You know you’ll use “sit” and “stay.” How else will you take silly pictures of your dogs? But what about “back up,” “walk up,” a recall while swimming? What about teaching your dog to throw a rubber duck into the bathtub? What about teaching your dog to shake her head and growl when you shake your head and growl? OK. No one needs that last one, though it’s gotten me a lot of laughs. But what about the others?
Teaching your dog anything will make her a smarter dog, a faster learner, more fun to be with. And then there’s another reason. You never know.
I had gone to visit a neighbor whose cancer had come back. I brought my then service dog, Flash, knowing he would comfort her, hoping I could give her a few happy minutes on a very, very sad day. I suggested she get into bed and she did. I never had to say another word. Flash got into bed with her and pressed against her, turning his head back to kiss her again and again. I sat quietly on the floor, thinking that in ten minutes, my neighbor, a very reserved woman, would get up, thank me and that would be that. She got up an hour later and threw her arms around me. “I’ve never been kissed by a dog before,” she told me, hugging me tight. “I feel so much better.”
On my way out, I passed the open bathroom door where her parents were giving a bath to her nephew who was about two. As I nodded to them, the little boy reached out for Flash and I noticed a rubber duck at the side of the tub. So I sent Flash into the bathroom and told him to find the duck. Which he did. And then I told him to toss the duck into the tub. Which he did. In no time, the little boy was giggling and his grandparents were laughing, a moment’s respite from their sadness, a small miracle which happened because I teach commands just in case.
Another time, we were in a crowded restaurant with Flash and the only place he could fit was sort of a little slot between our table and a wall. Had he gone in forward, he would have spent the meal staring at a wall. I had taught “back up” simply because it was easy and fun and because it was a nice way to practice “walk up” or “come,” alternating sending the dog away and asking him to come close. This time, “back up” did the trick. Flash could lie next to the table and still see us and the bacon someone had dropped a few feet away!
The basic commands are taught for your sanity and your dog’s safety. Beyond that, teaching is still a good idea because it makes the dog a richer, better companion and because, to repeat myself, you never know. Yesterday, coming home from the eye doctor on the bus with Sky, I was asked twice how long it takes to train a service dog. Like humans, dogs can and should be life long learners. The larger a dog’s vocabulary, the more willing a dog is to pay attention and learn on the spot, the more flexible he becomes. Education helps a dog to take things in stride, to entertain when that’s the perfect idea, to stay safe and even to crack more sophisticated jokes. Dogs – a great thing. Educated dogs – even better.