Tuesday Training Tip: Dogs Are Natural Problem Solvers

Mama Sally:

When training your dogs, just remember that where you start isn’t always where things will end!  Training dogs to consistently produce a given behavior on cue takes time and patience, because the dog has to do several things:

  • Make mistakes while he figures out what I want from him
  • Figure out the specific behavior I want from him
  • Try several in a row to be sure that’s what I really want from him
  • Try a few more mistakes to double check himself to make sure he really understands exactly what I want from him and that only that one specific behavior is allowed
  • Generalize the behavior in many different settings and with all kinds of different distractions

When it’s broken down in this way, it really makes it clear just how complex learning is for a dog!  My favorite training methods involve using food or toy lures to entice a dog to produce a specific given behavior.  I really like letting dogs work it out for themselves.  You’d think that it would take a long time to get results, but it’s amazing how quickly dogs figure things out, when the trainer is using the lure correctly and adjusting things for the dog along the way!


Dogs are natural problem solvers, so this training style really resonates with many dogs.  It turns training into a puzzle and a game for them. Each command that a dog learns is like a separate game that has new rules for play.  As they figure things out, they just beam with pride! Dogs really do seem to know when they are doing a great job, and I love seeing that look of joy on their faces!


This method of training can really help foster trust between the dog and owner.  This is what I did in the early days when I realized that while Rugby had bonded to our family, he really didn’t trust me when it came to training.  What I learned was that:

  • Rugby needed limited corrections.
  • Rugby needed training that felt like a game and could be fun for him.
  • Rugby preferred to figure things out and work it out for himself.
  • Once he figured things out on his own, it was locked away in his brain and generalizing those commands was easier.
  • This method of training really tired out my very energetic puppy!!  Thinking is hard work, and that helped with exercising him.

Rugby James:

When I first commed to live wif the Mama, I didn’t know the rules.  I had already had four udder homes, so I was scared and just wanted to stay alive and be safe!  I was trying to figure out how fings worked in this home, and still wondering when I was gonna go back to my last home.  Nuffing looked familiar, and it was so so scary on account of I had already hadda do this a bunch of times before, and I didn’t know if the Mama would be kind to me or not.

My first night wif the Mama. I was really scared!!

So I watched.  I watched everybody in the family, and I watched what they did and what they sayed, and how they treated me.  I learned that the Daddy lubbed to play fetch wif me, and he didn’t get tired as quick as the Mama did.  He gived me more snacks than the Mama did too what I liked very much!  He likes to nap on the floor, and he always lets me snuggle wif him, what I likes a big much!


The Lindsay was gone a lot, and she didn’t play wif me a lot or give me lotsa snacks, but she liked messing around wif stuff like the Mama did…teaching me fings.  And she lubbed to snuggle wif me what I lubs a big much!!

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At first, the Mama used a leash and collar for all of my training, and she letted the leash direct what she wanted me to do.  This was just plain scary to me, and I just didn’t wanna work.  I would hide when I seed her coming wif the leash, and that maked her sad.  So, she just stopped training commands wif me, and instead, she just played games wif me, like giving me a kibble if I jumped over her legs when she was sitting on the floor, or if I crawled under them.  Before long, I learned “Over” and “Under” meant to do sumping very special, and I always gotted either a kibble or a fetch when I got it right…along wif a very happy voice, a smile, and sum good pets too!

This is how we did mostly everyfing in training togedder.  She did put the leash on me, only she didn’t always hold it, and she letted me drag it wif me since we were training in a smaller room.  Sumtimes she picked it up once I really learned sumping only she just held it, and she never did do anyfing scary wif it, so I learned to trust her.  It taked her a bit of time to figure out how I learned best, but once she gotted that, she always did it the same way every single time!  I learned what to expect, and then it helped me relax and feel safe wif her!



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