About a month or two ago something happened that really made me question my career. I can’t remember exactly what I was doing but for some reason I asked my dog Hayley, who’s been with me for ten years now, to go “down.” Immediately upon hearing the command and seeing the accompanying hand signal Hayley did absolutely nothing. Zip. Nada.
She just stood there, looking at me. Taken aback by my dog’s noncompliance, I repeated the command and exaggerated the hand signal. Still nothing.
I couldn’t believe it. After all, I’m a dog trainer – I should have the most obedient dog in the world, right? If I can’t get my dog, who I’ve been training for ten years, to do one of the simplest obedience commands I might as well pack it all in right now.
I repeated the request yet again, this time luring her with my hand as I would a puppy who really hasn’t gotten the down cue just yet, and she eventually, reluctantly slid into the down position. As she was doing so, Hayley’s face told the story of why this had happened.
If she could talk I believe she would have said, “Are you serious? You haven’t asked me to do a down in a couple of years and now you want it???”
That’s when it hit me and I realized I wouldn’t have to find a new job (whew!). Down is just not something I ask her to do on a regular basis. She is such a good dog that I rarely ask her to do anything.
Sure when she was young and our relationship was new I worked on all the basic obedience behaviors and she could do them easily with a verbal, hand signal and even at a distance. Now, however, I find that I have no need for her to do a “down” and can’t remember the last time I asked her for a “stay.”
This made me ask myself a big question: Is this good or bad?
I believe it’s neither good nor bad, it’s just the way things work for us. Hayley is a good dog and her behavior is almost always appropriate. Over the years, little by little, I abandoned some of the skills we learned because the became unnecessary in our world. Ultimately, I could care less if she can do a down, I only care that she’s a well behaved dog. In my world I don’t need her to “stay” but I use “wait” a number of times a day and Hayley is rock-solid with it.
The moral of this story is that it’s not important what your dog knows, as long as he or she is a good dog in your world. Everyone will have a handful of commands that you use, while the others will be forgotten. And that’s okay. As long as you are cool with that and it works for you, that’s fine.
Just don’t get pissed off when you ask your dog to do something that you haven’t been reinforcing. It didn’t take long for Hayley to get reacquainted to “down” but I expect that she’ll quickly forget it once again because it’s not something I need her to do too often.
She’s a good girl and all I really need her to do is a “sit” every so often and some “waits” throughout the day. We’re both happy with that (and I think I’ll still keep my day job).
What commands or behaviors do you use regularly? And what have you abandoned?