How to Train an Incorrigible, Determined, Intelligent Terrier

In case you were interested in how I taught Geordie flashcards, I’ll give a brief overview of what I did.

Initially, I was looking for ways to keep my bitey boy busy. I started with obedience training, but since I don’t like that phrase, I called it ”Doing Tricks”. When I asked Geordie if he wanted to do tricks, he would run to the kitchen to get started.

We began with the basics of sit, down and stay. Later we added beg, roll over, spin, spin the other way, crawl, crawl backwards, run a figure eight around my legs, etc. Pups like these fast-moving, physical tricks. Later you can use them to help the pup focus.

Once Geordie learned those things, we worked on “Which hand is it in?” and Left Paw/Right Paw. When I asked Geordie to touch my ”left paw”, I thought he would touch the hand that was on his left, but he knew to switch for my orientaion. Smart puppies. You can also teach Come/Back Up, Up/Down, Hot/Cold…anything that will help your dog to see that words can represent a variety of concepts.

After those tricks, I worked on Touch games. I would choose something – maybe his stuffed animal Bobo – and ask him to touch it. When he did, he got a treat. If he touched me, he got nothing, but I would give the command again. The next day we might do ”Touch the ball” until he did it well. After that I would have both Bobo and a ball, and he would have to touch the correct one to get a treat. The pup must do it right on the first try to get treats and praise. If not, just give the command again. If he/she still can’t get it, move onto other tricks they know so they don’t get discouraged.

When Geordie had trouble focusing on a new task, I would have him run through some active tricks (run around, sit, down) very quickly then immediately ask him to touch one of the toys. He was near perfect after one of these fast-paced warm ups.

It was after Geordie was used to doing touch commands that I moved onto flashcards. I think our first letters were A and G because they looked different. I taught him like we do little humans. “This is A as in Adventure. This is G as in Geordie.” He would have to touch the one I asked for on the first try in order to get a reward.

I noticed a few things about Geordie as we worked on flashcards. I tried setting the cards on the floor to let him touch them, but it were as if he couldn’t see them. I figured that dogs can’t see things well from that angle. They must rely on scent when items are close.

I also tried hanging the cards on the wall for him to touch, but again, it were as if he couldn’t see them. I don’t know if just Geordie couldn’t or if all dogs are that way.

People loved to play this letter game with Geordie. Sometimes one person would hold up the cards then close her eyes and turn her head away so she couldn’t see what she was holding. Another person would stand behind Geordie and call out letters, and he would still get them right.

These are the stages we went through. I am presuming that if you are reading this you know the basics of dog training like length of sessions and when to treat/click.

How long did this process take? Months. Geordie was six months old when I started with Heel, Sit, Stay and the like. Then we worked on the Motion Tricks and the Touch tricks. He was probably a year old before we tried our first letters.

Working like this really helped Geordie and me. I can’t stress enough how difficult of a pup he was. It took a while but I finally realized that his anger was actually frustration that he couldn’t communicate. Here I had my own canine Helen Keller.

Happy Cairn terrier pup

I was much happier once mom realized I was trying to talk.

If I forgot anything or if you have questions, just post. I’m always happy to brag about my boys. 😊


  1. Seriously, you need to write this all out in book form, with ridiculously simple step-by-step explanations–and illustrations! You’re just the person to do it! There are a million dog training books out there, but I’ve never heard of this.

  2. Geordie was such a handsome boy! And I’m so glad he helped you learn how to communicate with him! He had important stuff to say, and important stuff to do, and he was finally able!
    Excellent to you! You really should see if you could write a book about all of this! I think a book for dog owners, but, also, a book for kids. Kids would love to work with their pups and get to be the teacher. 🙂
    I think a lot of dogs are bored. We work to keep Coops hoppin’ and havin’ fun! And he keeps us entertained with his antics. 😀
    All of my life when I’ve seen dogs tied up outside all day, or inside alone for hours hours a day, it makes me so sad.
    PATS and RUBS for Toby!!! 🙂

  3. I smell a YouTube video. Flash Card Dog! It will go viral! I think if Max were younger I might try him on Kanji characters but, you know, old dogs and new tricks. Like me. Getting Toby in line will be your masterwork. Bite this, not that.

  4. Thank you for your detailed instructions! I shall broach my incorrigible, determined, intelligent terrier and see what she says. I know she’s quite bright as she redirects the front seat car vent fans away from her. First the center vent, then the vent near her window. She doesn’t care for air blowing directly on her. However, other times she doesn’t respond to her name. Oh, she hears her name being called, but chooses to ignore me calling her. As I was previously owned by four cats (now all in Heaven) I’m well trained on being ignored.
    I like the idea of a book. Not sure how it would go over, especially if you’ve ever met any dog experts. In the show world everyone is an expert, but I gotta tell you that no one has a dog doing flashcards. Also, the training experts are Caesar what’s-his-name, those monks of new skate (seriously, they’re rubbish) and even going back to that British ‘walkies ‘ lady. And the truth is you’re different from all of them. Your approach reminds me of something Woody Allen once said: “I always assume my audience is more intelligent than I am”. You give the pups a lot of credit as being smarter than most people ever recognize, and to further prove it you’re doing this with a terrier and not a lab. (I love labs, had one also).
    I’ll check with my girl and see if she wants to chat in a way that’s more advanced. I shall get back to you.

  5. Back again. Well, I was on tick patrol today; I can pull one of those disgusting creatures out whole with just my nail, My girl has had three in two weeks. The last one was Lyme positive. Ughhh.

    I think we shall start with the left and right paw tomorrow. She knows basic commands already, but considers them to more as loose suggestions. I’m predicting she’ll want the hand that she believes conceals a cookie.

    Geordie was a special pup, a very clever boy!

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