Unschooling your dog

I just had a talk with Petey, a four-month-old puppy whose parents are trying very hard to raise up right.
Petey is going to puppy kindergarten, but it’s not working as well as they’d thought it would. Poor guy doesn’t seem to be listening much.

These are good parents. They know that he’s only 4 months old. He just seems to be a little “meh” about the whole thing.

I am a big fan of puppy kindergarten. Early exposure to other (nice) dogs increases the chances that your dog will be able to socialize appropriately with dogs as they get older. And I think it can be a really nice thing to share with your dog.

I am an even bigger fan of in-the-moment training. Basically, instead of going somewhere with a bunch of other dogs to learn how to behave, your dog learns from you in tiny training nuggets all day long. Even if you work outside your home, you can do this.

This is just like the unschooling movement. You make learning part of the everyday experience. And you can make a game out of anything…

Like, maybe you play the “what-do-you-need-to-do-to-get-me-to-put-this-bowl-of-food-down” game. (Hey! She put the food down when I sat! I’m training her to put the food down! I am such a smart dog!).

Or the “what-do-you-need-to-do-to-go-on-a-walk-with-mom” game (Hey! when I pulled on the leash, we went away from that bush I wanted to smell, instead of towards it. Hmm…how can I approach this bush in a way that lets me check my pee-mail?).

It helps to have a dog that likes to play games. Most dogs do.

I’ve taught my dogs mostly while I cook dinner. They know how to sit, shake hands, speak, and pay attention. They also know the word “kitchen”, which means “Get out of the kitchen”, which they’ve applied to mean, “Please leave whatever room that Bridget is currently standing in.”

This is good for when I need to get the lasagna out of the oven.

Dogs love to do things with their owners. Dogs love it, most of the time, when their owners take interest in them.

One More Thing
Every dog has the thing that turns their crank. For some, it’s food. For others, it’s a tennis ball. For my dog Max, it was a frisbee. I could get him to save kittens from a burning building if I had that frisbee (not that we ever tried that, or anything).

For Petey, he told me that he wants to spend more time “in the wild”. So, I’m going to work with Petey’s mom to incorporate a wild outside element into their training.

If your dog is not attentive, not a good listener, doesn’t seem to care about your training, then you need to try to find what turns his or her crank, and incorporate it. Hey, you sit really well for a tennis ball? Cool. You don’t care about a cracker? Okay, let’s use a tennis ball.

Try unschooling your dog, yeah? I’m sure that your pooch will like it.

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3 Responses to Unschooling your dog

  1. Ronnie says:

    Umm, I kind of see where you’re going here. But unschooling is not about tricking our kids into thinking they’re doing what they want! They really do lead, and we facilitate.

  2. Yael Brisker says:

    Hey Bridget!
    My family are becoming big fans of yours! Great post! And particularly love it ’cause I believe in un-schooling too!
    Brought a big smile to my face!

  3. admin says:

    Hey Ronnie-
    I’m not thinking that you’re tricking a dog into doing what you want either. I’m sorry if it sounded that way. I’m recommending that people use a dog’s natural curiosity about outcome to see how they can affect their world. Dogs like to figure things out.
    Dogs and people are constantly training one another.
    I’m using the term unschooling because I’m teaching them how to be appropriate dogs in households in the household.
    I think that there are ample opportunities to let our dogs lead with their education and let us facilitate the outcome. That’s what I mean by “Find what turns their crank”.

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