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Latest health and behavior news and advice from the veterinarians at Tufts University.

News & Views June 2016 Issue

Wrapped Around Their Paws

How dogs teach us tricks

I’m pretty sure Franklin and Rosie view me as a relatively companionable person — a toy breed (I’m short), perhaps from the sporting group of humans. That is, I’m pretty easy to have around, don’t snap at others (much), and most important, can without much difficulty adapt to their ways and learn the behaviors they seek in a biped.

When Franklin looks longingly at the food I happen to be eating, for instance, I tend to “get it” pretty quickly that I’m supposed to give him some. Oh sure, there are meals and snacks during which he has to exhibit more patience than usual in training me. Sometimes he needs to stare for a really long time. And on those days I forget the command entirely, he ends the training session without yelling at me or making me feel bad about myself and knows that he will just work with me the next day. He doesn’t stay frustrated for long when I blow the trick.

Rosie, too, is a good trainer. “Watch my eyes,” she instructs me. “When I jump on the couch or rocker on which I’m not allowed and look up at you sweetly from under hooded lids, it means I’m too adorable for you to demand that I get off. And when I run to you and wait patiently while you’re eating sweetened yogurt — well, you know the drill.”

Indeed, I do. They have molded my actions beautifully. In fact, if I had better conformation, the two of them could enter me in the Westminster People Show and have a good chance of coming away with a ribbon.

What is it about our dogs that gets us to do their bidding? Veterinary behaviorist Stephanie Borns-Weil, DVM, says that part of it is their staying power. We think we’ve done a good job if we work at teaching our dogs tricks for three to five minutes a day. But dogs never clock out. They are keen observers of our behavior, and they work hard to mold it — all day long.

Of course, there are times when all of us dog lovers feel we’ve created a taskmaster. A dog we love has gotten us into a habit, or habits, that we want to break but just don’t know how. Dr. Borns-Weil knows the secret for undoing a pattern with a beloved dog that we never meant to get into in the first place. We’re not stuck. Read about how to take back the training in the story beginning on page 1.

Happy tails to you,
Lawrence Lindner
Executive Editor

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