Beth Holland

Food for thought…

My Old Dog Can Do New Tricks

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We’ve always known that our dog, Mic, had a brain. When at Harvard, I used her as an experiment. By following the rules of natural language parsing – which are closely related to Pavlov’s rules of reward and punishment – I taught her the names of her toys. She could go get her bear, her elephant, her dinosaur… you get the idea. No electrical shocks or anything needed. She worked at this for the attention.

Several years later, my husband added to this skill and introduced her to the concept of trade. He would ask for a toy in exchange for a treat. This worked quite well, and was also an amusing way to pass an evening with a pizza. However, over the past few weeks, she has decided to start initiating trades. As soon as we sit down to eat dinner, she starts stacking toys in our laps. We don’t have to ask her directly, but can even insinuate our desire for a stuffed skunk versus a bear, and she will bring it.

Thing is, our dog is 12.5. For a dog her size, she’s really old. Sure, she may have arthritis in her back legs, but her mind is still sharp and she’s still trying to learn. I think it’s time to abandon this notion that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” I have proof that if the dog wants to learn, and wants to change, and wants to evolve, then age is irrelevant. Imagine if everyone took this same approach to their lives!

Author: brholland

Researcher, Writer, and Speaker

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