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. 😊

Geordie Does Flashcards

Baby Geordie was a dynamo with more energy than I knew how to deal with. When I took him to dog school, they recommended that during the winter, we humans get a book of tricks and keep our pups busy indoors during the bad weather. Geordie learned every trick in the book (literally) so quickly that I had to make up new ones to keep him busy. One thing I tried was flashcards.

I didn’t know if a dog could learn to read or not, but I thought I would give it a try. I started out with The letters A and G because they looked dissimilar. I told him “A as in Adventure”* and “G as in Geordie”. He quickly learned those, so I kept adding more.

Again, I didn’t know if he might eventually sound out words like little humans do or if he would learn each word as its own unique symbol. In case it was the first way, I taught him phonetically. It turned out the second way, though. When you see Geordie’s flashcards, it will look like I don’t know how to spell.

I don’t have a YouTube account, so I posted a video of Geordie doing flashcards on my website. Geordie Doing Flashcards. It is at the bottom of the page if you keep scrolling. (In the photo to the left of it, I am holding the cards for “jump” and “kitty”.)

Over the years, we built up quite a huge stack of flashcards, and Geordie learned an astonishing number of concepts. Rather than using “dog language”, Geordie preferred to use English. He insisted I teach him the word for everything in his environment.

Whenever I mention Geordie talking to me or telling me something, I don’t mean a Son of Sam scenario. If Geordie wanted to tell me something, he would poke me in the leg to get my attention. Then he would make eye contact, heave a big sigh, sit down and stick out his lower teeth. At that point I would start asking him questions, and he would either nod yes or shake his head no or he would point to something (indicate direction or gesture toward an object) or he would tap one of those cards. So many people were surprised when they would ask Geordie a question, and he would answer. Around here he was known as Geordie the Talking Dog.

Before I got sick and my world fell apart, I had studied to be an English as a Second Language teacher. I never got the opportunity to teach humans, but working with Geordie allowed me to use many of those skills.

I don’t need words to tell you I like pumpkin!

  • I realized early on that Geordie picked up on English very quickly, so I never talked to him about “Going for a ride” or “Going in the car”. I didn’t want to accidentally perk his ears up. Instead I used the word Adventure which I rarely use in general conversation.

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Boy or Girl

Boy or Girl

My pup Geordie was such a smart guy that I constantly had to come up with games and puzzles to keep him occupied. One thing he really liked was flashcards. He learned the alphabet, familiar words and he even did math. Toby turned out to be more of an active guy preferring to play chase or fetch, so we didn’t use flashcards much after Geordie left.

This weekend, the weather was too rainy to play outside, so I decided to bring out the flashcards. One game Geordie and I would play was Boy/Girl. I would ask him if someone he knew was a boy or a girl, and he would have to touch the correct card to get a treat. It turns out that Toby is really good at this game too – except that when I ask him if mommy is a boy or a girl, he insists I am a boy. Geordie did too. Both dogs are adamant that I am a boy. It makes me wonder: what do they know that I don’t (and do I need to notify the DMV)?

Duh, of course I know things you don’t!

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