We train our dogs to do certain things, like sit, stay, lay down, retrieve or even run through an agility course. Training a dog takes patience and persistence. It means providing consistent clues that your dog will eventually come to understand if done in the same manner. But I’ve recently come to wonder, have I trained my dog, or has she trained me?
Every time we sit down to eat dinner, our dog Daisy runs to the front door, whips around and stares at us. Invariably, one of us says, “Daisy needs to go out” and my daughter groans, gets up and lets her out. Most of the time, Daisy does her business, but sometimes, she runs out to the middle of the yard, expecting my daughter to follow her and hopefully play. This has led us to believe that Daisy’s behavior of running to the door and then staring us down, has trained us to respond in a particular way, and has us wondering if she brags to the other dogs that she has trained her human to stand up and open the door on command.
Likewise, Trixie the Wiener Dog has my husband trained to take her for rides in his John Deere Gator. Whenever he starts it up, Trixie comes running and wants to go for a ride. Batting her big brown eyes at him has trained my husband to go a little farther, to even ride around the ranch, when all he had planned to do was put the Gator away for the evening.
How else have our dogs trained us? Trixie knows several words and reacts to each of them differently to get us to react. The words “food”, “want to go out”, “want to sit on the couch” or “get a toy” all elicit different reactions from Trixie, for which we are trained to respond.
If Trixie wants food, but we think her stares mean “I want to go out”, she will continue to stare at us as we go through our litany of “want to sit on the couch?”, “get a toy!”, “want to go out?”, until we get to “want your food?” and she becomes one of those cartoon dogs running so fast towards her food bowl that she runs in place for a few seconds on the slippery wood flooring. And the way we are trained is that we respond by giving her some food (given that it is near dinnertime).
Our dogs have us trained pretty well to meet their needs. Think of all the ways in which we have trained our dogs and you may discover that they have trained us to do even more tricks. So the next time your dog has you doing a ‘stupid human trick’, think about your learning curve. How long did it take you to master your trick? Now apply that to your dog training and you will find that you will have much more patience the next time your train a new puppy to sit and stay.