In my classes, I tend to divide the dog owners into 3 categories. The first thinks her dog is not very smart and therefore difficult to train. The second thinks his dog is TOO smart to train (also describes dog as stubborn). The third is the proud parent of that clever dog who seems to be able to learn anything in 5 minutes.
I smile or sympathize when necessary, but then I go back to my lesson plan without any adjustments for IQ points. The truth is, all dogs no matter what age or breed can learn in exactly the same way. The key is finding out what motivates the dog.
Some dogs are glued to their owners and act like sponges for affection. They will gladly work for pets and praise or any kind of loving attention. They may appear to be smarter than the more aloof, independent dog or the hound that just wants to run off to follow a scent trail, but in reality it was simply easier to find the dependent dog’s paycheck: his owner. The more reserved dog, and certainly the hound, may need to be motivated by high value treats that smell better than the classroom floor, such as cheese, liver or hot dogs.
The dog that appears distracted and more interested in chewing his leash than learning to lie down is not stupid. Those blank stares are telling you that either the dog is not sure WHAT you are asking him to do because you skipped a step in the training process (maybe because the dog next to you in class seemed to be miles ahead in the race so you cheated a bit), or else your dog is not sure WHY he should be lying down instead of chewing his tasty leather leash. If it is a “what” problem, go back to the last step where your dog was succeeding and proceed with clear, consistent trials until he is getting it every time. If you were getting a good sit but can’t make him lie down, try getting several head bows, then knee bends, then lower crouches many times over until he is all the way down. Reward these smaller steps on the way to getting the behavior you want.
If it’s a “why” issue, your dog is lacking motivation, not brains. Why should he lie down if every time he gets up from the sit you put him back in a sit and reward that? Instead, give him a treat for the first sit, but then only reward for the down. Why should he come away from playing with another dog when you call him? If you have accidentally punished him by ending the fun every time, he’s not going to want to come to you away from his friends. Practice calling your dog and letting him go back to play when you have time, and always reward come when called no matter what.
In the end, any dog can be an honors student, but only if his owner is willing to be an understanding teacher.
For more info on the dog training services offered at the Louisiana SPCA