By Laura Pakis, Certified Professional Dog Trainer and Blogger,
When it comes to dog diversity, it is unfair to generalize about dogs in most cases. They can be affectionate, impulsive, wild, slobbery, and adventurous. Some are eager to please and some are stubborn. While one dog likes to chase squirrels, another may like to crawl under the porch and lay there until dusk. There is only one generalization that’s almost always accurate. Dogs are smarter than you think.
To many people, a dog is just too dumb because he won’t come when he’s called. The next day, however, his intelligence sky rockets when the owner comes home to a mess in the house. “Oh, I can’t believe this. You know, he did this to get back at me. I left him at home today after promising to take him for a ride. Come on, you knew these were my favorite shoes!”
A true understanding of a dog’s capabilities can come through training and consistency.
Professional dog trainers do not underestimate a dog’s smarts. Often, a dog will try to avoid the work by “playing dumb,” because it has proven successful in the past. Once a trainer teaches that the dog’s acting skills will not work, the dog usually begins to improve rapidly.
When it comes to actual skills, dogs bring a lot to the table (and, if trained well, don’t take anything off it).
Of course, owners begin with the basics: wait, leave it, off, loose leash walking. These skills, while relatively simple, provide an important foundation upon which any further training will build. When learning to sit on command for the first time, a dog is not simply learning to perform the task, but also learning to listen and respect the owner. He forms self-control with these basic training commands as well. Soon he can learn the place mat command, which requires him to know both the basic wait command and the correct spot to do it.
Advanced skills can involve both a dog’s intelligence and also his natural olfactory abilities.
After basic obedience training, a dog can advance into territory that combines and alters the simple commands to result in complex tasks. Masters of these complex tasks are the ones who become police dogs, search and rescue dogs, and service dogs for the blind or handicapped.
Scent work teaches dogs to associate certain smells with certain things. Trainers make use of these associations and teach the dog that a certain smell will mean reward. This is what makes it possible for a dog to sniff out hidden drugs or find survivors buried deep in rubble.
The talents of a dog do not end with a super snout. Canines can be extremely sensitive and pick up on tension and emotions. This makes them perfect for therapeutic situations. A well trained therapy dog can visit hospitals and nursing homes to help the sick and elderly and brighten their day. Acme Canine and many other places conduct classes for advanced dogs to become therapy dogs.
Therapy training is difficult in a somewhat different way than other training. While it doesn’t necessary involve complex tasks or physical exertion, it requires a dog with extremely good self-control and obedience. One test is as simple as walking across a room, but the dog must do it while people in wheelchairs or with canes crisscross his path.
Reading dogs perform a similar role to therapy dogs. They visit libraries and schools with their owners and let children sit with them and read to them. Studies have shown that reading comprehension increases with the Reading Dogs program and kids love reading to their furry friends. Acme Canine has its own program which travels around central Ohio and also holds classes for individual owners who want their dog to become a reading dog. Obviously, this kind of work requires just as much, if not more, self-control from the dogs (and owners) as therapy work. There are often long lines of children who want to read to them and they have to stay gentle and patient with each and every one.
While every dog may not be cut out for therapy or digging through rubble to save lives, most of them are capable of a lot more than they appear. Lessons, classes, and workshops are always available to improve your dog’s skills, no matter whether they can sniff out bombs or can barely find their tail. Training of any kind can improve a dog’s happiness and obedience, show his true potential, and create a deeper bond between dog and owner.
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