The Puppy!

I’ve had the pleasure of working with two dogs whose learning styles are very different.

The Poodle learns quickly: he is fast, direct, and focused. On the other hand, he can often use his “smartness” to play tricks on people and try to get away with things. This causes the person to have to “correct” him more or ask him to do something again – even though he knows how he should be behaving.

The German Shepherd I currently have learns slower and will keep making a “mistake” without noticing that she should try something new.But when she does learn something, it sticks. She takes it seriously and I rarely have to remind her once she’s understood a command. She is very low energy but can get motivated and surprisingly well-behaved in the moments that count.

It’s difficult to describe why or how these two dogs learn so differently – I could never quite explain or grasp it. They both learn very fast, but they get to that point in different ways (they are currently almost at the same “level”). The Shepherd is about six months younger than the Poodle – a little younger than a year. That plays a major role. Another possible reason that came to me while training yesterday was:

The Poodle knows where the boundaries are, and chooses to cross them (making a mistake or misbehaving). Where as the Shepherd doesn’t know there are any boundaries – why would there be boundaries? Why can’t I go say “hi” to that kid playing over there? It just doesn’t seem to cross her mind that something could be bad in any way. Everything is optimistic with her – so she keeps repeating  it, because she literally doesn’t understand that she isn’t doing something “correctly”.

So my lovely challenge is to tell the Poodle not to cross the line, and to show the Shepherd that there is one, where it is, and why she shouldn’t cross it. Then give them both a reason to behave well. And that’s how it often is with puppies – just as human children – we can’t get frustrated at them too quickly for doing something “wrong”, if they don’t even understand what that means.


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