Dear Old Trainer: We just adopted Homer, a mixed breed puppy, for company to Annie, our 7-year-old Terrier/Beagle mix. Homer is only 14 weeks old, but we didn’t have to house train him at all. He learned it all on his own and we wondered if it’s possible he learned it from watching Annie.
Linda, Clovis, California
Old Trainer: It’s more than possible, it’s an absolute certainty.
Not only did Homer learn to do his duty outside, I can predict — even though you didn’t mention it — he did it in the same area Annie did.
A genetic predisposition for learning by observation gives a species an advantage in natural selection and is always strongest in pack animals. And the fact there are more adults to observe in a pack makes the process occur even faster.
The ability to learn by watching is one of the reasons wolves stayed at the top of the predator food chain for millions of years. The more an animal learns from accumulated wisdom of the species the better the species fares on the Darwinian scale.
And you will see Homer observe more and learn faster as he gets older and realizes his life improves each time he learns something new from Annie.
I see it with every dog I rescue and it’s the most useful tool any trainer has. The new arrival sees the other dogs obey my commands and figures, ‘hey, if they say he’s the leader then who am I to argue the point?’
Training becomes easy the instant the new dog accepts without question I am the leader.
I always advise people to add a second dog because the enjoyment doubles and the training is easy when your older dog does most of the work. Anyone with an old dog they love should always add a companion before the old timer reaches the end of the trail. Training is so much easier while you still have the current dog. Things that may take weeks of work will take only days if you have the old timer around to teach the newcomer the ropes.
Dogs are born with the desire to imitate older dogs and please the leader. When you add praise to the mix the learning curve takes off like a rocket, which is why I always brag on them on them and love on them when they do something right.
Dogs watch their human as closely as they do the pack. That’s why people believe their dogs can read their minds.
Dogs put together complex chains of thought as they observe and memorize everything you do. They learn the exact sequence of things you do when getting ready to leave the house. That’s how they know when to turn on the heartbroken look to make you feel guilty for leaving them.
The commands dogs learn fastest satisfy their genetic drive for survival, and nothing is more fundamental — and more fun— to canines than pursuit of prey. All dogs have the instinct, even city dogs. My pack knows “squirrel” means, go chase that pesky critter and the instant I say it they take off at full speed.
Getting to race with the pack on the hunt for prey is thrilling to a new arrival, so exciting every dog I ever trained learned that command the first time they heard it and never forgot it.
The Old Trainer has been a trainer for three decades and has rescued, trained, loved, and placed more than 4,000 dogs. Send questions to: [email protected]