It's truly a shame how few things most people teach their dogs. What many people don't realize is that training is a way of communicating with your dog, of sharing a common language.
The more you teach your dog, the more you both will get out of your relationship. Training will also make your dog a better companion, because he'll become more confident and secure, and more comfortable and trusting in your leadership.
While many people can't seem to think beyond the basics of canine good manners -- sit, stay and such -- the fact is that the training possibilities for most dogs are restricted only by the imagination of the owner.
Consider that service dogs are routinely trained to perform dozens of different tasks, from pulling wheelchairs to picking up dropped items to turning off lights. Maybe your dog's not as smart as a service dog, but even if he's only half as smart, he can learn a couple of dozen more things than he knows now.
You can train your dog with the help of others, such as by taking classes in fun canine sports like agility. You don't have to train to be competitive: Just getting your dog out to class and practicing is more than enough for many, and plenty of fun for all.
If you don't want to get into something more organized, you can always teach your dog tricks at home.
Some dogs are better at some tricks than others are. A small, agile terrier may find jumping through hoops easier than a bulldog would. In addition, a retriever is probably more willing to hold things in his mouth than a Pekinese.
A basset hound can probably roll over, but may find begging a little hard, being a little top-heavy. So think about your dog's form and aptitudes before you start. You may notice something special your dog does that would be entertaining if you can get him to do it on command.
Guess what? You can. Give it a name, use that word when he's most likely to do his thing, and praise him for "obeying." He'll make the connection soon enough.
I did that with Benjamin, my big retriever, who makes a sound that's halfway between a bark and a howl when it's time for his breakfast. I called it "woo-woo" and started saying "woo-woo" just as I could see his mouth preparing to make this sound. When the woo-woo came out, I praised him, even though it was a coincidence at first. Now, he "woo- woos" on command.
I also worked with his natural retrieving abilities to teach him to pick up his stuffed toys and put them into the washing machine. On the command: "Go find!" He'll run through the house searching, until finally every stuffed toy is swirling in the soapy water.
Each of my animals knows a special trick or two that I developed just by adapting something they did naturally. (That includes the parrot!)
Look for an opportunity to turn your dog's special talents into a routine that's fun for you both, and consider adding a canine sport to your lives. No matter the age of the dog or the people who love him, training is always a worthwhile way to spend time with your pet.
In addition to this syndicated column on pet advice, a locally written column is often prepared as a public service by the Niagara Frontier Veterinary Society. Send questions to Pets, P.O. Box 1252, Buffalo, N.Y. 14205 or to the Web site at nfvs.online.org. Sorry, personal replies cannot be provided.