Old Trainer

How to know if your dog wants to learn new tricks

DEAR OLD TRAINER: I am struck by your comment you teach tricks only to the dogs who tell you they want to learn them. I have four dogs and I notice Lacy, my 2-year old Corgi, is very alert and watches me a lot more than the other three. How do I know if she wants to learn tricks?

Lorraine, Merced, Calif.

A: Dogs try various methods to talk to you.

It may be something as minor as staring at you with bright eyes and alert body language, or standing rigid, or—like Lassie telling the adults Timmy fell down the well—running ahead and returning to you. Any time you observe altered body language or behavior your dog is trying to communicate.

When a dog talks to you it’s wise to listen. I listened to Willie, my most talkative dog, and he taught me a new trick this week.

Every time I stood up he would run to the garage door and try to get me to go with him. I ignored his suggestion, but Willie kept the pressure on. Every time I moved he raced to the door.

He finally got tired of talking and took action. He grabbed my pants leg and pulled me to the door. I opened it, and when he raced to the work bench I realized what was going on. I had stored some tennis balls there, he noticed them, and no self-respecting Border Collie is going to allow a ball to lie idle for long.

He stood up on his hind legs and grabbed one and I threw it for him a few times. It’s become his favorite game and he invented it himself. When I have enough I pat the bench, say “clean up,” and he runs over and puts the ball back on the bench.

If you have a dog smart enough to talk to you like Lacy does, listen to her. Figure out what she is telling you and let her teach you a few tricks.

DEAR OLD TRAINER: You wrote that dogs eat grass, but my Tibetan Terrier, Solo, has been eating bushes the last few weeks. When we walk she makes a beeline to where some bushes grow and starts eating the leaves. Is this normal?

Jan, Woodland, Calif.

A: Yes, lots of dogs do it, including mine. All spring my dogs have been eating the same strain of grass, but this week they blew past the grass like they were headed for a steakhouse and dined on the leaves of a weed. I guess the leaves have reached the stage where they taste better than mere grass.

Don’t worry about Solo. Dogs are smart enough to choose weeds and grass that are safe to eat, and the fact she has been doing it for a few weeks and is still going strong indicates she knows what she’s doing.

FOURTH OF JULY ALERT: More dogs are lost on the Fourth than any other day of the year. Fireworks scare them and they just start running. Keep your dogs indoors if fireworks scare them, and if you see a scared dog running loose bring him in and take care of him.

I always fill a big bowl with water and leave it out front in case a lost dog comes along and needs a drink.

A trainer for more than 30 years, Jack Haskins has rescued, trained and placed more than 2,500 dogs. Send questions to theoldtrainer@gmail.com.