Tuesday, December 31, 2013

When teaching cute tricks backfire

I love Dr. Sophia Yin.  She's brilliant.  Here she is teaching her dog to fetch a tissue when she sneezes.  Cute!  But, I can see how this could backfire.  How?  When the dog doesn't realize this behavior is only good when it's requested, not offered.  This is crucial.  Otherwise, when her dog sees that she has something he wants, he'll resort to what all dogs resort to - trying all the tools in his toolbox to earn access to it, including fetching tissues.  That could be messy!

I had an unfortunate experience with a cute behavior recently.  I was in the process of teaching my dog Riis to push my baby daughter's swing.  However, I hadn't gotten to the point where we were putting it on cue yet.  So, one day, my husband had just spent 45 minutes getting our daughter to sleep, and placed her carefully in the swing so as not to wake her. What does Riis do?  He goes right over and bumps the swing with his nose, swinging it like a champ, and waking up the baby.  Needless to say, my husband did not think that trick was very cute.

You might have had this problem with teaching your dog "Paw" or "Shake."  Often they start to paw at you whenever they want your attention.  It is important not to reward this, and to reward only when you ask for it!  Not only will this get rid of the annoying unsolicited pawing, but it will teach your dog that she needs to take advantage of the opportunity to earn a treat when you ask her for something.  It will make her that much more attentive to you.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Dog-Human Translator??

Yesterday I came across this article about a device in beta that will translate your dog's thoughts into simple phrases that you can understand.  An EKG reads his brain waves and spits out phrases to reflect what he's feeling, like "This is splendid!" "Leave me alone." "I am so very weary." "Who are you?" "Em, why are you guys leaving?" "Is that really you?" "Night-time!" and "He must be a very nice animal."

I wonder what dog owners will think of this.  I, for one, am skeptical.  Not just because if it were to be successful, it could put trainers like me out of a job (!!) but because I honestly don't see how it could work.  For example, when my dog is confused, he gets frustrated.  Could a device like this translate that as anger, when the real issue is that he's confused?  I could see that creating a real communication breakdown instead of being an assistance.

On the other hand, the "Leave me alone" phrase could potentially be quite helpful.  Imagine how many dog bites would have been avoided if the dog could just say those three words.  Especially to children.  So, I suppose there could be some value to this.  But still, I'm more skeptical than not.  

What do you think?