Archives for posts with tag: teaching your dog to think

Every good dog needs an education, not just the teaching of basic commands, but enough of an understanding about the ways of the human world they share with us to make appropriate decisions when circumstances require them to do so.

As many dogs do not.


Will your dog learn not to cross the street when cars are coming?  Probably not, but she definitely can learn to wait at the corner or the curb or whatever you have to separate pedestrians from traffic.  Will your dog learn the command “Use your inside voice”?  Maybe yes, maybe no.  But she can discern the difference between letting her hair down at home, so to speak, and manners befitting an outdoor cafe, a trip to the hardware store, a walk through a street fair.  How will she learn these things?  With education that is not robotic.  With education that encourages, even requires her to think and make decisions and to do so mostly for the pleasure of getting it right.  And by allowing her to figure things out when she is ready to do so.

When I take a service dog in training, meaning in my case, a puppy, to a restaurant, I do not ask her to sit or lie down next to the chair I am sitting on or under the table.  I usually tell the pup, this is your space for now, and proceed to converse with both the waiter and my companion.  Of course I do not ignore the pup.  I always watch her out of the corner of my eye.  At first, the pup will stand there.  What?  What!  What…  And then the pup, observing that I am happy to be where I am, will relax and either sit, fine with me, or lie down, also fine with me.  If you are lucky enough to be training a pup when you have an older, trained dog, the pup will merely copy the older dog.  Oh, he’s relaxed.  I think I’ll lie down, too.  Either way, the pup has made a sensible decision, and aside from perhaps an ear scritch, needs nothing from you.  Why not give a treat, say?  Because the emphasis is on the rightness, the comfort, the calmness, the satisfaction, the safety of making a carefully thought out, appropriate, sensible decision.  And the beginning of making good decisions when you are not around to give you opinion or a reward.

Are you teaching your pup to heel?  Good for you.  When you say the command, eventually your dog will fall in at your side.  But the dog who has been allowed to make sensible decisions will also fall in at your side when you are walking in a crowd. And like a service dog who often will help other people when that’s an appropriate thing to do (yes, it is appropriate sometimes), your dog may begin to decide when there’s something she can do without being asked.  She may get close to you or someone else who is feeling bad or sad.  She may put herself between you and something causing you to be stressed.  She may even bring a toy or ball when you are the one who needs to play.  She may pull you into the park, but not into the street.  She may – but don’t count on it – make the sensible but heart wrenching decision not to steal the defrosting roast.  Yeah, well, maybe that’s more sensible than we can count on.  But still.

As always, thanks for stopping by.  It was the sensible thing to do!




La Paz


When training your dog, increase his ability to think, his confidence, your pride.  As he learns new commands, begin to string them together and see what happens.

Wait, Take it, Come, Out



As you admire your teaching ability and his learning, don’t forget that he knows things you don’t.  Be sure to observe him when he’s outside, when he’s meeting new people, when he’s interacting with other dogs.  Note what he does when you’re happy, when you’re feeling ill, when you plan to leave the house with him, or God forbid, without him.  Figure out what he thinks is funny so that you get it when he cracks a joke.  Take him seriously, too.  He’s so much smarter than you think!

Need more hints?  Here they are:






I have always been fascinated by canine intelligence, seeing time and again that it is far superior to what most people think.  And because of this, I have always been very interested in smart dogs and have always tried, with any dog I have lived with, to do things to encourage my dog to think.  I love to see how dogs figure out problems and find solutions that work well for themselves and those with whom they live.  I also find it intriguing that different dogs have different kinds of smarts.  Obviously, the hunting dog can flush, point and retrieve game in a more enthusiastic and efficient way than a terrier, say.  On the other hand, if you had a mouse problem, you might prefer a Border terrier to a Labrador retriever.  The job a dog was bred to do will color everything, the way he works, the way he plays, the way he thinks, and while any dog might do anything well, if you are trying to choose a dog for a specific task, you are best off choosing one bred for that task.

But there are other ways our dogs show off their intelligence.  In our last apartment, we had a window in the wall between my office and the living room.  It is a given when your husband is an architect that he will not only make the earth move, he will also make walls move.  One day, when the window was open, I tossed a ball from the living room into my office for Dexter, a pit bull mix, to retrieve.  Dexter’s way was to climb over the sill, to use his powerful muscles to hell him go directly to where he knew the ball was.  Later, when Flash, my second service dog, was a puppy, I did the same thing.  As my arm rose up to toss the ball, Flash tore down the hall that led to my office and was there to catch the ball on one bounce.  Different strokes for different folks.

What about your dog?  Do you play games that let him use his sense of smell, gradually moving the object farther away, then off the ground, then behind an obstacle?  Do you give him choices so that he gets to make decisions?  Do you continue to teach new things, to challenge him, to make him think?  Do you name objects for your dog?  Do you ask him to get the ball, the duck, the Frisbee?  Do you require that he do his best once he knows what doing his best means?  Do you respond to his appropriate requests so that he continues to try to communicate with you?

Some dogs are born brilliant.  Other dogs become smarter and smarter as you work with them.  Every dog deserves the chance to use his mind and shine.  What have you taught your dog lately?  What has she taught you?