The Old Trainer: Give old dog treats

March 3, 2012 

Dear Old Trainer: We have a wonderful Lab named Maggie who is 11 years old. Lately, my husband has been letting her get on the couch and giving her special treats. He says she deserves special treatment because she has been such a good dog for so long. I don't disagree, but is it wise to change discipline at this late stage?

-- Allison, Mill Valley

A: I side with your husband, Allison. I do the same thing with Streak and Rowdy, my two old-timers. I liken it to the following story:

The Fontana del Nettuno in Bologna, Italy, was commissioned in 1563 by a local bishop as part of an urban beautification program to please the pope.

As it neared completion the bishop became concerned about rampant nudity of the figures in the fountain and sent a drawing to the Vatican to see if it might cause a problem. The pope wrote back, "For Bologna, it's OK."

A dog that gives you unconditional love and devotion for more than a decade deserves a reward. For Maggie, it's OK.

Dear Old Trainer: I am getting my first dog this spring and I want to start off right. I have two questions: what is the most common mistake new dog owners make, and two, what is a good training tip that applies to all situations?

-- Ariel, San Francisco

A: The most common mistake is the assumption that dogs think like humans. Every problem people have with their dogs can be traced to this error. Take the time to acquire an understanding of canine psychology now and you will find it easy to train your dog when she arrives. The best way is to watch the documentary, "Wolves At My Door." It's available on YouTube and will tell you everything you need to know.

In addition, I deal with canine psychology every week and explain how to use it to correct specific problems. You can check out past columns on the website to see what I've written about previously.

Here's a training tip everyone should learn: Correct your dog when she makes a mistake so she knows you are unhappy, but forgive her as soon as she shows contrition. With children you must remain stern for a length of time after you discipline them so there is at least a chance they will understand you're serious. Dogs are smarter.

Your dog learns what you are teaching her because she hates to disappoint you. She's more likely to remember if you forgive her as soon as she shows remorse. That's canine psychology.

WARNING TO DOG OWNERS -- Check with your vet about flea, tick and heartworm preventives now.

The pests are showing up weeks ahead of their normal arrival time because of the warm winter.

Heartworm is transmitted by mosquitoes and they're already being seen in some areas of the country. Heartworm is fatal and has spread to every state, so don't take a chance with your dog.

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