DEAR OLD TRAINER: Lucy, my German shepherd/Lab mix, is always bringing me animal parts or pieces of fur when we walk in the woods. She finds something on every walk. The other day she walked up with the bones of a deer leg. She is so proud of herself and wags her tail each time she presents the gift me. What should I do?
Louise, Mill Valley
A: You should brag on her, pet her and tell her what a good dog she is, then tell her to leave it.
Bringing food home to the pack is wired into Lucy’s DNA and this genetic trait is one of the evolutionary advantages that have kept canines at the top of the food chain for a million years or so.
The reason she acts proud is because she IS proud. In her mind she is doing an important job for the pack. She is spending her time working when she could be playing and having fun.
So enjoy it, let her enjoy it, then tell her to leave it.
By the way, I use “leave” when I want one of my dogs to leave something alone. The “off” many trainers use never made sense to me. I use “off” as the command to get off a chair or whatever they are on.
I believe in using common sense in teaching words to may dogs. I teach them so many commands I have to be able to remember them instantly, so why use “off” when what you really mean is “leave that alone.”
You wouldn’t use such imprecise words with a child, and your dog is smarter than a child.
DEAR OLD TRAINER: Baxter, my 6-year old bassett hound, is the calmest dog I have ever seen. He sleeps and relaxes most of the time. But when any of the dogs in the neighborhood bark he wakes up and barks too, even though he has no idea why they are barking. Should I train him to stop?
Brian, Denver, Colo.
A: No, you should pet him and tell him he is good boy for raising an alarm, but train him to stop after he lets you know something is going on.
Barking to raise the alarm that danger may be near is another genetic gift that allows canines to dominate the predator food chain.
The instant one dog senses any threat – an intruder, an unknown sound, a strange smell – he alerts the rest of the pack by barking. Any other dog that hears it repeats the alarm to make sure the entire pack is aware of the threat, allowing time to unite and present a common front.
And Baxter, like all dogs, knows when a bark signals danger. If a dog barks because he is playing with his human the other dogs ignore it, but if the bark means an intruder is in the area they all pass the word along.
No alarm system invented by man – no matter how expensive – is as efficient as local dogs in detecting and assessing a threat and keeping a neighborhood safe, so give Baxter a little love and tell him to keep up the good work.
A trainer for more than 30 years, Jack Haskins has rescued, trained and placed more than 2,500 dogs. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.