Intuitive dog training?

Since Ray adopted us, we have had many conversations with the Humane Society’s dog trainers, as well as other trainers and a behaviorist. Even Carol, who had numerous dogs in her past, freely admits that none were quite like Ray.

The end result is that we both had a “crash course” in training Ray; understanding him, and generally making living together congenial and beneficial for all three of us.

It has been such an education, just listening to these individuals and gaining the benefits of their education, experience and insights into all things canine, that I have to conclude that anybody who believes that raising a dog is intuitive, is nothing short of delusional.

We believe that we have done a pretty good job with Ray given that all three of us seem quite content and generally happy here! We have learned so many “situations to avoid” when training Ray and I wish that others would take some time to educate themselves.

We learned never to shout at Ray if he was barking. He would be barking for a reason, and us shouting at him could compound the situation because he could interpret our actions as “barking” also. He could easily believe that our “barking” was simply supporting his “barking”! The solution? Find out why he barks and then address that issue. (We needed help with that one!)

We learned that if he did not respond to a request, then not to keep repeating the same request. Logic dictates that if he did not respond the first time, he may not respond the second time etc. If he does respond (e.g. to “Sit”) after four or five repeats, then you may simply be reinforcing the fact that he only needs to “Sit” after four or five repeats!

We learned to think training through very carefully to ensure that his understanding, and our desire, are in synch. If he responds to a request, and he is a short distance away from us, then calling him over to give him a treat will likely be misunderstood. He is not likely to grasp that what he did deserved a treat, but more likely coming to us (being the last event in his mind) deserved a treat.

We have learned so much about dogs in general, and Ray in particular, but he still “catches us out” periodically!

Ray was initially afraid of pretty much any animal or human. We taught him that people and dogs mean treats and he eventually decided that they were good things and not to be feared (needed Behavior Adjustment Training program to recognize correct timing for offering treats). Our next step was to take him beyond just accepting that people and dogs mean treats, and coax him into initiating contact. This worked quite well and our standard request was “Say hello Ray”, and he would go up to the person or dog (may be touch them with his nose), and then immediately look back for his treat.

Everything was working out so well as Ray not only knew how to get treats, but he was much more comfortable around people and other dogs. Some people have questioned why he touched them and immediately turned away from them, but we just explained his training and they seemed to understand.

Having said all that, Ray has just made it clear that we overlooked a small point! We were out walking him and a lady was approaching us. She smiled and greeted us as she passed, but Ray decided that she needed some attention and so he went over and touched her with his nose, and then looked back for his treat. It was an isolated case, but then it happened again. Our initial reaction was that Ray was being rather proactive and simply “working the system”, but he was very inconsistent which questioned that theory.

We know that he will be best friends with anybody who has treats in their pockets, but that did not explain this behavior satisfactorily either.

The other day we were out and a lady approached us with a polite “Hello” as she passed and Ray, once again, touched her and then turned his head to get his treat. One of the earlier ladies had also said “Hello”. Our request to Ray is “Say hello Ray”!

We think that Ray is picking up on the “hello” sound as meaning go over and touch, and then you’ll get a treat. He does not care who is actually saying the “hello”! Put him in a group of people all saying hello to each other and he will think that he is in doggy heaven!

Training can be very tricky. Intuitive? Hardly!

28 thoughts on “Intuitive dog training?

    • You use an interesting choice of words. We have never commanded Ray do anything. We just ask him and he does it! As for “showing him off”? I am interested to know why you would need to do that?


  1. Oh, I would like to hear about this doggy heaven, if ever it happens!

    And you really are right about dog training not being intuitive – even with an easily-trained and mostly easy-going dog like Choppy, it still didn’t always make sense to do things the way I was told they needed to be done. It makes sense now that I have seen it done and seen it work, but there is definitely nothing intuitive about certain aspects of the training (especially the whole ‘when to give a treat thing’ – makes sense now, but it was hard to work initially!).

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  2. Clever dog. Sometimes with Farley it’s about training me and not him. I’ve realized that when I say “Comere” in a blurry way instead of saying “Come” or “Come here”, he listens to me. I think there’s something fun for him when I say the command in a certain way. I try to pay attention to what he responds to and train him that way. So now I wonder, who is training who?

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    • Hi Ilex. Not really. We have “picked the brains” of the Humane Society’s trainers so often over the past (almost) 3 years that some of their expertise had to rub off! 🙂


  3. Some interesting information here. As you know I have cats and yelling at them doesn’t change anything except maybe making them fearful. I am always trying to figure out how to adjust their behavior by figuring out why they are doing it, just like you do. Wish more people did that.

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        • Absolutely. Not only do they put their perspectives on the animal (how far away from reality can you get?), but I find it sadly humorous when I hear a long involved dialogue being presented to an animal as a reprimand “Now how many times must I tell you that Mommy doesn’t like you barking at every dog you see?” This is closely followed on my frustration list by owners who, when questioned about their barking dog, reply “Oh that’s what dogs do!” Why doesn’t it cross their mind that every action has a reason behind it. Poor Ray was paranoid about other dogs, which is why he barked at them all. He wanted them to go away! Once that was identified, we could see how to address it. Sometimes I am convinced that some dogs are smarter than their owners. 🙂

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  4. You know Colin…I am so glad you and Ray found each other. It warms my heart to hear about your care and love toward him, and it makes me happy to know that Ray is happy and making progress every day. And he sure does make life exciting! 😉 Best, phoebe

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  5. You and your family have been wonderful “parents” to Ray, bringing out the best in him and giving him back a life of joy and gentleness. Good for you! And good for Ray, too! Have a great weekend, 🙂

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