The dog has been man’s best friend as long as we’ve had the ability to tell ourselves that. The four-legged furballs have been around mankind for as long as recorded history. They have been used as pack-animals, shepherds, guard dogs, path-finders, and many other jobs that you or I won’t even think about doing. They demonstrate remarkable intelligence—sometimes—depending on the breed and the situation. There was a study recently published that likened the canine intellect as akin to that of a two-year-old child. Well, I have had many dogs in my life and I have to say that, depending on the child, that is not always true. Some adults I know would be hard-pressed to out-think our dog.
My wife and I share our home with a two-year-old mutt we call Baron. He is a border-collie-German-shepherd-and-something-else mix. We figure it is either a Rottweiler or Doberman Pincer based on his markings, but you wouldn’t think so based on his personality. He is almost all border collie by his behavior. This beast would run all day if we had a yard big enough. He does laps in the living room when he gets excited (and we don’t have a big living room by any means, so it makes for an interesting time) and he gets excited pretty easily. If you have seen “Over The Hedge” when the forest animals encounter the yard dog whose only line of dialog is the word “Play?” over and over then you have an idea of Baron’s attitude.
Now, as I said earlier, I have had dogs since childhood. My parents brought home Elka when I was a toddler because I was deathly afraid of dogs. Elka was the first generation offspring of a German Dog show winner. She was smart. She was brave. She took care of my siblings and me when we were out playing; she would sit and watch us like a shepherd watching a herd. If a playmate became too aggressive, Elka would gently but unmistakably let the wayward child know the error of his or her ways. She lived a long life and passed away several years ago. We had kept one of her puppies who lived almost as long. TJ was a loving dog, but not as smart as her mom.
When I moved out on my own, I got a dog for my kids, but as with any family pet, someone (me) gets stuck with the care and feeding. This dog would not learn anything. Housebreaking meant breaking something in the house to him. Don’t even think about mentioning tricks; the only trick this dog knew was how to get me to complete aggravation in 2 seconds flat. When all was finished with what was going on in my life at the time, I had to leave that dog at the pound. It was the hardest thing I have had to do.
In the dog’s defense, I didn’t know how to train a dog back then. I’m not entirely sure I know now, but Michelle and I are enjoying far more success with training Baron than any other dog I have had. Baron has a routine he does every night before bedtime where he sits on command, shakes a paw, speaks (which is trick for him because he is not a vocal dog, thank God) turns a circle left then right and then jumps on command. I have been working on getting him to hold a treat on his nose until I tell him to take it. This one is difficult for him, but he held it for 10 seconds the other night, so things are hopeful. After that one, his next trick will be to fetch a soda can for me from the fridge.
House breaking is a big issue for a lot of new dog owners and my wife and I did research before getting Baron, but the trick is getting a kennel and cleaning it a lot. Baron has had fewer than 7 incidents that required cleaning the carpet or tile. This is remarkable for a two-year puppy and a never ceasing source of joy for me. If you’ve ever had the fun of taking 409 and a scrub brush to a dark stain after using toilet paper for the hard part (if you’re lucky it was hard) you know the joy of not having to do it.
The thing about it is simple: you don’t teach the dog tricks—the dog teaches you how to train him. Once you realize this, you can see the dog not as a dumb animal, and not as a two-year-old, but as an individual personality. Then it’s a matter of learning how to get the dog to do what you want. That is actually simpler than following some ‘how to train your dog’ book. Baron is a smart dog. When he plays, you can see him figuring out the game and learning how to beat you at it. They say that Border Collies and German Shepherds are two of the more intelligent breeds (and after spending quality time with a Chocolate Lab I can say I have seen the other end of the spectrum) and if Baron is an example, he is a stellar one. And he is smarter than many people I know—including me…sometimes.
Every family should have a dog at least once. They have an uncanny ability to know when you need a pick-me-up nuzzle, a laugh or an excuse to play. They say that having a dog adds years to your life. I know they can add joy.