Teaching a New Dog Old Tricks

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(~3 minutes to read)

News headline: Sheepdog puppy led a herd of sheep into his owners’ home

To paraphrase the UB40 song from 1986— “There’s a sheep in mi kitchen, what am I gonna do?”…

What would you do if you found nine sheep in your kitchen? Fall asleep as you counted them? Threaten them with the mint sauce jar? Tell them to get the flock out of your house?

What would you do when you realized that it was your trainee sheepdog that herded them there? Get the experienced dog to deal with the situation? Terminate the apprenticeship there and then? Give him/her the “sandwich criticism” talk? (Praise her for being able to herd sheep, then suggest that the kitchen isn’t the most effective sheep pen, and finish with “good girl! Here’s a chew.”)

Apparently, the sheep left of their own volition, leaving the farmer the job of getting rid of the real poo on the carpet using the sham variety. And she saw the funny side too—which is just as well, otherwise she would have been the odd one out.

We’ve Only Ourselves to Blame

Historically speaking, man’s best friend literally earned its sobriquet. Not by fetching sticks, or jumping through hoops, but by making man’s work easier. While it’s true that dogs can’t milk cows, thresh wheat or make tools (it’s the opposing thumb thing, as usual), they’re pretty darned good where speed and assertiveness are concerned. Hunting, herding, guarding, and tracking are all skills that dogs have brought to the table (or food bowl) over the centuries. They’ve even been known to haul stuff on sleds or small carts, and from time to time provided rotational power for spit roasts.

Man realized the potential long ago, and used the genesis of genetic modification—selective breeding—to produce animals that were more suited to a particular task—hence the incredible variety of appearances in a single species. A St. Bernard would be hard-pressed to ferret badgers out of their holes, whereas a Dachshund would look pretty ridiculous herding sheep. Chihuahuas just couldn’t carry the brandy barrel to an avalanche victim, while a sheepdog of any size or description is way too large to act as a hot water bottle for the sick and injured.

So when a dog messes… screws… fouls… makes a mistake, mankind has only itself to blame for enlisting the help of dogkind.

What If…

But what if other dog breeds screwed up like this border collie did during the training period?

How much would it matter if a chihuahua snuggled up to share its body warmth with someone running a high fever? Or if a St. Bernard somehow managed to get into the brandy barrel?

Or if a dachshund badgered a badger into the kitchen?

Certainly, a herd of cattle in the kitchen would be a bigger problem than sheep, although if it was milking time, the fridge would be handy.

And if a search dog found explosives and brought them back to its handler expecting him or her to throw them like a stick, the dog might be disappointed… or not, depending on how quickly the handler wanted to get distance between him and the semtex.

Thinking about this has made me wonder just how dogs succumb to training to do stuff in the first place. You know… like sniff out drugs (“I found that stash of pot for you and all I get is this lousy cookie?!?”) or cadavers (“I found that stash of bones and great rolling-in-stinky-stuff stuff for you, and all I get is this lousy cookie?!?”) or bedbugs (“I found that nest of bedbugs for you and all you want to do is shampoo and shower me?!?!? And where’s the lousy cookie?!?”)

(Okay – I don’t know if bedbug-detecting dogs get showered and shampooed after a successful hunt. I’m going for the giggles.)

Hats Off…

I take my proverbial hat off to the people who trained these canine specialists. Whether it’s guide dogs or detection dogs; police dogs or herding dogs; it’s clever. Really clever.

But if someone managed to train a dog to herd cats or rats: that would be truly impressive.

Anyone care to impress me?

One thought on “Teaching a New Dog Old Tricks

  1. Noelle Melnychuk

    Well the subject of dogs got my attention.
    As has been said many times,”I like animals ( dogs especially) ,better than most people)”
    Always happy,always grateful,always happy for a walk- well you get the picture!
    Any humans that fit that bill?

    Reply

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