New tricks for an old dog


January 25, 1992|By Gina Spadafori | Gina Spadafori,McClatchy News Service

If younger dog Andy were to author a canine bill of rights, his second amendment would outline his inalienable right to a daily walk, the longer the better.

His first amendment, of course, would concern food.

But while winters are a delight to the thick-coated Andy, there's not a coat warm enough to get me outside on the coldest days. And since I'm still at least marginally in charge, instead of walking, we work on training, adding tricks to his repertoire.

Toni already has good trick routine. Ask her to give you her paw and she slaps one on your hand. Ask for the other paw and she switches. She gives a very believable performance as a dead dog, closing her eyes and slowing the constant motion of her tail to a slight quivering at the tip.

Andy's tricks are more active, as is he, involving jumping, fetching and finding. His favorite starts with a down-stay in the back bedroom, while I hide three or four of his favorite toys. I then ask him to find them, one by one in the order I request, and stand aside as he bounces through the house on his mission.

Both dogs love trick work, and their pride at performing well is obvious.

The average dog knows a half-dozen basic commands, but is capable of learning a great many more. Dogs trained to work with wheelchair-users respond to more than 100 different commands. Advanced training is never a waste of time; it strengthens the bond between you and your dog and reinforces the lessons you've already taught.

There is truly no limit to the things a creative dog-lover can teach a clever dog. How about answering the phone? Bringing you the tissue box when you have a cold? Turning off a light switch after you've gone to bed? You can teach your dog to carry a message to your spouse or to round up the children for dinner.

You can, in short, teach your dog "to be useful, fun and entertaining," as it says in the subtitle of one of the few books on trick training. That book, Carol Lea Benjamin and Arthur Haggerty's "Dog Tricks" (Howell Book House; $21.95), offers step-by-step instructions for teaching more than 80 different tricks as well as a chart assessing a breed's aptitude for each trick.

Ted Baer's "How to Teach Your Old Dog New Tricks" (Barron's; $8.95) offers fewer tricks, but more time is spent explaining how to teach each one. And dozens of pictures make it possible for even a novice trainer to understand the steps.

If you've never tried trick-training, there's no better time to start than a cold weekend afternoon. Both you and your dog will enjoy it.


Q: Why do some owners have dogs' dewclaws removed?

A: Not all dogs have dewclaws; when present, they are found above the paws on the inside of each leg.

There are two kinds of dewclaws. Articulated dewclaws are fully developed, with a solid connection to the dog's skeleton. The animal usually has enough control over the digit to keep it tucked in and out of trouble. Most of these will not present a problem if the nails are kept clipped.

Non-articulated dewclaws are developed only at the tip, and dangle loosely with no skeletal connection. They are at constant risk of being caught and torn. These are the ones that cause most of the problems.

The surgery to remove non-articulated dewclaws is an easy one, but even articulated dewclaws can be removed without much difficulty if they become a problem -- and they might if the nails are neglected.

Ms. Spadafori is a newspaper reporter and an animal obedience trainer in Sacramento, Calif. Questions about pets may be sent to her c/o Saturday, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.

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