Ask Tom, the Dogcharmer: A letter from Mr. Henry

There’s a lot that those two-leggeds have to learn.


Dear Mr. Shelby,

Thanks so much for coming over to my house today to straighten them out. They have been using way too many words with me, and shouting them. I am just 12 weeks old. I have never encountered such lunatics. I have tried to rely a lot on being cute, but they aren’t buying it.

My question is: What should they do when I am walking along, say 20 feet or so, and I decide to plop down and refuse to budge? They cannot figure out which command to use, along with the treat, of course. But, I am thinking that they are probably rewarding me for this behavior, so I keep doing it.

They need help.

Yours truly,

Mr. Henry

Dear Mr. Henry,

Let me start by congratulating you on your erudition, writing such a lucid letter at the tender age of 12 weeks. However, I must state categorically that your two-legged adopters are not lunatics, they’re simply in need of some proper direction in the art of parenting a 12-week-old four-legged.

As regards “too many words,” you’re absolutely correct. There’s a brother dog, a border collie adult who has a verified vocabulary of over a thousand words, to my knowledge more than any other dog out there. That vocabulary was built up over many years, with careful and precise schooling. It starts with single-word usage precisely timed with the action it represents.

For example, if your two-leggeds wish to let you out to relieve yourself and emphasize the word “out” just before they open the door that takes you to the “relief area,” you will soon recognize the word “out” and what it represents. Your two-leggeds need to understand that when it comes to educating you, timing is everything. If your two-leggeds wish to thank you for relieving yourself outside, you need to receive that treat the moment you’re done, not when you get back in the house.

I did a training seminar in an auditorium where I had a student sit on a chair on the stage and I leisurely walked around him while speaking nonsensical doubletalk. When I asked him if he knew what I was saying, he said he didn’t understand one word, and was I speaking Greek?

“That’s what your dog understands when you speak in sentences,” I said. “Nothing! Later on your dog may pick out a key word in a sentence, but initially, keep it as simple as possible.”

Mr. Henry, I can say to my dog Paula Jean, “I’d like to go to dinner and the movies and a party, so would you be so kind as to go OUT and relieve yourself before I’m gone for hours?” and she’ll get it. But she’s 4 years old, not 12 weeks!

As for shouting what they want from you, Mr. Henry, I’m reminded of when I was in Italy and asked someone for directions, hoping he spoke some English as I speak no Italian. Well, he spoke no English, and when I showed him the address where I wanted to go, he got louder and louder until he was practically shouting as he saw my lack of comprehension. Needless to say, if you don’t understand the words, making them louder doesn’t help. Plus, your two-leggeds need to understand that your hearing is far superior to theirs. When I was on a high-priority search with my dog, meaning that the missing person I was looking for was very possibly still alive, I used to call out the person’s name and blow a whistle, and then observe my dog. If she cocked her ears and looked in a specific location, perhaps the missing person responded below my hearing ability, but not hers. Just as the better teacher in the classroom is talking as opposed to yelling, I’ll tell your two-leggeds they don’t need to shout.

I will further remind them of the importance of timing. If they give you a treat while you are not budging, it’s the inadvertent rewarding of unwanted behavior. They need to lure you up and forward by stooping down themselves, with a motivational slight tug on the leash and happy talk, with the treat in their hand. You are to receive the treat only while actually walking, rewarding the wanted behavior! Stay patient, Mr. Henry. As your two-leggeds get better at parenting, they will come to appreciate how cute you really are.

Good luck,

The Dogcharmer

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