Pet Wellness: What’s Not to Understand?

Like most dog owners, I think my dogs are pretty smart. After all, they learned everything I taught them. My Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Chester and Devon, were particularly bright: Chester sat on a "stand stay,” Devon rolled over on a "down,” and both went to the end of their leashes on a "heel”! It wasn’t quite what I intended, I have to admit, but I think I know where I went wrong. If you’re having the same problems, perhaps you’re doing what I did:

1.I tended to repeat myself. We would be off leash in the park. "Chester, come.” Can’t hear me? "CHESTER! Come.” Too busy? "CHESTER, COME!” He meanders towards me. Next time, I am at the back door. "Chester, come.” No response. "CHESTER! Come.” No response. "CHESTER, COME!” He makes his way. He’s no dummy — he’s learned to come on the third command.

2.I was making gestures. Standing shivering in below-zero temperatures while the puppy Devon investigated the outdoors I would never have guessed how useful "Go have a pee…go on,” accompanied by a sweeping-pointing gesture I wasn’t thinking about, would be. As time went on, the gesture was all it took. In this instance it was a positive thing, but it made me wonder how many other gestures he’d picked up on that I didn’t know I was making.

3.I was inconsistent. I would say "sit” and Devon would hesitate, his huge, round eyes asking "Are you sure?” but "Devon, sit” got the correct response. That’s what I taught him and that’s what he wanted to hear.

4.I used the same commands for different tasks. It was amazing that my dogs ever hit on what I wanted, because it was "get down” (off the couch), "get down” (out of the car), "get down” (off that person’s white pants). Then there’s "lie down”, "sit down,” and the all-important "down.”

5.I used the wrong tone. I could tell my boys hadn’t learned the English language if their ears were pricked up and their tails were wagging when I was telling them what bad dogs they were. The right tone got the message across.

Before you conclude that I’m a total incompetent, I should tell you that I did have Devon in obedience classes as soon as he was old enough, and he graduated in first place. But it’s easy to become lax. Don’t let it happen! I just about lost Chester to the wheel of a car because he didn’t come on the first command. Some commands are very important for your dog’s safety, but it’s also your responsibility to raise good doggy citizens.

Communication is the key in dog obedience. Use whatever words and whatever gestures you wish, but be consistent. And remember, dogs ARE smart. They will pick up on what you say and do, and make associations that may or may not be what you intended. Don’t blame the dog for your miscommunication. Correct yourself first. Only correct your dog if you’re absolutely sure he knows what you want, every time. Lavish praise for everything done correctly will ensure it. It’s very easy — all a dog really wants is to please you.