I could have titled this – When your dog gets too smart for his own good.
You are training your dog and you notice that he has already moved on to the next trick. Or, you ask him to do something and he does every other trick he knows. Or, he does the last trick he finally learned no matter what command you give him.
- Cross your arms. Don’t look at dog. This will usually calm the dog down.
- If at first you thought this behavior was cute, you probably gave the dog positive reinforcement even if you didn’t realize you were doing so: a smile, a laugh, telling him/her it was cute. (I am so guilty of this. Sinatra always learns the tricks first so when Mr. Beans learned Scoot (going through my legs backwards) before Sinatra, I was so thrilled that I overdid the praise. Now he wants to Scoot all the time.) So, be mindful that you aren’t giving positive reinforcement unless the dog does the trick you want.
- Work on one or two commands only per session. Make sure the dog does only those commands. (This is boring, right? I hear you.)
- Ask for only one command at once. I am also guilty of this. Sit and Down seem to go so well together, but I can see how saying them one after the other could make the dog do them one after the other all the time. So mix it up.
- Watch your hand signals. Dogs really cue in on hand signals. I realized how close my hand signals for Scoot and Spin and Go Through were so I changed them up a bit.
- If the dog does something you don’t want, absolutely no treat. It might be cute that the dog gets your slippers, but if you didn’t ask for them, don’t treat out of guilt.
- Slow down. Here’s another one I’m guilty of. Once the dog knows a trick, I am anxious to move on. Sinatra is an especially fast learner so I have to give Mr. Beans time to catch up. This means putting Sinatra in a sit position and leaving him there to “watch”. He doesn’t like it, but I do reward him for staying put, so he does it.
- Dogs are show offs. Sinatra finally learned “You’re under arrest.” He is so impressed with himself that he wants to show off his new trick all the time. I ask him to “Go Around” and he does his new trick. He learned “Go Around” a long time ago so he doesn’t find it a challenge anymore. He’d much rather do his new trick. Again, no positive reinforcement.
Here’s a story that will illustrate just how much a command can get into a dog’s head. My husband and I were visiting my mother-in-law. She was buzzing around – as mothers often do when their children visit—and my husband wanted her to sit down and just enjoy our visit. So he said, “Ma, sit down.” And didn’t our dog sit down obediently.
We used to clap whenever the dog caught the ball off the wall without having to chase it down. In other words, she was catching it right off the bounce on the wall. One summer we were traveling with her across the country and we stopped at a free outdoor Jazz Festival. Every time the audience clapped, she thought it was for her and she was looking around very perplexed. So, choose your praise signal carefully.