DEAR OLD TRAINER: A few weeks ago you said your dogs let you know when one of them wants to learn a trick. I like the idea that Sal, my 3-year-old boxer, is trying to talk to me, but how do I identify it when she does?
-- Kent, Ross
A: All dogs communicate on a constant basis. The most common shortcoming of humans is failure to recognize these attempts.
We recognize a lot of the ways -- wagging their tails, wiggling all over when they see us, bringing us a favorite toy when they want to play -- but many of the attempts are more subtle.
It may be something as minor as staring at you with bright eyes and alert body language, or standing rigid and growling, or, like Lassie telling the adults that Timmy fell down the well, running ahead and then returning to you. Any time you observe altered body language or behavior, you can be sure they are talking to you.
Joker, my youngest border collie, just taught me a new trick. There are spots on our daily walk where I stop and throw a stick. He got so anxious to get the game going that he started running ahead of time and I called him back. Something about running one direction and being called back appealed to him, and I noticed he would run ahead, then whirl and run back, then drop into the play position, while staring hard at me and wagging his tail.
I finally figured out what I was supposed to do. We worked on the trick for several days, adding or dropping things, changing commands, till we finally got it just right. Now, I say, "track." He takes off like a rocket. After he goes 10 yards, I say, "Wait, come back and jump." He whirls, races back, jumps and touches my glove, then does it all over again.
It is now his favorite trick and he invented it himself. Pay attention to Sal and notice how she tries to talk to you. Listen to her and learn a few tricks.
DOG SHOW ALERT: "Dog handlers" are hard at work mastering the famed River Dance running style, running with their legs while holding their arms rigid at their sides.
It must be dog show time.
The Golden Gate Kennel Club Dog Show at the Cow Palace in San Francisco is set for Jan. 26 and 27. The Westminster Kennel Club show from Madison Square Garden in New York is Feb. 11 and 12, televised on CNBC the first night and on USA Network the second.
The Golden Gate show is my favorite because you get to go backstage and pet the dogs.
Drop by and love on a few dogs and find out how good it makes you feel.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.