The Old Trainer: Pug does his own training

October 12, 2012 

Dear Old Trainer: My 3-year old Pug, Frosty, is a dynamo, and lately has developed a strange habit. As soon as we get to the dog park he makes a mad dash across the park and around a big oak tree, then races back and stands there looking at me. He does this every time. What is going on?

-- Gloria, Denver, Colorado A: Frosty is showing off. Pugs are one of those breeds who have a high opinion of their talents and Frosty wants you to know how fast he is. It is a way of communicating with the human he loves, and a perfect opportunity for reverse training.

Reverse training -- derived from the term reverse engineering -- is the act of seeing something your dog is already doing and applying a command to it. It is a valuable tool for any trainer.

The next time you get to the park say, "run around that tree, Frosty." When he gets back, pet him, praise him and tell him how proud you are. Do it every time you go to the park.

Once he connects the command to the act -- it won't take long -- take him to a different park or a different tree and give the command. This is a trick the two of you can enjoy no matter where you are.

Every reader can learn from the above. Frosty was training Gloria to do her part of a trick he invented. All dogs do it, and they are good at it. Watch for ways your dog is talking to you and trying to train you. If it is something you like, apply a name and practice it.

Many times these are the most useful commands. My dogs taught me to order them to run when they cross a street. Now we are across in a flash.

Dear Old Trainer: We have had Golden Retrievers for years, always at least two. We just lost Sally after 13 wonderful years. We now only have Burt, who is five, and we see he is lonely. After reading your columns we decided to get our next dog from a shelter.

We are getting older and would like to get a smaller breed. Will that create a problem since Burt is so big?

-- Jan, Merced

A: No. Dogs pay no attention to size, color or other external attributes. That's one reason we love them. Burt and the new dog will become best friends no matter what size they are.

Congratulations on adopting from a shelter. You will find a perfect companion for Burt. Introduce Burt to his new pal at the shelter, then let them get to know each other in the yard before taking them inside.

It takes time to establish order in a new pack, so don't worry if Burt gets a little testy about his turf. It's your job as leader to keep order, but give them space to figure things out on their own.

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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