Old Dog, New Tricks

Archer, waiting for a treat.

I’m house-sitting for my sister and her family this Christmas season. It’s a regular occurance; they go away for the holidays and I get to stay in a nice house with a friendly dog. Archer is an English spaniel, very smart, very affectionate, and generally well-behaved.

For the past several years, I’ve been working on teaching Archer a new trick. I want to teach him to speak on command. I spend a little bit of time every day I’m here repeating the command, with the hand gesture, and I try to only reward him when he actually makes a noise.

This year, finally, he’s starting to get it. He will make a noise of some kind, a whine or a soft “ruff”, more than half the time I try. Sometimes he gets frustrated and confused, and he’ll start cycling through all the other tricks he knows: sitting, getting down, rolling over. When he does that, I go back to something simple, like “sit”, and reward him, to re-center him, and then try with “speak” again.

My friend Terry, who is very good with dogs, taught me how to do all this. I’m following his instructions. And the main reason I picked “Speak” as the trick is because, Terry said, “If you can train him to speak, you can then get him to Not Speak.”

This afternoon Archer and I were working on the trick, and then I figured he had enough and started surfing and chilling. Shortly after, he spotted someone walking by the house and started barking. Time to try something new.

I walked over, got his attention, and making the hand gesture, said firmly, “No speak.”

He immediately stopped, and his expression was priceless. I could literally see him processing this new information. He cocked his head, he looked at me, looked away, looked back. It was hilarious and adorable.

He’s a good dog.