Games Dogs Play

Jana and I have been working on concept learning. A while ago, I taught her “in,” “on,” and “under.” I would ask her to put a ball or toy in a basket, on the table, under the table, etc. We use these concepts for tasks like putting trash in the trash basket, placing the newspaper on the coffee table, and putting her toys back in the toy basket when playtime ends.

Next, I decided to teach Jana the relative concepts of “bigger” and “smaller.” I got three pairs of items that are identical except for their size (tennis balls, rope toys and measuring cups). The first two sessions, we only looked for the “bigger” item. Then only the “smaller” item. Then we mixed it up. She was getting the correct item about three-quarters of the time. Better than chance but with room to improve.

Then something interesting happened. Jana selected the requested item but, instead of giving it to me, she gave me her “LOOK” and walked over to the nearest basket (the office trash can) and dropped it in. She did this a couple of times. I finally caught on and instead of just asking for the item, I’d say, “Get the bigger one and put it in the basket;” or “Get the smaller one and put it on the table.”

Clearly, Jana wanted the game to be different. Was she bored and asking for a higher-level game? Was she just giving me a hard time? Did she want to stop playing this game? I’ll never know her true motivation. I do think that she had more fun with the new, improved game. Maybe because it was more interesting, maybe because she contributed to making the rules, maybe both. The challenge is to keep coming up with new ways to challenge this too-smart dog!

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