How My Dog Trained Me!

by John Dow

I've recently participated in a new refresher course in dog training. This wasn't really on my agenda but a few circumstances developed that lead me down this path of re-education. It all started when my wife came home one Saturday afternoon and mentioned she had found a dog wandering loose. She dropped it off at one of our children's home. The plan being that they would put up signs to try and find the owner since the dog was found in the vicinity.

I should have know that there was something more going on when she elaborated on how cute and smart this dog was and that she hoped the owner could be found soon. We already had a dog, Spoofy, and two cats, Blackie and Baby, in residence. And on any given day they more than provided enough adventure.

Spoofy was a stray that one of our daughters brought home one stormy night. My daughter has since moved on but Spoofy stayed. The two cats had been strays that wandered up to the house one day when they were little more than kittens. They immediately adopted our dog as a surrogate mother, and Spoofy having been a mother in the past was delighted.

The two cats think they're dogs. They sleep, eat, and go in and out of the house with the Spoofy. They come when you whistle, they share table scraps with the dog, about the only thing they don't do is bark. The dog and two cats are inseparable and you will rarely find them apart. I never really had to train Spoofy, she just did what ever you asked her to do with few exceptions.

Flash forward about three days and I get a call from my wife, who just happened to stop by to check on our stray dog in search of an owner. She asked if she could bring the dog to our house for a while since our daughter was going out of town. She thought the it would be easier to have the dog at our house rather than going over several times a day to let the dog out while our daughter was out of town.

I should have known right then that this was a conspiracy. The daughter, the wife, and the dog were all in this together. I was the soon to be victim of this clever little plan. My wife probably paid my daughter to go out of town but that's never been proven.

So I agreed to the "temporary" arrangement and my wife and new friend, who was now named Tuxcitto, soon arrived with much fanfare. Tuxcitto was gladly welcomed by Spoofy since Spoofy likes anybody new, especially a dog. Blackie and Baby (the cats) were a little less happy with this new arrival. For one thing, he was jumping around like a crazy dog, the other was that he and Spoofy seemed to be getting along just a little too well.

Tuxcito was obviously overjoyed with his new "temporary" home. He had another dog to play with and two strange creatures to investigate. Tuxcitto looked to be a Border Collie. At the time I had no idea what a border collie did or the nature of their personality. Little did I know that the breed, and in particular, Tuxccito, could run about 60 miles per hour, leap over 5 foot fences, could escape any containment, and wanted to play 24/7.

The first day, once Tuxcito had explored every nook and cranny of our house, I sat him down to see exactly what he might know or not know. I told him to sit, stay, lay down, play dead, and he snapped to on every command. Hmm, someone has trained this dog. I asked him where Spoofy was and he turned around and looked right at Spoofy, then I asked him where Blackie was, and he then looked at Blackie. Uh Oh, this dog is smarter than a lot of people I know =8~).

Up until now I'd always had him on a lease when we went outside. So I let him, Spoofy, and the cats out in the backyard. He fooled around with Spoofy for a while, then checked out the entire backyard, bush by bush, tree by tree. All the time running over to get petted every so often by me and my wife. Everything was fine until he heard a neighbor rummaging around in his back yard.

Tuxcito stopped dead in his tracks, listening. Then with the speed and agility of a deer, ran right up to the adjoining fence and leaped right over it. Tuxcito cleared that 5 foot fence with room to spare. My wife jumped up, I jumped up and Spoofy and the cats turned to look. About then my neighbor yells over the fence, I see you have a new dog.

My brain cells finally clicked and I immediately realized two things. Yes, more than likey I did have a new dog, and that this dog was probably going to drive me nuts. And I was right on both counts as it turned out. But back to Tuxccito and his amazing escapes.

Over the next week or so, Tuxcito managed to find a way to escape every containment method we found to try. If we tied him to a stake, he pulled out the stake. If we tied him to a tree, he slipped his collar. The only way to keep him from escaping was to use a leash, he seemed to be fine with that. Every time the front door opened and you didn't have Tuxcito in hand, he was gone. Through the legs of many a visitor, and he was so quick you could not grab him.

When he would get out, he would just run up and down the streets checking out anything of interest. People, dogs, cats, houses, he'd swim down the bayou (he loves water) or whatever. He never caused any trouble, but he would not come back in until I went out and cornered him somewhere. My grandchildren were especially easy targets to provide an exit.

And of course he loved to escape just when we were leaving to go somewhere. So everyone always knew why we were late, Tuxcito and his amazing escapes. At first I would scold and admonish him every time I caught up with him to bring him back home. After a while I figured out that this wasn't going to work. I was reinforcing that when ever he did come to me (or most times caught him) he would get a tongue lashing.

And I remembered hearing somewhere that this was one of the major mistakes people make when trying to correct bad behavior in a dog. So my next ruse was to take Spoofy for a walk, and then Tuxcito would find us and want to walk with us. As soon as he came up I slapped a leash on him. But this got old too. Sometimes there were too many distractions, like neighbors riding bikes or kids playing ball. They were much more fun.

Then I started keeping treats with me and would frequently call him to my side. So every time he came to me I slipped him a treat. After doing this for about a week, he escaped again. So I went out and took Spoofy with me as bait. Sure enough, when I called him he scampered right up, and I gave him a treat.

So, in the end analysis, Tuxcito has trained me to give him a treat when I call him =8~). But we have overcome his great escapes, now he'll run around the yard until I come out to give him his treat. Which is OK, I can live with that. But it does demonstrate that using positive reinforcement is a much more affective dog training method than negative reinforcement or punishment.

About The Author: John Dow owns a website that provides free information on dog training. John gets to test this training information daily with his new dog Tuxccito. You can learn more here: http://www.freedogtrainingarticles.com.

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