The Old Trainer: Reverse training is simple

May 19, 2012 

Dear Old Trainer: I tried to find your column where you talk about reverse training so I could explain it to a friend, but couldn't find it and can't remember how it works. Will you please explain it again and give an example?

-- Anne, Atwater, California

A: Reverse training comes from the term "reverse engineering," Anne, and describes what happens when you see your dog do something you like and apply a command to it.

It sounds quirky, but is a valuable tool for any trainer.

Everyone has used it at times without knowing what the term means. A textbook example is the "speak" command. A little girl is playing with her dog, it gets excited and begins to bark, and the girl says "speak." When the dog barks again, the girl praises the dog and loves on him. In a few days the dog learns the command.

Most family pets learn to shake hands using reverse training. Spot raises his paw to get Billy's attention and Billy says, "Oh, you want to shake." He says it a few more times and pets Spot when he does it. Spot sees he will get loved on if he raises his paw, and, like magic, learns a new trick.

If your dog does something you enjoy, use reverse training to teach it to do something you enjoy at your pleasure. Remember, the important part is loving on your dog when it does something right.

Dear Old Trainer: My little pug, Sprinkles, just turned 2. She has been a good eater, but lately she just turns her nose up at her food. She will eat what I am eating if I give it to her, but she won't eat her own food. The vet says she is OK, and her weight is normal, but I am worried. I am 83 and she is my only companion. I dearly love her and couldn't stand to lose her. What can I do?

-- Phyllis, Merced

A: Don't worry, Phyllis. What's happening is that Sprinkles is using reverse training on you, teaching you to give her your food instead of dog food.

Nothing wrong with that. Dogs train their human all the time. And it is fine to feed her table scraps if you prefer as long as they contain the protein she requires. If you want to feed her dog food follow these steps:

1. Feed her a combination of one-third kibble (at least 25 percent protein), one-third canned dog food, one-third brown rice. Start with a daily volume of one cup per 15 pounds of her weight. Adjust if her weight goes up or down.

2. Feed her in the same place, at the same time, each day.

3. If she doesn't eat within a few minutes pick up the food and don't feed her until the following day.

Large dogs should be fed once a day, but with a dog as small as Sprinkles you have a choice. You may divide Sprinkles' food into two portions and feed her once in the morning, once when you have dinner. Try it both ways and see which works best.

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