The Old Trainer: Sheepdog wants to play

September 28, 2012 

Dear Old Trainer: Bentley, my 1-year-old English sheepdog, is happy all the time but has developed a habit. Every night he comes into the living room and starts growling. He spreads his front legs and drops down and bangs his chest on the floor. He looks right at me while he is doing it.

He sounds mad, but his tail is wagging. What is going on?

-- Terrance, Merced

A: Bentley is inviting you down on the floor for a romp. That body language, spreading the front legs and dropping the chest onto the floor, is universal canine language for "let's play."

It is one of many ways a dog seeks to communicate with his master. Everyone talks to his dog, but many are unaware the dog is communicating right back. The more you watch your dog, the more you see the tricks he uses to talk to you.

Next time, get on the floor with Bentley and growl right back. It makes no difference what you do next. Wrestle with him, roll on him or let him roll on you or play with a toy. Bentley doesn't care as long as you do something.

This works in reverse too. If you are the one who gets down in the play position, your dog will come running, ready to play.

Dear Old Trainer: I am thrilled. I couldn't walk Mimi, my 3-year-old German shepherd, because she pulled so hard I couldn't control her. I followed your advice on training and on the "easy" and "hold" commands.

Now we have a great walk every day with no effort on my part. What do we work on next?

-- Kathleen, Santa Cruz

A: Here are two tricks to teach Mimi as part of your daily walk. They are taught with indirect training, meaning you don't conduct a formal training session, you just walk and Mimi learns from watching.

When you reach the turn-around point on your daily walk, say "turn around," and head back the way you came. Pay no attention to Mimi, just say the command, give a slight pull on the leash, and walk in the opposite direction. When Mimi follows, pet her and love on her. Within a few days she will turn before you finish the command.

The next one -- teaching Mimi to turn right or left on command -- sounds impossible to people who have no experience with canine intelligence, but dogs learn it with ease.

Each time you change course say, "come right" or "turn left" to indicate which way you are going and give a slight pull on the leash. Love on Mimi when she follows.

Once Mimi masters the commands, use them to move her to the side of the trail just by telling her which direction you want her to go.

As always, petting and love is the important part of training. The more you love you give your dog for good behavior, the faster she learns

Jack Haskins writes as The Old Trainer. A trainer for more than 30 years, he has rescued, trained, and placed more than 2,000 dogs. Send questions to

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