I’m a Dog Person.  Don’t get me wrong, we had cats when I was a child, and I like cats.  But my world changed (as far as pet ownership goes) when we got a dog. 

     My poor mother, I don’t know if she had any idea of what was going down when on a Saturday afternoon, my family piled into the station wagon for a “drive.”  The destination was a horse ranch on the far outskirts of Phoenix where they also bred and dogs.  Doberman Pinchers specifically.  That afternoon we came home with a Brutus. 

     On the long ride home, the conversation swirled about two specific topics.  What to name the puppy and mom’s long lecture on how we would all be responsible for caring for our newest family member, and the importance of training.  Looking back, I’m sure that her primary concern was all important “house training”, however it was soon clear that the quiet, observant, dog quickly figured out the rules and pecking order of the new pack of humans he would live with, and then quickly aligned himself with the ladies in the house. Clever dog, right?

     Brutus has been gone for decades and my mother to this very day will provide story after story of how special he was. Between my brothers and I, he was my primary responsibility, and I was his human.  And his training included joining 4H to attend obedience training classes.

     I hope you noticed that I omitted the word “dog” before the words “training classes.”  The classes specifically focused on the basic commands heel, stop, sit, stay, and come.  Our instructor had a class of young children and array of dogs from large to small.  What she knew and the rest of us attending the classes would figure out (some of us faster than others) is that training dogs isn’t hard, the challenge was to train the humans.

     Apparently, what dogs need is clear correlation between command and reward, and consistency in applying the two factors.  Once that foundation is set, the dogs are good to go.  The problem is with the handler, which in my experience was usually an adolescent who wasn’t too consistent, when it comes to “consistency.”  Our poor instructor, she was the living, breathing example of the phrase, “patience of a saint.”

     After a year of Saturday morning classes, we went to the county fair and among the agriculture competitions which included chickens, rabbits, and other livestock, a small dog show focusing on obedience training classes was held.  It was fun, we won some ribbons, but we didn’t go back for year two because the mission was accomplished. The dog (and human) had been trained, and the dog many times picked up the lessons quicker than the human.

     We should give our dogs and cats the credit they deserve. As young babies they leave their mother and siblings and make their way in a whole new world dominated by another species.  They learn the rules of their new home, forge life-long relationships, and along the way effectively train the humans.

     Today, my miniature schnauzer, Reilly who is 13 going on 14, has mastered the training of his humans.  Yes, he knows the basic obedience commands but over the years, I’ve learned and respond to his commands too. For example:

  • He comes to me and waits for me to set aside the task I’m working on at my desk to take him outside to do his “business.” 
  • He knows when my mother has finished her coffee and can now be approached to get his peanut butter treat in the morning.
  • He knows sit, stay, quiet, heel and quiet (Schnauzers tend to be barkers)

     But the training went both ways. We’ve learned his commands such as “out,” “peanut butter”, “food,” and “pet me.”  He knows how to deliver the requests clearly and often gets a quick response. 

    As the “smart human” I’d like to believe that I’m just more attuned to his behavior and therefore able to determine the reason behind his behavior and respond because it is appropriate.  As the “loving human” I pay attention because I care deeply for my pet.  But occasionally, the thought occurs that he’s trained me.

    That is no small task for a 17 lb. miniature schnauzer.  After years using patience and persistence, he finally got the “smart” humans trained. Kind of humbling when you think about it.