When Dogs Train Us

Supposedly people are smarter than dogs.

But I wonder if that’s true. I feel dumber than my dog all the time.

And it’s a fact that sometimes our dogs train us.

Mike and Shadow loved to nap together.

My fuzzy little dog trainer, Shadow.

Our First Dog Trainer

My last dog, Shadow, definitely trained us.

Yes, we’re the ones who used clicker training to lessen her reactions to other dogs on the street. But Shadow trained us well enough to open our wallet.

At night, Shadow slept on her pillow beside our bed. Around four a.m., she’d jump onto the bed and curl up on my feet until we were ready to get up.

I don’t sleep very well.

And a forty-five pound weight on my legs doesn’t help.

That’s easy. We’ll train Shadow to stay on her bed all night.

Easier said than done.

Because Shadow was a better dog trainer (dog. trainer. get it?) than we were.

Shadow, our dog, liked to lay down on Mike.

I guess I should have been glad Shadow didn’t decide to sleep on my chest.

Aversive Training

First we tried teaching Shadow to go to bed on a cue. When she did it, we gave her a treat.

It worked at night. But it failed miserably at four a.m.

Then we tried creating a barrier that prevented Shadow from jumping on the bed. She responded by barking in frustration.

No problem. We just had to wait her out.

Eventually she’d realize her barking wasn’t getting her the reward she wanted and she’d stop.

Except she. didn’t. stop. barking.

Imagine hearing a big, booming bark in your ear at four a.m. on a work morning.

We tried to outlast Shadow’s barking for three months. She never stopped until we had to get up, exhausted, to go to work.

Yep, folks. Aversive training works. And Shadow was a master at using it.

Shadow was a beautiful mutt.

What’s going on in that furry brain of hers? Was she thinking of getting shock collars for us if the barking didn’t work?

Dog Trainer Sponsorship

Finally, we gave up our idea of having Shadow sleep on the floor all night.

We bought a bigger mattress.

Which mean buying a bigger bed. Which meant buying a matching bedroom suite.

The queen mattress barely fit up our tiny staircase. I can still see the dings it made in the plaster walls.

I think I’ll use a chainsaw to get it out when we move.

I wonder if Shadow was working for the furniture store that sold us that mattress and all that furniture?

Mixed breed dog in bike trailer

Yep, we also bought the expensive bike trailer for Shadow too. This dog know how to get a frugal chick to spend some money.

Stories We Tell Ourselves

I’ve always been interested in the stories we tell ourselves about rescue dogs (click the link; although it’s four years old, I still think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever written).

We told ourselves a story about Shadow to justify allowing her to sleep on the bed early in the morning.

The shelter workers told us when we adopted Shadow that her family surrendered her on the advice of their doctor. Someone in the family was suffering from kidney failure and waiting for a transplant. The doctor told them it was not smart to have a dog around someone with a compromised immune system.

So Shadow’s family drove her miles from her home to the only no-kill, open admission shelter in the area.

Shadow was eight years old when we adopted her. She was a beautiful and mellow dog with perfect house manners.

Sure, she couldn’t walk on a leash without nearly killing someone.

But if you never left the house, you had the perfect dog.

Shadow the hound mix sunbathing

You couldn’t ask for a sweeter dog.

We told ourselves that Shadow’s people probably loved her. Maybe one of Shadow’s people went to work before five a.m. and Shadow took his place on the bed to keep his other person company.

And maybe it was his other person who had been ill. And maybe Shadow had jumped on the bed early in the morning for years.

How could we expect her to change after all that time?

The only things we knew were what the shelter workers passed on. And who knows if the people who surrendered Shadow told the whole truth?

But the story made sense out of a behavior we could not train Shadow away from. She jumped up on the foot of the bed before dawn every day she lived with us.

And we don’t have to admit to ourselves that Shadow was better at training us then we were at training her.

mixed breed dog hound

Which one is the champion dog trainer? Here’s a hint: it’s not the one wearing the hat.

Your Turn: What has your dog trained you to do? And does anyone have an example of their dog using positive reinforcement instead of aversive training tools?



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


  1. Martine says:

    Our younger dog, Zach, has trained us to give him treats to come in the house. Not all the time: sometimes he does come in on his own, but rarely. As behaviours go, I suppose it’s not the worst thing in the world. But in all my adult life, with the several dogs I have owned, he is the only dog that ever got the best of me.

    • Yeah, Honey’s tried to pull that one with us too.

      I agree that it falls under the “annoying but funny” category of dog behavior. And it sounds like Zach is a gifted trainer.

  2. Harley definitely trained me – no doodle doubt about it. In fact I feel like I’ve been in doodle training school for the past 6 years!

  3. I pretty much wait til my dogs do something cute or clever or good and then I reward them. So I guess that makes them 100% the trainers and me the trainee.

  4. Meagan & Merlin says:

    My last dog, a lab x blue heeler called Smokey (she had a brother named Bandit lol) She was 18 years old and she trained me well. At 8:30am everyday she would wake me up by tapping her paws on the floor outside my bedroom door. When she wanted something she would stare at me and when you took her outside she would nudge your legs with her nose so you’d hurry up.

    • I don’t know what’s smarter–that Smokey tapped her paws to wake you up. Or that she knew when it was 8:30?

      Smart girl.

  5. Haley trained me to play tug of war with my feet, which isn’t a bad workout, by the way. A long time ago, she realized that if I’m relaxing with my feet up while using the laptop there’s still a way to get me to play with her by bringing a toy to my feet. Yep, it’s kind of weird that sometimes she would rather play with people’s feet, haha.

  6. Sometimes I think Luke deliberately steals things off the counters or elsewhere, because he knows I will trade him a treat for whatever he has!

  7. I think of it more as a collaboration, than a trainer-trainee situation :) We’re both using trial and error to learn how best to manipulate the other to do as we would like. And it works!

  8. “We tried to outlast Shadow’s barking for three months.”

    That was some commitment on your part. Shadow the dog trainer must have thought you were the most stubborn humans a dog could ever train.

  9. Haha – we are just the servants….

    Monty and Harlow

  10. I completely agree. My husband & I have a border collie named Holly. She’s extremely intelligent & amazes me everyday. When it comes to teaching her tricks she is an extremely quick learner. We love her so much. :)