Like any proud parent, I love showing off how smart my kids are. Of course, mine are of the four-legged variety, but that doesn’t stop me from bragging about their brilliance to friends, or encouraging my darlings to show off their remarkable behavior and training for company.
We have a pretty good repertoire of tricks to choose from. My dogs and I have participated in various training and tricks classes through the years. Mayzie and I even tried out a doggie dance class once. She’s quite the brindle Ginger Rogers, but me? I’m definitely no Fred Astaire.
Yes, I’m pretty proud of all the things I’ve been able to teach them to do. But recently, I’ve started wondering who’s really training who around here (and seeing the humor and truth in it all). It seems they’ve both been able to teach my husband and I some pretty nifty tricks, even if their individual teaching styles are wildly different.
If Mayzie were a human teacher, I imagine she’d be the rah-rah kind that everyone loves. Very outgoing and willing to stick with you until you got it. She’d stay after class, patiently work with you, and then she’d throw a party when you finally got that A.
She also wouldn’t be above tricking you into learning, just as she did with me.
At first, it was fairly subtle. Standing at the patio door, she’d looked wistfully outside, then wistfully at me, then wistfully once more at the back yard. Concerned that she needed a bathroom break, I would ask, “Do you need to go out?” Upon the utterance of those words, her wistfulness would turn to “Oh, yes! My bladder is about to BURST!” Dutifully, I’d get up to open the door which she’d bolt through with the urgency of a gal who really, really had to go. But once outside, she’d come to a sudden stop, stretch out leisurely on the grass, and mentally give me an A- or possibly a B+, depending on how quickly I had performed the trick. This went on for months before I finally caught on and refused to open the door unless it had been a few hours since she’d been out.
But a good teacher never gives up on her student and she decided to approach the problem in a different way. A few weeks later, Mayzie suddenly became tense as she gazed outside. Her hackles went up and she let out a deep, low growl, giving me visions of some masked intruder creeping through our yard. Concerned, I rose from the couch and peered cautiously into the yard before opening the door. As before, she bolted outside, stopped, stretched out and gave me my grade for the day. And yes, this happened many, many more times before I finally figured out what was going on and put a stop to it. However, I feel confident that Miss M is currently working on a new method to try with her obviously learning-resistant student.
Ranger is just as effective of a teacher as Mayzie but his approach is quite different. Imagine that teacher in high school or college that you kind of hated because he was so tough. But when you look back on it now, you realize how much you learned from him. Or to put it another way, Ranger’s kind of the Yoda of dog teachers: “Do or do not. There is no try.”
Case in point: Like many terriers Ranger loves to burrow into blankets. However, the damnable lack of opposable thumbs makes this task difficult for a dog to achieve on his own. Does he whine or cry or paw at the blanket? Does he climb into your lap and lick you into submission? Nope. Imagine: There you are, watching TV when you suddenly feel goose pimples on your neck, a shiver runs down your spine. What could it be? A ghost? A peeping tom? Slowly you turn to find this:
That’s right…the intense, unwavering stare of a terrier. He doesn’t move. He. Just. Keeps. Staring. “Everything okay, bud?” Staring. “Do you want to go out?” Staring. “Are you thirsty?” More staring, perhaps mixed with a small, impatient sigh. He really expected more from you. “Ohhhh! You want your blankie!” With a slight roll of his eyes — “You’re smarter than this, you know” — he settles down while you hurry to cover him up. Beneath the blanket you hear a grunt of either approval or disappointment, and you silently promise yourself that you’ll do better the next time.
So whose teaching style is better? Does it really matter? Between the two of them, we’ve learned to be on time with meals and walks, to look out the window when they bark, and to get up early enough on the weekends to watch the sun rise. And I bet they brag to all their friends about what smart humans they have. (Well, I bet Mayzie does, at least.)
Your turn: What has your dog taught you to do? Tell us in the comments.
About the Author: Amber Carlton is owned by two cats and two dogs (all rescues), and is affectionately (?) known as the crazy pet lady amongst her friends and family. She and her husband (the crazy pet man) live in colorful Colorado where they enjoy hiking, biking and camping. Amber owns Comma Hound Copywriting and also acts as typist and assistant for Mayzie’s Dog Blog. She encourages other crazy pet people to connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.