took them for rides in the car, sat and rocked with them one at a time in a rocking chair and started them eating solid food. During much of that time, their mother, Kate, was also teaching them and then, once Sky was eight weeks old and the airlines would allow her to fly, I became her teacher and over six years later, I still am. Like humans, dogs can be lifelong learners. And in my not so humble opinion, they should be.
So, what do you do after you teach the basics, a trick or two, and some specifics that suit your lifestyle: Go the car, Fetch, Leave it. For one thing, you name everything.
Throwing a ball? Name it. Asking for a toy? Name it. Does your dog need to slip under something, leap over something, land on something? Names, names, names.
How else can you keep that busy little brain alert? Hide something, but hide it so your dog can find it. And, you guessed it, give it a name. If you hide a toy in plain sight to start and gradually move it farther and farther away, your dog will feel empowered and learn how to search more thoroughly. Find the biscuit a few feet away (a great way to strengthen the “wait” command) can become find the (rubber) duck in the next room and eventually you can play in bed, because owners do get tired (even those younger than I am). Like babies, when something disappears (think Peek-a-Boo), dogs think it’s gone. So in order to teach your dog to find the toy you’ve hidden under the fold of the blanket, you will need to lift the blanket and show him it’s there for as many times as it takes for that to register. Once it does, you’re off to a new set of games, games to play while you are lying in bed. Lean over one side and roll the ball so that it comes out the other side. Command: Find the ball. Hide the teddy bear behind the pillows. Command: Find the bear. To repeat myself, which I do frequently, name everything.
There’s nothing wrong with talking to your dog, but, please, use a normal voice if you want him to focus on your words and learn a thing or two. When there’s a fork in the road, tell your dog “left” or “right” and point to help him understand. When there’s something interesting at the side of the road, tell you dog “Smell it,” which is an essential for a Smell it, Find it game – more brain work. If, like my second service dog, Flash, your dog loves to carry empty water bottles on his walk, give it a name and at the end of your walk, have him do “Paws up” at the recycling bin and then tell him “Drop it” or even “Put it in.”
Using your imagination, you can expand your dog’s. He’s a thinking creature and he loves to learn. How long will it take to train him? Who knows! The more you brain games you play, the faster he will learn, the more fun it will be for both of you, the better companion he will be.
Find the stick!