For Dogs, Learning is 24/7

treats please small cropHow much time do you spend each day training your dog? If you answered “30 minutes,” “An hour,” or even “Three 10-minute sessions,” you’re wrong. Oh, I believe that you’re working on specific skills during those periods—but the truth is that you’re training your dog 24 hours a day, every day.

Dogs are masters of prognostication. They might not be able to tell you the winning lottery numbers, but they sure know that when you grab that long thing with the metal clip on the end, a door will open and a walk will follow. If my dogs could speak, they’d tell you—once they got done ordering out for pizza and beer—that the television remote being clicked on means that Mom is going to be on the couch watching that strange box with the moving pictures, so we might as well go lie on our dog beds for a while. They also know that when Mom leaves with those letters and boxes in the morning she usually returns quickly, and that if Mom and Dad leave the house after 6:00 at night, there’s a good chance they won’t be home until after dark. Dogs are such excellent observers that they can even predict with great accuracy how long we’ll be away based on the type of footwear or clothing we’re wearing.

Learning also happens organically, for the simple reason that dogs learn to repeat actions that are rewarded. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat across a kitchen table from a dog owner as they’ve told me how they don’t want their dog up on their lap when they’re sitting at the table; as they’re tell me this, the dog has his paws on the lap, and they’re stroking the dog’s fur.

My own dogs, Sierra and Bodhi, have learned a fun and interesting thing. It began back when we only had Sierra. At some point she had lowered the front part of her body in a sort of bowing stretch as she was greeting me; I petted her while she was in that position, scritch-scratching from her head all the way down to her tail. She loved it, and began to repeat the behavior. Since I continued to reward it, it became her default way of greeting me in the mornings. When we got Bodhi, he learned the behavior from observing her. Of course, it was soon reinforced by being petted. Now when I wake up in the morning, I’m greeted by two bowing dogs. Ah, finally! Concrete proof that I’m the pack leader!

Just remember, even when you don’t think you’re training, your dogs are learning. What have your dogs learned without formal training?
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Check out Nicole’s books, seminar DVDs, and seminar schedule at http://www.nicolewilde.com and her photography at http://www.nicolewildephotography.com.

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18 Responses to For Dogs, Learning is 24/7

  1. Training is continuous!

  2. Oh, this is so very true! Ours registers the ‘ding’ of the microwave with dinner as we used to give her a scrambled egg every morning to stop her travel sickness.
    She always knew the time that I’d get home from work, ‘bedtime wee wee’ means just that, and the removal of her collar means that the day’s over and it’s time to sleep in the ‘big bed’.
    We tried to change the words for ‘walks’ etc, but it’s the reaching for the elastic stockings that gives the game away. Actions definitely speak louder than words, especially to a mutt that is watching your every move!

  3. Susan Allen says:

    Thank you for sharing this. My Chihuahua is so smart. He learns things so quickly. He’s a cutie. Your article opened my eyes up more to how observant he is. Thank you. Take care.

  4. Our little one is well trained. Too well.
    I turn off the laptop, it’s walkies. I stand up and ask the time, walkies, go to the loo before 9am, walkies next.
    Sometimes I wonder who is the trained one?

  5. Our little one is well trained. Too well.
    I turn off the laptop, it’s walkies. I stand up and ask the time, walkies, go to the loo before 9am, walkies next.
    Sometimes I wonder who is the trained one?

  6. I think it is so funny, yet true, that you mention how good they are with time. I take Wall-E with me to work a couple days a week. I work from 9-3 every day, and like clock work about 2:30-2:45 he will step out of his crate ( which I leave open for him as long as he behaves ) and starts looking at me to my backpack filled with his goodies to the door.

    One day last week I had to work late, and he would whine every 10-15 minutes or so. I could practically hear him saying, Mom, it’s late. Aren’t we supposed to be on the road home by now?

    My boss even commented on it.

    I love how your dogs bow to you in the morning. You are to be worshiped! You are QUEEN ALPHA!

  7. Ok… since Wall-E is here today, I have to share this. So I just grabbed the clicker and he immediately went from his crate and went and sat on the magic carpet ( a blanket that we use for training ). Oh no he doesn’t know that it’s time to work when the clicker comes out does he?

    • Oh, I love the Magic Carpet name! My dog Ruby has a pink mat that we use for the Relaxation Protocol and she loves to see me get it out.

      • “Magic Carpet” came about because my Mom’s dog would not “sit” in obedience training without the “Magic Carpet” because it was on cement and it would get his “weewee” cold. So the blanket, Training mat, bed, etc. has been renamed Magic Carpet.

  8. Chris Vereide says:

    Eja has learned that if I head over to the stairs after dinner he will, more than likely, get a chewy. He knows the words chewy and rawhide even though I never “officially” taught him those words. Luath likes to play the chase game. Sometimes, when he wants to go out, he will engage me in a game that ends in front of the back door (to the potty area). Once we went for a walk right before their dinner time. Luath kept stepping in front of me and I had to keep stopping. He had never done this before. After a few times, I turned back toward home and he walked out in front, not getting in my way once. Dogs are very clever and they come up with some interesting ideas sometimes.

  9. My two run around like banshees then go and lie by the door every time I pack my camera bag, because a lot of the time what follows is a romp in the yard or a trip to the park. I love using situational cues to make my life easier too, like training them to lie down outside the kitchen when I open the refrigerator door and to go upstairs to bed when I lock the door. Makes everything in our household flow that much better 🙂

  10. Jill Huggins says:

    We live in an old farm house made from marble. Yes, marble! Our back door is down a small flight of steps and it is nearly impossible to hear anyone knocking. My mother always calls when she pulls down the lane so I know to answer the door. My lovely lab/malamute mix learned that my mother’s ringtone means grandma shows up. Now she barks every time my mother calls.

  11. JoYouDog says:

    When I’m getting ready to go somewhere one of my dogs comes to watch me. If I say, “No, you don’t get to go,” she goes and gets in her crate. If I’m cheerful and say, “Yes, you get to go,” she just waits for me to finish getting ready. If I’m leaving her at home, I give her a treat in the crate, and usually leave the crate door open.

  12. Tracy says:

    At night my husband has to go put goats & chickens away. Sometimes the dogs get to go too. One night he said to me “I gotta go lock in animals.” The dogs heard that & got up to go. Or we just ask the beagle “what time is it?” when it’s time to go to bed in their crates & he goes. He’s also learned when the gate to the cat food & litter box doesn’t latch. He could be in the other room but he knows the sound of it not being latched & will sneak into the room to get treats, cat food, etc.

  13. Melissa says:

    Great article! I love how observant dogs are and learning constantly from humans and other dogs, both good and mischief

    A couple nights ago, our male husky was caught sneaking a treat he hid earlier to bed. He learned from our female husky. But, he took it a step further and laid on the treat to hide it from me (our female will put the treat in front of her and I always take it away).

    When I run to the store, I usually only take my card wallet (or used to). One of the pups made the connection (Chinook is the suspected culprit) and went into my purse, stole my card wallet … I found it 2 weeks later at the bottom of their toy box, after I called in to replace my credit and bank cards. That was an embarrassing explaining “my dog stole my credit card”

    The pups have taught me not to underestimate them. 🙂

  14. eilynash says:

    Thank you I really enjoyed this post. My Westie has me totally wrapped around her delectable paws. She omly has to give me a look and it says walkies or play or yummies time:)

  15. tagsandbags says:

    Thank you for sharing this post! It amazing how smart our dogs are, my boxer follows me around the house all the time. He has learned the difference between my work clothes and just where sweatpants around the house. When ever I put on the sweatpants he thinks its playtime, but if I am getting ready for work he goes to his kennel and lays down. It’s amazing what are dogs can learn, and they should be underestimated

  16. philospher77 says:

    One of the more interesting things that my two have learned is the different alarm sounds. In Away mode, the alarm announces “Please exit now” followed by several beeps, and the dogs go lie in their beds because I am heading out to work or run errands. In Home mode, it just says “Alarm on” with no beeps, and they know that that means we are all staying home. I am just very glad I don’t have separation anxiety issues to deal with!

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