Every dog should be taught the basic commands for obedience. And even as I write that last word, obedience, I cringe a bit. My goal has never been to rule my dog, but to teach them proper manners and appropriate behavior. Most importantly, however, is these ‘obedience’ commands are essential to the safety and security of your favorite friend. They just don’t always pay appropriate attention, and if chasing that squirrel leads them into traffic, then it’s very important you can get them to stop before they get themselves injured or killed.
On the lighter side, you may find the basic commands come into play in new ways. We had this bit of a light-bulb moment with Tucker at the reservoir the other day. First, it’s important to understand that Tucker is a super obsessed ‘fetch-dog’. He loves fetch. He thinks we should all play fetch with him all the time. There is not a single moment in the day, really, when he wouldn’t rather play fetch. We like to indulge his love of fetch, but there is simply no way to do it as much as he would like. Also, when we’re at the park, it’s a bit of a waste to spend that time throwing the ball. See, we go to the park so he can explore and socialize. His sister, Maya, is great at this. She meets other dogs, says hello to all the humans, chases mice in the fields, etc. Tucker, on the other hand, will only focus on the ball when fetch is in play. He ignores everything around him. We may as well play fetch in an empty and sterile back alley in the middle of the city for all the good the venue provides. Plus, when he’s playing fetch, he gets a bit possessive of the ball. He’ll bark at other dogs if he has any reason to believe they might threaten his ball. Often, it’s quite amusing since he has the ball in his mouth while he tries to bark, and on most occasions they are at least 20 feet away and not even paying attention to him.
We typically allow one of the trips each week to the reservoir to include fetch for Tucker. It’s a chore and bit burdensome, but he enjoys it so much, and it does tire him out, that it’s hard for us not to. On the other days during the week we don’t bring the flinger and we don’t intend to play fetch. He, being the obsessed little boy that he is, will almost always manage to find a stray ball and begin tossing it at our feet. We ignore him, and tell him ‘no’ as we walk past it, but he just picks it up and tries again a few steps later. This will go on for the entire walk if we let it. Our solution, until most recently, has been to play the trick of throwing it one way, and then tossing it into some bushes or otherwise in another direction where he can’t find or retrieve it. Yes, this makes us feel like jerks, but it was the only way to end the obsession and get him to again engage with his surrounding beyond the ball.
So for the past year that has been our routine. We’re annoyed, he’s disappointed, etc. etc. Until last week, when instead of playing the whole fake throw trick we went back to basics. This time we told him to DROP IT. Followed by LEAVE IT. Two of the most basic commands we taught him early on for what we predicted as good commands for safety purposes, (picks up a dead animal, or a chocolate doughnut, etc).
Now don’t get me wrong. He’s not so well trained that we just uttered these words and it worked like magic. It took a couple repetitions, and physically putting myself between him and ball as we shooed him away, but it was the first time I’ve ever used the commands to have him drop and leave something safe and simple like a toy. It was a funny revelation for us, and a heck of a lot better than the old fake throw trick.
That’s it. No shock, but as I write this Tucker has approached with his ball to see if we can get a game of fetch going. Yes… yes we can. 🙂
(Creative Commons photo courtesy Marjolein, Flickr)