You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks - Or Better Yet, An Old Dog Can Teach Himself and You New Tricks

If you've read my previous articles, you know that I have a dog named Dafka. He is an English bull terrier, lab/pit mix about 6 years old. He's a rescue dog. He was found on the side of the road near Mendocino, CA. in the winter. The rescuers didn't know how long he'd been out and they also thought that he had been poisoned. They weren't sure that he would live. Bless them! They pulled him through and here he is. He still has some symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder--some fear, an exaggerated startle response-- and they are not nearly as severe as they were when I brought him home.

He has been my companion, and I have been his companion, for about 3 years. He is incredibly smart and learns very quickly. His trainer and I have taught him all of the regular commands--sit, stay, leave it, etc. Of course, he was a relatively young dog then. What is really amazing are the tricks that he has taught himself and me later in life.

As you may know, he's addicted to his kong. He taught himself to run up the steep, narrow, circular outside back stairs with the kong in his mouth. He drops it. It bounces down the stairs. He runs down after it; brings it back up; drops it again--and the game continues endlessly until he's worn out.

A newer "trick", which includes me, is suddenly deciding that he doesn't want the back yard to be dirty. After he poops, he starts barking and doesn't stop until I, or someone, cleans it up. It wasn't easy for me to learn this trick. I thought that he was just making a lot of noise until I finally figured out what he wanted, and that was to have the yard cleaned up.

It's also taken me time to learn what some of his different barks mean. After all, I'm an old dog, too. Just as he's learned to understand my commands, I have finally learned to understand his: feed me, pet me, take me for a walk, I want to come in.

I think that there's a lesson in all of this. It's never too late for any of us to learn. Whether we learn from someone else or teach ourselves, we can do it. One of the things in this process that we may have to learn is to be patient with ourselves as well as with our companions. If they can do it, we can do it, and it really can be fun. I hope that you let yourself enjoy the challenge.

What have you learned from your pet(s)? How did they teach you what they wanted you to learn? How did you learn to communicate what you needed? I'd love to hear your story. Please contact me.

Incidentally, if you want to see what Dafka looks like, please visit my website. He's my co-therapist.