My “Somewhat-Trained” Pup Is Good Enough for Me!


If my three years as a dog sitter have taught me anything, it’s that there is no such thing as an overly trained dog. My dog, Riggins, certainly would never be mistaken as such by anyone, but he knows basic commands, and that’s pretty good.

As pet parents, we tend to gloss over our baby’s problem areas, or maybe we just get used to them. Whenever I watch a dog with a crazy amount of energy, I have to remember that Riggins was just like that once. Actually, worse.

Puppy Riggins practicing his "down." (Photo by Wendy Newell)
Puppy Riggins practicing his “down.” (Photo by Wendy Newell)

Riggins is 10 years old now and has calmed down considerably. He’ll still give the mail carrier something to think about if he dares to deliver our mail when the front door is open, but other than that his energy is saved for the effort it takes to jump up onto the human bed for a midday nap.

As a puppy, he was out of control. I remember one day taking him on a local hike and calling my boyfriend at the time in tears because Riggins had jumped up on someone and hurt himself when he tumbled to the ground. It was obvious that he needed some training that went beyond the skills of his first-time pet parents.

We signed Riggins up for a session with a local and well-loved trainer, Zack Grey. The three of us — Riggins, his dad, and I — were going to school. Riggins’ dad didn’t last longer than a couple of classes. He acted like he was too busy, but I really think it was because Zack didn’t like the way he treated Riggins and didn’t seem too fond of him as a human, either. Nothing was ever said, but it was obvious that Zack knew long before I did that Riggins’ dad needed to hit the road.

"Do you have a treat? I'll do anything you ask for a treat!" (Photo by Wendy Newell)
“Do you have a treat? I’ll do anything you ask for a treat!” (Photo by Wendy Newell)

In class, Riggins was a star! He would often be the dog grabbed to show the others how to do whatever they were learning at that moment. Even at that age, Riggins craved human attention and was happy to get the kudos.

Once Riggins graduated, I fully intended to enroll him in a more senior class. I didn’t. Life got in the way. It usually does! That didn’t stop me from showing off Riggins’ amazing skills:

  • Sit
  • Down
  • Stay
  • Leave it
  • Let’s go
  • Shake
  • No street

That’s it. Seven commands. I used to be somewhat embarrassed when asked if Riggins knew any tricks, knowing it was me, not Riggins, who was to blame for his lack of learning anything beyond the basics.

Sitting pretty for Lori. (Photo by Lori Fusaro)
Sitting pretty for Lori. (Photo by Lori Fusaro)

When I decided to get professional pictures taken of Riggins and me, photographer Lori Fusaro had me fill out a form, which included asking if my dog was trained. I replied something like, “Not really.” During our session, Riggins was sweet as could be and did everything, or almost everything, that Lori asked of him. When we finished our session, Lori let me know that I had misled her on the form and that my sweet baby was much better trained than I thought.

Teaching Riggins "sit" and "stay" helps with capturing photos of him but I can't stop him from rolling his eyes at me! (Photo by Wendy Newell)
Teaching Riggins “sit” and “stay” helps with capturing photos of him, but I can’t stop him from rolling his eyes at me! (Photo by Wendy Newell)

Lori’s statement shocked me but always stuck in the back of my head. I didn’t think Riggins’ seven commands were anything to write home about, but apparently others did. When I hear a dog is “trained,” I expect to see him dancing a choreographed number with his mom, like those talented pups you see on YouTube. Sit and stay just don’t seem to be worth mentioning.

That is, until I started dog sitting! I love almost all of my part-time babies, but I’d be lying if I said I loved every single one of them. You would see right through me! I’ve watched a lot of dogs. Of course, a couple I could have done without. The fact is, training beyond “sit” doesn’t seem to be a priority for many (obviously very busy) dog parents.

Sometimes Riggins holds the leashes of the less patient dogs so we can get a good picture (notice he is stepping on his friend's pink lead). (Photo by Wendy Newell)
Sometimes Riggins holds the leashes of the less-patient dogs so we can get a good picture — notice he is stepping on his friend’s pink lead. (Photo by Wendy Newell)

Knowing what I do now, I am much more impressed with Riggins’ skills. When I was traveling for work, my mom took it upon herself to add “go around” to Riggins’ repertoire.

In the right situation, like you holding a treat that he wants, Riggins won’t even wait for his commands. He will go through his tricks one after the other, hoping that he will find the combination that will impress you enough to release the tasty morsel in your hand. Sit (pause to see if that works), paw out to shake (pause to see if that works), down (pause to see if that works), walk around (pause to see if that works), and then do it all over again!

Riggins wanted to show off his most impressive moves for you:

Riggins may not be a show dog, but he knows seven treat-worthy commands, and that is good enough for the two of us!

What commands do your dogs know? Let us know in the comments!

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