Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

In what now seems like another life, I once belonged to a dog training club. My then-husband and I had two wonderful golden retrievers and for years we trained them in obedience and agility, going to shows each weekend and working and playing hard with our dogs. Then there was a divorce and a move away from the club, and with a blossoming career and two dogs to manage on my own, my training time slipped away. The final blow was Rheumatoid Arthritis, which severely limited my ability to work with my dogs. (You can see the bottom of my brace in this picture). Thus they became couch potatoes. More dogs have followed and while I made sure to take each of them to obedience class, that was the end of our training. They each learned the basics–sit, down, stay, come (sort of)–and that’s about it.

But when we lost Jet two weeks ago, I began lavishing more attention on Keeper. I have to admit that we’ve always thought of Keeper as a bit of a “dim bulb” in comparison to Jet. Shyer, more neurotic, less responsive and physically slow. (Why run if you can walk?) But he’s been a comfort and a joy to me lately, and as I started working with him, I was amazed that he remembered his clicker training from puppyhood, nine long years ago. In one five-minute session, he learned the things I should have taught him years ago: shake, spin, play bow. He’s now moved on to tapping my sunglasses (not on my face) with his nose when I say “where are the glasses?” He’s loving every minute and so am I. Always a wanderer on the beach (no leash law after September 30th here), he’s now glued to my side. Of course, this training is treat-centric, but whatever! It works and we’re having fun. We miss Jet so much, but I think he’s okay. I picture the Rainbow Bridge paved with Beggin’ Strips.


  1. Sylvia Gum on October 3, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    I’m so glad Keeper is getting much love and attention. I’m sure he misses his brother very much. He may be laid back, but is proving he’s nobody’s dummy!
    It was great having lunch with you on Tuesday, and am lookling forward to seeing the picture the waitress took of us. Somehow one of the books didn’t get signed….it’s probably my fault. I put it back in the tote thinking it was signed, but didn’t check. Oh well! There will be another opportunity for that. I’m so proud to be able to say that I have every one of your books….and they are all signed. Thank you so much!!

  2. Diane Chamberlain on October 3, 2012 at 12:26 pm

    Sorry we missed that one book, Sylvia! Just means we’ll have to meet again. It was fun. Removing the picture from phone to computer now…

  3. Jeannie Heffner on October 3, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    Keeper is simply one smart dog! For him to remember that training which was so long ago is amazing 🙂 And I say, be generous with the treats for him! I’ll be if the shoes were on the other foot, that our dogs would give us an abundance of treats, simply because they love us. I have a 16 month old Golden Retriever (my first) and he is SO smart. We’ve done all the obedience classes and he passed his Canine Good Citizen test. But he continues to get smarter. Just two days ago, I came home from work to find that he had eaten a couple of pages out of a book I was reading. Which pages? THE LAST TWO!!! lol! I think he’s a VERY smart dog! he didn’t even touch the back or front cover of the book…just the last.two.pages. 🙂

    • Diane Chamberlain on October 3, 2012 at 1:17 pm

      Jeannie, lol. He probably heard you tell someone that you were ‘devouring’ that book and had to find out what it tasted like. Enjoy your golden!

  4. Debbie Hearne on October 3, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    What a happy blog! It sounds as if Keeper always let Jet take the lead in the past. Now he is letting his light shine! What a good boy to give you so much comfort.

  5. Christina Wible on October 3, 2012 at 3:39 pm

    It is interesting that when there are two of any animals one always seems dominant and the other can seem to be well just the other. Friends had two Mynas, one who talked endlessly and the other just sat there. They sold the silent one cheap to a pet shop owner friend who promised he’d find a good home. When he got the bird into his shop (and away from the other bird) the bird started talking up a storm. He was immediately sold (at what I heard was a considerable sum). I think you can only really tell about an animal when it is just you and him.

  6. kelly English on October 3, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    Try where is the Roach! I love your dog diane! Glad he has come out of his shell but sad for the reason. thinking of both of you!

    • Diane Chamberlain on October 3, 2012 at 9:34 pm

      Lol, Kelly. It’s in your pillowcase, right?

  7. Margo on October 4, 2012 at 8:05 am

    Diane, what a beautiful photo of you and Keeper. I’ve been thinking so much about the 3 of you
    and wondering how you’re doing. I know how incredibly hard it is, but I have to tell you I love the connection between you and Keeper. Is he really 9 years young already? Like you, I believe Jet is really doing fine…after all, he now has Kramer to help guide him
    Love to all of you.

  8. Barbara Walls on October 5, 2012 at 9:39 am

    Diane – This reminds me of the shift in family dynamics when our oldest of three children left for college. New conversations and relationships emerged. When child number two left the third relished the “only” child attention and when she left for college my spouse could finally express his opinion at the dinner table!

    • Diane Chamberlain on October 5, 2012 at 10:29 am

      lol, Barb. Knowing the ‘characters’ in your story, I can just picture this!

  9. My 100 foot yacht on October 11, 2012 at 5:31 am

    What a gorgeous photo! You both look so happy! I’m glad you’re drawing Keeper out of walking and into running – sounds like you’re both benefiting from it and bonding with each other, too!

  10. krystal on October 27, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    nice pic didnt catch this when it was first posted. If i had a dog i’d really want a hearing dog. Having a hearing dog would allow me more freedom and i would be able to hear the phone. Ive wanted a hearing dog since i saw Sue Thomas F.B.Eye

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