Things I wish I’d never taught my dog...

Things I wish I’d never taught my dog...
    Things I wish I’d never taught my dog.

    Things I wish I’d never taught my dog...
    Do you have any training regrets? CATHERINE PICKLES takes a look at the unexpected consequences of what we teach our pets
    Dogs learn. All the time.
    Whether we’re teaching them or they’re observing the world around them, nothing is wasted. Sometimes the things they learn happen accidentally – the sound of a wheelie bin frightens them and they learn to either avoid that part of the garden or spend the next 10 years barking at the poor soul who has to pass your gate every Friday morning. Every.
    Friday. Morning.
    You can tell where this is going, can’t you? It seems, quite often, that the lessons our dogs learn best are those we’d rather they hadn’t. Others, we teach in good faith, thinking that the tricks and skills are adorable.
    And once, of course, they were. A 10-week-old puppy offering a paw when he sits shows skill and patience. We’re proud of our dogs and how they demonstrate that we are ‘good’ dog owners. A 60kg Bullmastiff cross offering the same paw 18 months later, unasked for but hoping for attention, is not so cute. Especially when he then sends your tea and laptop flying through the air, gravity, and physics pulling them together so that the laptop lands just before the cup deposits its contents expensively all over the electronics... definitely, not so cute. And not so easy to untrain, either; in fact, almost impossible.
    You spent six weeks when your puppy was tiny and at his most malleable and able to learn, teaching this skill. Undoing it will take years. In fact, probably the only way to undo it is to never sit down, drink tea, use a laptop and ask the dog to sit again. By now, I hope you realize that you aren’t alone, and what is more, it’s not just naive or the inexperienced amongst us who have learned from bitter experience. Some highly experienced dog owners and trainers have done precisely the same thing – sometimes by accident, more often by design.
    Catherine Eyre, a first-time Greyhound owner, welcomed Dave into her home a few years ago.
    “Dave was a rescue and had limited life experience,” she explains. “He’d never been in a house and didn’t understand the concept of stairs, so he completely ignored them: it was like they didn’t exist, despite our encouragement. Then one day, he went to someone else’s house with my daughter and finally understood. She encouraged him and we continued to help him at home, thinking he’d finally settled in.
    “Why? Why did we feel the need for Dave to come upstairs? Once he finally worked out the stairs, it wasn’t long before he discovered our bed and he’s basically not left it since! I got a dog for company, but it’s like living with a teenager – he’s up there all the time. And at night, he stretches out, he farts, he kicks us in the head. We love him and we’d never change him, but if I hadn’t spent months teaching him about the stairs, he’d never have found out about the bed. We haven’t had an undisturbed night since!” When Dani McCarthy’s beloved Fidget died after a freak accident,
    she was distraught.

    “Fidget was special in so many ways and he had several quirks,” she recalls. “He was slightly obsessed with socks as a pup and would remove them from any flailing feet. Eventually, we taught him how to do it with a command,
    instead of randomly. But when he died, we missed him and ‘sock off ’ and made the mistake of teaching Phoebe, our new Lurcher, how to do it as well. Unfortunately, Phoebe learnt how to do it very easily, but unlike Fidget, we’ve
    never managed to programme the ‘off ’ button so she does it to any sock, on any person. If you come to my house, don’t take your shoes off, because not only does she take your socks off, she then thinks they are her treasure and takes
    them to her bed!

    Ice-cream fan
    Most people who own Labradors learn pretty fast that they will do almost anything for food. Maisie,
    Catherine Keable’s Labrador learned about ice-cream from an early age.
    “Maisie was bred by my boss’s family and, living and working in a rural environment, the dogs hung out around the office. Every week, the ice-cream van would arrive, jangling away with its tinny music. And every time, as well as buying ice-cream for the staff, the boss would buy some for the dogs as well. Maisie learned
    to associate the music with ice-cream and back home, living in a more urban environment, Maisie heard the ice-cream van quite frequently. That was her cue to stand on the back of the sofa and howl. And how. I know plenty
    of people who have managed to convince their children that when the ice-cream van plays its
    music, it means the vendor has run out of ice-cream – but you try convincing a Labrador of that!”
    Laura Hector remembers, “I taught a Labrador cross to sit up and beg on the advice of an agility instructor as a muscle-
    strengthening exercise. It wasn’t easy, as he’s not really the right shape or size, so we had to work hard to achieve it. I should’ve known better, really – it was never going to end well.”
    Billy, one of the most highly decorated working trials Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, was taught to clamber over a scale. It’s one of the most demanding elements of working trials and with a small dog, requires intelligence, strength and agility. Billy, now 11, has retired from working trials, but he puts his qualifications to good use on a daily basis, regularly scaling stable doors and fences, rendering his owner’s home like Fort Knox just to contain him.
    Lots of people have followed the excellent training advice that encourages owners to use the command ‘middle’ when they want their dog to return to a safe, protected position. Both Victoria Stilwell and Tom Mitchell from Absolute Dogs encourage this and it’s most wise advice. It involves the dog sitting between his owner’s legs, with his head facing forward. For most dogs, this is a fantastic skill, but if you’re short, your dog is tall and especially if you’re male, think through the speed at which the dog will perform this trick.
    Doggie in the middle “And also make sure your dog understands not to do it to random strangers,” says Karen
    Brooks. “Daisy, my Whippet, fortunately, isn’t too tall to do significant damage, but she’ll cheerfully perform ‘middle’ on
    just about anyone she likes, at speed, with no warning. This morning it was the post lady. So far she hasn’t broken anyone...” Collies learn super-fast, as Sara Bicknell remembers. “It took us one afternoon to teach Bill to drop a ball into a plastic bowl if he wanted us to throw it for him. Unfortunately, either we weren’t specific enough or Bill didn’t get the memo and we spent the next 12 years regretting we’d ever taught him it. Every cup, glass, vase or bowl – glass or China – was a suitable receptacle, regardless of who was holding on to it.”Dogs trained for television or film work are often required to perform very precise tricks. Jodie Mongrubah Forbes was asked to teach her Border Terrier to shut a
    laptop on command for an advert. “Now whenever I’m doing work and she’s not getting the attention she wants, she will come over and close the laptop I’m using!” Lynne Land’s Poodle, Mojo, a regular in films and adverts, dances when she hears certain types of music and, more irritatingly, has become something of a thief.
    Lynne says, “We do a lot of work in schools and I taught Mojo to go and get something out of my bag. The kids love it!
    Unfortunately, every bag I own is now fair game for Mojo and she often has her nose in there,
    rummaging about!” Life isn’t like the movies, according to photographer Annemarie King, who says, “I taught my Miniature Pinscher to collect the post. Never do this. Never, ever! Not if you want to actually read any mail you get!”
    And finally, if you have a cat, pay attention to what she is teaching your dog. Nik Oakley’s Petit Basset
    Griffon Vendéen, Louis, learned to open the fridge, aided and abetted by her pet cat, Mandy.
    “Louis’ golden rules were if the packet was opened, eat it. If it was unopened, bury it in the garden. It got out of hand when he took a turkey out through the cat flap and buried it under the apple tree.”
    But if all else fails, remember that your dog is only part of your life for such a short length of time. You might find that the mistakes you made and his not-so-endearing habits are the ones you’ll remember with rose-tinted fondness, long after the memories of his other more acceptable habits have gone.

    Hassan Anzit
    @Posted by
    writer and blogger, founder of Our Dogs Are Loved .

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