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Saturday, March 01 2014

     I believe we have already established that I'm a lazy dog trainer. I'm just lazy, period. As a dog trainer, I like to get bright dogs bred for certain tasks and simply shape behaviors the DNA leans a creature toward anyway. Am I aware that a bloodhound can be trained to do agility? Well yes, but I'm too lazy to do it. Am I aware that a Border Collie can be trained to track? Well, yes, but I'm too lazy to do it.

     I once completely confounded a Border Collie person when she invited me to attend her tracking practice with my Border Collie and I said, "But why would I train my Border Collie to track? I have a Bloodhound. I don't expect my Bloodhound to work cows and I don't expect my Border Collie to mantrail."

      I heard it said once that training a bloodhound to do cadaver work was like using your finest wood chisel to open a paint can. I'm not sayin' it can't be done. I'm just sayin' why go to the trouble if you have a better tool in your tool box.

     So that said, my laziness reached a whole new height this week. Even 'I' am amazed at how simple dog training becomes when DNA works in your favor.

Consider this:

Other Half is going deaf. We have seen a steady decline in his hearing over the years. Because of this, since Lily was a puppy, I've encouraged her to bark when she hears high pitched alarm sounds. Many of these pitches are completely outside the range of what Other Half can hear. Most of the time she is only alerting on alarm clocks and the microwave at the ranch, but my brand new coffee pot beeps to let me know the coffee is ready and Lily feels this is important enough to warrant alerting the household.

Every morning Lily is outside when I'm making coffee. Every morning Cowboy (Rescued Border Collie of Unknown Parentage) is in his crate in the living room when I'm making coffee. For the last two weeks each morning that the coffee pot beeps, Lily has erupted in barking from the front porch.

"Your coffee is READY!!!"

And each morning I answer, "Thank you, Lily. Good dog."

Yesterday this happened:

Coffee pot beeps. Cowboy and Lily erupt in barking. I thank them verbally. Get my coffee and ponder whether or not Cowboy has learned to alert on the coffee pot despite the fact that he has NEVER received any reinforcement for this or any related behavior. Decide it is a fluke. Finish my coffee and go on with my day.


Coffee pot beeps. Cowboy and Lily erupt in barking. Cowboy starts barking BEFORE Lily. I thank them both verbally and realize that Cowboy has indeed probably learned to alert on the coffee pot by LISTENING TO LILY.

Many animal trainers will tell you that dogs do not learn by watching each other. To them I say this:

Horse Hockey!

Dogs can and do learn from watching other dogs. I've used sibling rivalry for years to train dogs, but what I've watched Cowboy do this week is different.

The part I find most fascinating is that to my knowledge Cowboy has never been trained to alert on high pitched sounds. We've had him for several years and have never seen this behavior before, and yet, after watching Lily alert at the coffee pot for two weeks, he has decided that this is a chore he wishes to assume himself. Note that he has never seen Lily rewarded for this behavior in any way other than a simple "good dog." He just knows that in some way, the beep must be important to the human, so he should bark to alert the human when he hears it. Interesting. Very interesting. You realize, this opens up a whole new level of laziness for me.

I continue to be both amazed and humbled by the mind of a dog, particularly a breed of dog that has been bred to assist man in some way. I am firmly convinced that when it comes to teaching them, we are only limited by our own imagination, and their lack of thumbs. 

Good dog, Cowboy. Good dog.

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 08:50 pm   |  Permalink   |  5 Comments  |  Email
My dad would tell me how he and his dad would "train" the bird dog pups by bringing them along on the hunting trips to watch the grown up dogs. He said that the older dogs were much more strict with puppy discipline and "do it this way" than he and his dad.
Posted by Eric on 03/02/2014 - 07:47 AM
Folks that say that dogs don't train dogs are the same people who released a statement this week that claimed dogs don't feel shame for doing something humans find disagreeable. I trained my GSD/Cattle dog cross that she was only allowed to chase our chickens if they were on the back porch (chicken poo on the porch tends to find it's way onto shoes). Once they leave the porch, her job is over. When we got another dog as a pup, Mandy trained her completely on the subject. She would go so far as to tackle/pin the new pup if she was out in the yard chasing chickens. All with no prompt from me.
Posted by Carla on 03/02/2014 - 03:03 PM
My Maremma Bella I am positive learned the very fine tricks of Pyr escapeology from Mym when she was a youngster. She kept it up till about 15 yrs and in dodery old age. Non of the Maremma that came into this place ever got out except her and Mym. They were only partners in crime for about 1 yr.
Posted by Liz (Vic Aust) on 03/02/2014 - 03:35 PM
I find that not only do they learn from watching each other, but that sibling rivalry is a GREAT motivator and in some dogs is more of a motivation than food.
Posted by forensicfarmgirl on 03/03/2014 - 12:35 AM
When doing "come"...the first dog to come and sit by me got the treat. Wow, did that improve their "getting around to it"! :-)
Posted by Eric on 03/03/2014 - 11:09 AM

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