I Didn't Train This!
A few years ago, my parents moved in with us for about a year. Because we had more people coming in and out of the house, we had more chances that someone would forget to check the garage door before letting the dogs out. To avoid any late night dog collections, my parents got into the habit of calling the house before they opened the garage. My Dad also had his own new habit – always dolling out a few treats when he came through the door. Not to be outdone, my dogs also got into a habit. Whenever my parents were not home and the home phone rang and it was a very short conversation, my dogs would immediately start barking, run to the door, knowing that Grandma and Papa were about to come in. But wait. I didn’t train that. I didn’t spend any time, any effort, whatsoever, to teach my dogs anything about this. Yet, in less than a month, all of my dogs figured this out. In less than a month, they created an automatic behavior. They paired the sound of a short phone call to my parents coming in. So what? Who cares? I do! And so do you! Why? Because this is an excellent example of how dogs are always learning, even when we are not training.
It’s been 2 years since my parents moved out. Still today, if the home phone rings and the conversation is very short, my dogs immediately believe that my parents are coming through the door. I’ve changed the words I use. I’ve changed the tone. But clearly there is something in the way I answer the phone or speak that my dogs know when it's my parents on the other end. Don’t be fooled into thinking I have extraordinary dogs. My dogs are a range personalities, breeds, and ages. Still, they all made the same connection, learned the same concept, without ever being formally taught.
I love this. It proves that we are always communicating with our dogs, even when we don't realize it. It also proves that our dogs are perpetual students. They identified the scenario that brought them their rewards and began to predict it with nearly 100% accuracy. How amazing is that? How awesome is it to know that no matter the age, the personality, the breed, we can take advantage of our dogs’ desires to always learn.
The next time you think that maybe your dog can’t be trained, think of the ways he has already learned things that you never taught him. Then think of how you can take advantage of his desire to learn and start training!