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Teaching An Old Dog New Tricks

Our dog Martha understands English.  She can not speak English like her namesake Martha in the Martha Speaks books by Susan Meddaugh.   Our dog Martha understands sit and down and come.  She will sit when you ask her. She will lay down when you ask her.  She will not come when you ask her.  We bought Martha from Craigslist on December 2nd, 2008.  I wrote about Martha in a previous post.  Our Dogs Name is Martha. The previous owners had not taught her to come. And I didn’t teach her either.  Is it possible to teach an old dog new tricks? My youngest daughter told me that Mythbusters had done an episode on Dog Myths.

In episode #74 Mythbusters Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage, after four days of training, taught a pair of  7-year-old  Alaskan malamutes, who didn’t know any  tricks, how to heel, sit, lie down, stay and shake upon command. They busted the Myth written in 1523 by an Englishman ,  Fitgeralkd : “the dogge must lerne when he is a whelpe, or els it wyl not be; for it is harde to make an old dogge to stoupe.”

Martha use to come when you had a piece of meat to entice her to come back after she ran out of the front door.

Last weekend when we had company she ran out the front door.  When I ran out the door after her calling her name and waving a piece of hot dog,  she turned her head, looked  at me, and then kept running.  She took off running three times in one day.

Martha did not want to come home.  I don’t really blame her. I use to walk her every morning and evening.  I hadn’t walked her for several weeks.  She had started to  not listen to me in the house.  I would say, “Martha come!” and she would ignore me and stay where she was.  I didn’t correct her bad attitude then.  If she wouldn’t listen to me within the home, why would she listen to me outside.

Martha is back on her regular walks.  She has to sit before she gets her supper. When we walk she heels, not pulling ahead on the lease like she used to.  During the walks I will run backward saying, “Come Martha.”  Teaching her to come. I am working on keeping the front door closed.

The last time Martha ran out the open front door, ( no she didn’t just run, she bolted) she kept running as I yelled her name.   I felt so angry when she wouldn’t listen to me. ” Hey, dog, I have been so kind to you. Walking you, picking up your poop, feeding you, and you won’t come when I call! “I know I always have to be nice to her.  Why would she come to me, if I scolded her after she listened?

I ran in the house and got my keys, jumped in the van and drove around the block to wait for her to appear from behind the neighbor’s house at the end of the block.  I stood on the grass, holding a piece of brie cheese, waiting for her.  She came out of the trees behind the neighbor’s house and saw me.  I called her name, “Martha, come here honey. I have a treat for you.”  She came to me and accepted the piece of cheese.   I put on her lease and put her in the van. The week before when I called her, she ran past me and up the other side of the block.  There was improvement. Not perfection, but improvement.

Martha is learning new tricks.

I am learning that if I want Martha to come to me, I have to be someone she wants to come to.



About Pamela Hodges

My name is Pamela Hodges. I am a writer and an artist. I write to encourage and to bring laughter. I paint cats, draw cartoons and write books for children and grown ups.

You are an artist. Yes, you are. Really.

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  • Our dog barks often and we have tried many ways to stop this. We know she barks out of fear – something from her past we “rescued” her from. Our best and most successful method (when I remember to use it) is acting excited and happy when someone knocks at the door, hopefully dispelling her fear. Dogs (and people) do respond more positively to positive people, don’t they? Thanks for a good lesson (and lots of interesting info, too!)

  • Chris

    Pamela – I used to stand in the yard, shaking the dog treats, so our black lab would come back home. It’s so hard not to scold them! I think Martha will continue to improve – keep at it!

  • writekimwrite

    How I love a good dog story especially the way you write it.

  • Elsie

    Martha is teaching you new tricks. ” I am learning that if I want Martha to come to me, I have to be someone she wants to come to,” may be the biggest aha! of all. That is so true in all aspects of life, I must remember that.
    I would love a huge bowl of strawberries, but they are not as tasty now as they were in March. I must find a local patch so I can pick some.

    • pamelahodges

      Elsie, would you like to come and pick Strawberries this Friday at Weavers Orchard at 40 Fruit Lane in Morgantown PA? There are also cherries and raspberries to pick. I will even make whipped cream.

  • terje

    This is such a great dog story. Including the myth buster episode fits perfectly. I think that your last sentence isn’t just about a dog, but about people too.