Old Trainer

Is there something wrong with my dog?

DEAR OLD TRAINER: Suzy, my 2-year old St Bernard/Huskie mix is a gentle giant who is full of energy and plays all day, but always eats her dinner lying down. She stands up bouncing around while she waits for me to make it, then lies down to eat it. I never had a dog do that before. Is there something wrong with her?

Reina, Kearney, Neb.

A: No. All dogs begin life eating in the prone position while mom provides a liquid dinner. Most wolves and wild dogs eat their meals lying down.

I have one dog who does it. It’s part of his personality and I love watching him, so I don’t see any logical reason he should change.

I advise letting Suzy do it the way she wants. If you want to break the habit just pick her up—or call a tow-truck to pick her up—when you serve the food, then pet her and brag on her if he remains standing.

DEAR OLD TRAINER: I taught the “hold” command to Magic, my 4-year old Greyhound, and it really worked. He stops as soon as I say it, so it’s a lot easier to walk him, but I prefer “stay” instead of “hold.” It just comes to my mind faster. Is there any reason I can’t use “stay?”

Barbara, Santa Rosa, Calif.

A: No reason at all. The objective is to get Magic to stop when you want him to. If you prefer “stay,” and it works, use it. I have a friend who uses “stop” instead of “hold” and it works fine for all eight of her dogs.

There is a larger consideration however. Those commands describe two different actions. I use “hold” when my dogs are off leash and not looking at me. It tells them to stop until I see what’s ahead.

I use “stay” when they are looking at me to tell them to remain in the same spot until I tell them to come.

If you use “stay” to mean “hold” you have to find a word—one you can remember in an instant—to use when you teach Magic to stay where he is.

It pays to plan ahead in choosing the words you use. If the words accurately describe what you want Magic to do you will remember them in an instant.

Magic doesn’t care if the words make sense. He just learns to do a specific thing when he hears a certain sound. We all love those dog acts where one rebel dog always does the exact opposite of what the rest of the pack does. The trainer taught the rebel the sounds he makes have a different meaning for him than for the rest of the pack.

An example of an imprecise command is “off.” Obedience classes teach humans to use “off” when they want their dog to stop playing with something. That makes no sense to me. I use “off” to mean get off that bed or chair or park bench. My command to leave something alone is “leave.”

You’ll be adding commands as long as your dog lives—yes, you CAN teach an old dog new tricks—so pick words that describe precisely what you want done.

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.