The Old Trainer: Mix excels at reading mind, body

February 15, 2013 

Dear Old Trainer: Lolo, my lab-

Weimaraner mix, is barely a year old, but I swear she reads my mind. She knows I am going to give her a bath and hides under the bed before I ever call her. She knows we are going somewhere in the car and starts wagging her tail and begging to go long before we leave. How does she do it?

-- Gayle, Reno, Nev.

A: Lolo is practicing the canine form of mind reading, Gayle. Dogs are smart. They read body language like you or I read a book. They remember the exact sequence of movements you make -- and the words you say -- before you do something they like or dislike, and they never forget it.

You are the most important person in the world to Lolo, so she catalogues every thing you say and do. You are processing thousands of ideas a day, but Lolo has only you on her mind. She uses that knowledge to anticipate your next move.

All dogs do it. It is the foundation of indirect training, the art of training merely by saying a word while going about your daily routine and letting the dog figure out the word applies to the action you take.

Lolo is training herself even when you are not training her. It is habit to you, so you no longer notice the sequence you follow before leaving in the car -- going to the closet for your coat, checking your purse for your keys, turning off the light, etc. -- but Lolo knows it precisely. She even knows the words you say. You might as well be giving her direct orders.

Lolo learns, just by observation, what you do and say when you leave in the car or when you decide to give her a bath. That's why indirect training works so well.

Readers of this column know my favorite indirect training trick. When you reverse course on your daily walk, just say "turn around," and start walking the other way. Ignore Lola. In a couple of days she will automatically turn when she hears the words. It works with anything else you want to teach her as well.

Another way to utilize this talent is observing your dog's reaction to other people. She watches any stranger who comes near you as intently as she watches you and reads them with the same ease. She watches even when you are distracted or out of the room and is not swayed by charm or smooth talk.

If a dog dislikes someone there is a reason. I never form an opinion of anyone until I see how my dogs react.

Other animals may equal dogs in some areas of intelligence, but no animal except man comes close to the dog in understanding the human intent to communicate. In addition to Lolo learning how you communicate, she is constantly trying to communicate with you.

Watch her as closely as she watches you and you will be surprised how well she can talk to you.

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: theoldtrainer711@yahoo.com

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