My dogs visit patients as therapy dogs and people often ask me if they perform tricks. Toby is a great paw shaker and Wheatie gives the sweetest wave, but the best trick I ever taught was one no one else ever sees.
When Wheatie was starting obedience classes as a puppy, one of the commands that he really struggled with was down. The instructor thought maybe the floor was too cold, too smooth, too rough, but he’d happily lie down on his own, just not to command. He’d first get into a sit and then slowly, slowly lower his belly toward the floor. Just when only a few millimeters of space were left between floor and belly skin, he’d hover momentarily before popping back up like a jack-in-the-box. Totally frustrating.
I soon found a great way to get him to practice. I put a jar of dog treats on my piano and when I was doing my daily practice, I’d call him in, tell him “down,” and give him a treat as soon as he neared the floor. He knew as long as I was at the piano, my hand was only inches from the treat jar. Every time I’d make mistakes and have to stop—which was pretty often—Wheatie would get a treat if he were lying down. Not only did this improve his down, my playing improved as well. Wheatie soon learned my usual practice time and I’d find him sitting next to the piano bench waiting for me if I was late. While I knew he was eyeing the treats, I bragged to my friends that my playing was so extraordinary my dog would beg me to play for him. When Toby joined the family, he soon discovered the advantages of sitting quietly at the piano bench and my devoted fan base increased to two.
Yesterday, I was taking a break from writing, fed the dogs, and let Wheatie out in the yard to play. I sat down at the piano to play through a few songs and, after hitting just a couple notes, heard a frantic Wheaten at the door, insisting he be allowed back in to hear my play. (That is, to get piano treats!) I let him in and he raced to the piano to take his place next to Toby, gazing at me adoringly while I struggled through a few pieces. There’s truly no better trick than having your dogs show you that you’re the greatest, even if you know it has, perhaps, a bit to do with the treat jar nearby.