Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Most Useful Things I Taught My Dog

Now that Finna has come to live with us and we're back to square one with an untrained dog I've been thinking a lot about the things I've taught Ranger that make him easy to live with. Sure the basics, sit, stay, come, etc., have been very important don't get me wrong. Every dog needs to learn the basics. They are the foundation of good manners and a canine citizen of whom you can be proud. But the basics are just the starting point. As you develop your relationship with your dog you encourage him to learn the things that are useful to you. These won't necessarily be the same for every dog. What works for me and mine won't always be the most useful for you and yours.

In thinking about it there are Four things that I'm very glad I have taught Ranger. I've taught him "Wait," "Finished," "Beep," and "Stop." I use three of these directives all the time. "Stop" is in a category all it's own. I don't use it all the time but I constantly train it. "Stop" is the command that can save a dog's life. "Stop" is the command that shows your dog is under your voice control. "Stop" is the command that seldom gets used but always gets practiced. "Stop" means cease all motion and freeze in place. I almost never use "Stop" but we work on it several times a week. As a result when Ranger was off leash playing with pals and abandoned his play to run toward a family with young children (Ranger adores children) I could yell "Stop" from halfway across the park and have him freeze until I could get to him and reattach his leash. The family who would have been justifiably concerned to see 90 lbs of unleashed canine heading toward them at full speed was reassured by seeing him stop on command and wait for me. Everyone had a great time together. I haven't had to use "Stop" to save him from injury or death but if the circumstances every arise the behavior is there.

"Wait" means exactly that, wait. It means don't get out of the back of the car until I have your leash on. It means don't go out the door until we're both ready. It means be patient for a minute and then we can go. Behaviorally it means stay in this place until released. In practice it means I can open the back of the car, realize it is cold enough that I want my coat zipped, zip my coat, then leash Ranger and release him to come with me wherever we're going. I use wait all the time.

"Finished" is another one I use a lot. The idea of having a directive for we're done now, that's enough, stop being a pest came from Patricia McConnell's book The Other End of the Leash. She describes teaching her dogs that being patted on the head twice and told "enough" meant they should stop soliciting petting and retire quietly. I started out using "enough" but when I started reading Sean  Senechal's book on teaching K-9 sign I found her sign for "Finished." This is formed by raising both hands together from waist to shoulder as if you are putting up your hands in a hold up. It's a great sign and easily recognized. My father, who spoils Ranger outrageously, had been feeding Ranger graham crackers. When he finished giving Ranger the last one in the package he tried to tell Ranger there were no more but Ranger continued to sit politely looking soulfully at my dad waiting for more good things. I explained to Dad how to sign "Finished." Dad looked at me like I was nuts but tried it. He was surprised and impressed when Ranger got up and walked away to settle on the floor elsewhere. "Finished" is I'm done handing out treats, no more petting, this training exercise is over and I'm done brushing you for now.

And finally, "Beep." This is not something I decided to teach it's the directive that just arose from living together. "Beep" means move out of my way. Ranger is a big guy and if he's laying in the middle of the hall he's blocking the way. Often I'll just step over him but if I've got my hands full of something it's easier if he moves. "Beep" just evolved. I don't know why I say "Beep" to tell him to move but I know in the beginning I'd nudge him with a knee or toe and say "Beep." Now I can have him move aside with just the word "Beep."  It's so helpful to have this directive and it's nice because it lets him choose how to move out of the way. I just ask and he moves.

We're already exposing Finna to these concepts. At the gate before a walk I hold her collar as I open the gate and say "Wait" when she stops straining at the collar I release my hold and she darts out (and yes, I also have hold of the leash). when we get home and she charges into the yard I say "Stop" and use the leash to prevent forward motion. If she's in the way she's told "Beep" and nudged gently aside. When we're done with something we sign "Finished" and don't do anymore. These are the most useful things I've taught Ranger and I expect they'll be equally useful with Finna.

What useful things have you taught your dog?


  1. Lilly knows 'shake' which does not mean to handshake, rather to shake water off after a bath. It was easy to train using the natural instinct to shake--then to give a treat while saying the word 'shake.' She figured it out pretty quickly.

    She also knows 'go find daddy' which will have her tear through the house and attach my husband with great enthusiasm. I trained that on the sly--by arming hubby with cookies and taking Lilly to him for one, then walking her away--she was unwilling to leave so it didn't take many 'go find daddy's' for her to figure that one out. Poor man can never play hide and go seek.

    Her third expression came after we watched 'Meet the Fockers' We loved the "poop" symbol and started using it when we knew she needed to made a solid yard deposit. She will now eagerly bark if she has to go poo if you make the symbol--if you make it other wise she won't react at all even if she needs to go out.

    I am thinking of training her not to cross a yardstick. Then if I am mopping the floor or want to keep her out of a room I can just put down a stick rather than a true barrier.

    Our starter Golden,Jake, would get the newspaper, carry grocery sacks into the house, and deliver items to my husband. Lilly doesn't have Jake's retriever instincts so that is lost on her.

  2. Ranger knows shake (shake hands with the right paw), high five (with the left paw) and dry (shake the water out of his coat). I love the yardstick idea and plan to steal it.

    Ranger also knows speak (whisper bark) bark (loud bark) and talk (although he's not as good at doing that when asked--very good at doing it when he wants). He recycles things for us. He can find any named family member and hidden treats. He's working on learning to carry a bucket. So far he's only willing to take it and set it on the ground holding it long enough to walk with it will take some work.

    Thanks for sharing Lilly's skills.

  3. Before our sweet little Staffie-cross had to be put to sleep, I taught her sign language. It came in great use when I let her go for a run in the park and wanted her to stop and stay and only used her name once loud enough for her to stop and look, then I signed the rest of the orders for her to sit and stay. I had some treats in the my pocket for her to munch on as rewards for being good when she did them... and that's how I taught her sign.
    It took me a little over a year to teach her; and she wasn't a young dog either... quite old being around 11 or 12 at the time. So, you can't tell me you can't teach an old dog new tricks. Jessie lost her sight after that; and so her ability to understand me was lost too. But she still loved being patted and my blather that was my voice when I read LOTR to her during a thunderstorm (yep, she read a really high-brow kinda dog) was funny. She didn't like me reading any other kind of book... and I could open to any chapter of any book and just begin reading when the storms became too loud while she laid next to me and I sat on the floor with her. Weird kinda dog, eh?

  4. That's a lovely story Mozette. I love it that she only liked good literature.