Is your dog clever? How does one know whether or not their dog is clever? Many dog owners say their dog knows every word they say and yet in reality, if they sit on the grass, fold their arms and say some of these words that the dog is reputed to understand the dog does not respond at all. Try it! Many dogs simply learn an order of events, a routine, or an exercise.

Is an obedient dog clever? Is a clever dog obedient? Is a trained dog clever, or does it have a clever owner? Is it necessary for a trials dog to be clever? Ask these questions when everyone from a trial is in the pub in the evening and be prepared for an evening of stimulating conversation.

Is the Golden Wonder clever? This is a question I have asked myself many times before. He learnt how to press a lever to work the clicker very quickly (October 2009) and he now knows many ways to work the clicker. This means he has learnt quite a few words and like all clicker trained dogs he knows individual words not merely a set of routines such as the retrieve where the dog knows ‘sit, wait, fetch, come and finish to heel’ but may not be so quick to respond to the same commands out of that sequence.

Whilst learning to ‘wait’ on command Golden Wonder learnt to listen either for the click, or the next command which may lead to a click. He learnt this as an isolated exercise, not merely a prelude to jumps, retrieve or anything else (July 2010). I used food as a distraction to try and tease him out of the wait and when he learnt that moving from the wait was counter productive I clicked and rewarded the successful wait with whatever I had used to tease him now being given as the reward. With this sequence of events programmed into his little canine brain the Golden Wonder was primed and ready for progressing his speak training.

As he now enjoys a game of tug with his fleece rope toy I can move on to using the tug toy as the reward.

Progressing the Speak

Having got the rudiments of the speak exercise (May 2010) I check my rule book to ensure I train exactly what is required. I find ‘the judge will control the position of the handler in relation to the dog and may require the handler to work the dog walking at heel. If the dog is not required to walk at heel, the handler may place the dog in the stand, sit or down.’

Having, like many other trialists, struggled to keep a keen dog quiet through the heelwork tests in the past I choose not to teach speak at heel until just before I actually need it – therefore definitely not in pre- CD training. This means I can choose from stand, sit and down. As with the wait on the far side of the scale I like to see if the dog has a natural preference for any particular position and go with this if he does. Of course if the dog naturally adopts the down on the other side of the scale and I then train the dog to wait in the down for this exercise I would not use the word wait if wait means sit wait. I would simply say ‘down’.

As Golden Wonder will happily bark no matter whether he is sitting, standing, running, or lying down (although he does tend to jump up) I have selected the sit for progressing his speak training.

It might be difficult to keep the dog still in the stand it is too easy to creep forward, a few dogs are less inclined to bark in the down perhaps because they feel vulnerable in this more submissive posture and this leaves the sit as my first choice of position if the dog shows no other preference.

When standing in front of GW I can say ‘speak’ and he will bark albeit he may move around in front of me. Up until now I have clicked the bark and fed him as a reward. My aim now is to get him to wait in a sit and speak without moving – even when (later) I progress to moving away from him.

First I need to show him that wait means the same when I tease him with a toy as it did when I teased him with a piece of food. I said "sit wait" and held the toy in front of him, he lunged forward to grab the toy (as I had previously taught him to do) and I said "Oops!" and removed the toy just as I had done with the food in his earlier wait training. After a couple of repetitions he waited without lunging at the toy, then I said "get it" (words he is familiar with from his play training) and encouraged him onto the toy. We repeated this a few times to ensure he understood the need to wait and not help himself to the toy.

Now to put the speak into the sequence. I asked him to sit and held the toy really close to his mouth (so he had no need to move towards it) and gave the command ‘speak.’ As soon as he did I said ‘get it’ and had a vigorous game as a reward. After several more successful repetitions we called it a day. We practised this exercise over the following few weeks in many different places and it became a firm favourite with my noisy little friend. I gradually moved the toy away from his face and he learnt to sit and wait whilst I held the toy at my chest height and he barked. After a varying number of barks he was released to get it and play. Next I lowered the toy and got him to speak. He learnt that if he ever tried to get the toy before I said "Get it" the toy was unceremoniously removed and he had no game. Eventually I could place the toy on the ground in front of Golden Wonder and ask him to speak, he would oblige, barking until I said "Get it". Now I felt GW was ready to speak on command whilst I moved away. As before I put him in the sit wait and left the toy on the floor just in front of him. I took one step away and asked him to speak. He did and was released onto the toy as before. We repeated this exercise with the toy on the floor in front of him to give him an incentive to not move as I increased the distance I moved away before asking him to speak. This worked very well and in no time at all I could leave him and his toy in the wait and ask him to speak from a distance. Wow what a clever dog! Oh and of course he is soo pretty!