Dog behavior training is both an art and a science. Some experts say that a dog can have up to an 800-word vocabulary. I'm not so convinced of the number of words but I can verify that many of my dogs showed an uncanny ability to figure out exactly what I was trying to communicate.
One of the best dog training tips I ever got was from a neighbor when I got my first puppy. I was about 9 years old and this was the best present my parents had ever given me. My neighbor was an old hand at training dogs and had living proof in his own dog.
The first thing I did when I got Skipper (not sure why I picked that name, it just sounded right) was to rush over and show my neighbor. His name was hard to pronounce so every one in the neighborhood just called him Mr. D. So Mr. D was kind enough to run through some dog training basics and taught me a lot about how to take care of my new puppy.
Mr. D's dog was a Jack Terrier called Willie. Willie could do any trick and would respond to almost any request. Willie pretty much had the run of the neighborhood and was known by all. In those days people just let their dog out since there were no leash laws and no one complained. My Mom often gave Willie any leftovers or a soup bones when he would stop by for a visit.
So when I showed up with Skipper, Willie was as excited as I was to have a new playmate. Skipper was a Springer Spaniel that we had rescued from the city dog pound. Skipper was probably about 6 months old but we never knew for sure since the dog pound didn't know when he was born.
The first order of business was your basic dog house training. I got off pretty easy on this phase since Skipper seemed to prefer going outside to do his bathroom chores. From day one Skipper would go to the door and want to be let out when he needed to go.
Mr. D explained that the two most important things about any kind of dog training were rewards and repetition. The reward could be as simple as praise or a pat on the head. And that I should spend at least 30 minutes a day working with Skipper on anything I wanted to teach him to do.
So each day I would spend 30 minutes teaching Skipper how to stay, sit, fetch, and come when I called. Willie would come over and help too. I don't know if they actually communicated but having another dog around that already knew all these tricks had to be beneficial.
Skipper also showed a high aptitude for retrieving. Of course I didn't know at the time that he was a natural born retriever and took credit for being a great and skilled dog trainer. Once I got the basics down I worked on teaching Skipper how to heel, play dead, and not to jump on people.
Skipper started learning on his own too. When I was at school or somewhere that Skipper couldn't go, my mother would be his next choice in companion. In those days we had what was called a Bookmobile that was a bus from the local library that would come to the neighborhood twice a week.
Skipper figured out that when the Bookmobile came he got to go for a walk with my mother. So like clockwork, Skipper would come to get my mother when it was about 2:00 pm on Tuesday and Friday. Skipper loved to go since he got to sit at the door and welcome every one that showed up each day.
Skipper also knew when it was Saturday. Saturday was grocery-shopping day and when my mother went to the store she always asked the meat department for some bones. Skipper knew that he would get his favorite snack on Saturday afternoons when my mother came back from the store.
For the next 14 years Skipper was my constant companion and escort. Skipper was an exceptional dog in disposition, learning ability, and affection. I also had a big advantage having a helpful neighbor and watching him and his dog. Mr. D and Willie were both a huge help and positive influence.Dog training does require some dedicated effort but the rewards are more than worth the investment. My current dog, Tuxcitto, is a 24/7 project since he is a Border Collie and full of vim and vigor. But Tuxcitto is a lot like Skipper in that he is a fast learner and extremely affectionate companion.