Dog Training – Who's Training Whom?

Dog Training – Who’s Training Whom?

By C. Rogers Upson

You know, as I think on training things more, something comes to mind. Sometimes you have to wonder who is training whom? Afterall, as we humans are trying to train our canine companions to comply with “house rules” about keeping the “den” clean (i.e., going outside to potty), we find we have to learn things as well.

For example, when puppy is only 8 weeks old, you have to learn to watch her to see when she’s getting ready to relieve herself so you can hustle her outdoors and start teaching her that is the proper place to go. Usually, if a puppy has her nose to the ground for more than a couple of seconds, that is one of the signals that she’s hunting a place.

You probably already know that puppies cannot go more than an hour of busy playing without needing to relieve themselves. So, you start watching carefully and take the furry child out when she starts to look around for a good place.

Between three and four months old, puppy begins to gain some control of bowel and bladder and you two have begun to agree on a signal that outside is a good idea. The people that will tell you their puppy was perfectly house-trained sooner, are perfectly trained themselves. I’m not saying that’s bad, just that it’s so.

Eventually, the lesson will sink in with the dog, but then, you run into the dog teaching you her signal for needing to go outside. My Jack Russell mix will go to the door and bark once, then jump up at the door. If I don’t notice, she’ll repeat it until I do.

My Border Terrier, on the other hand, has a much more subtle signal. He’ll come and stand by my chair. At first, I thought it was his way of telling me he wanted attention or scratching. He would stand there facing more or less away from me, but near enough to be petted. He finally trained me to understand that is his way of asking to go outside. As a secondary method, he’s managed to teach the JR mix to bark like she has to go out, but then, when I respond, it’s him that has to go, not her. She’ll back away from the door.

My “heart dog,” a full-blooded Jack Russell Terrier, used to trot between me and the door. The more imperative that she go out, the faster the trips. She’d come and look at me, then trot to the door. Come back and look, then to the door, until I got the hint.

Now, you can modify this behavior to some extent by encouraging a particular signal be used. Scratch at the door, ring a bell you’ve hung from the door, come and place a paw on your arm, just about anything that will get you up out of your chair to let her out. Perhaps it’s a certain tone to the bark–a rather high-pitched yip? Maybe it’s that breathy whine with the mournful look?

The upshot is, to be able to teach your dog a signal you decide on for this particular behavior and need, you first must learn what the dog’s signal is indicating the need. So, who is training whom?

C. Rogers Upson has been training dogs and studying them for nearly 40 years. Her website is Dog Potentials and she has two dog-related stores at Keeping to the Borders and Dog Potentials-The Store.

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