The Coastal Star

Bad dog? More likely, that Marley of yours is just poorly trained

Paws Up for Pets!

by Arden Moore

Marley…and me. Yes, I had the joy – and frustration – of knowing the real Marley. That goofy, rambunctious Labrador retriever made famous in the bestseller penned by his owner, John Grogan and on the big screen in a movie headlined by Jennifer Aniston, Owen Wilson and a pack of Marley lookalikes.

For nine years, John and I worked in the Delray Beach newsroom of The Sun-Sentinel. He amused and annoyed Palm Beach County residents with his metro column musings. I did my best to keep educators focused on the task of spending our tax money wisely as a senior reporter.

One Sunday, the Grogans invited some of us to their West Palm Beach home for an outdoor cookout. At the time, Marley was reveling in his terrible twos. Quite the gardener, John wanted to show his blooming success to us. Then I heard what sounded like a team of Clydesdales in full gallop – Marley. Sporting a wide grin and muddy paws, he rounded the corner after gutting the garden like a furry, frenzied roto tiller. John was not pleased. Marley was.

I share this with you because my Marley connection continues. When I completed my 17th pet book in 2006 – entitled The Dog Behavior Answer Book: Practical Insights & Proven Solutions for Your Canine Questions – I had only one person in mind to write its foreword: John Grogan. Who else but the owner of the world’s so-called worst dog. Happily, John agreed and admitted that “Marley wasn’t the worst dog, only one of the worst trained dogs.”

Today, as a pet expert, I help people all over the country learn how to “Marley-proof” their dogs. Let me unleash five ways to make your life more harmonious with your dog:

• Be consistent. During training sessions with your dog, decide on what verbal cues and hand signals you want to use for basic commands like “come,” “sit,” and “stay” – and stick with them. Don’t say “get over here” when you are trying to reinforce “come” to your dog.
• Be concise. Avoid mindless chatter. Dogs understand simple, imperative sentences, such as, “Marley, sit.” Don’t keep rattling sit, sit, sit because smart dogs will learn to “ignore” you until they hear “sit” repeated say, 12 times.
• Stick with small reward treats. Treats should be itty bitty - just enough for your dog to bite once and swallow. This keeps your dog’s attention on you.
• Think Las Vegas, baby. By that I mean offer praise, a small treat or surprise him with a heap of treats. This is called intermittent reinforcement. Just like those playing slot machines in hope of delivering a jackpot, your dog will be determined to work harder in hopes of reaping a tasty jackpot.
• Praise the good and ignore the bad. Distract your dog when performing a misdeed (like chewing your leather shoe), divert him toward a desired behavior (offer a chew toy) and then praise and reward.

John was right. Marley wasn’t the world’s worst dog. But hopefully, his legacy will inspire pet people here in South Florida and beyond to bring out the best in their canine pals.

Arden Moore, an animal behavior consultant, editor, author and professional speaker, happily shares her Oceanside, Calif. home with two cats, two dogs and one overworked vacuum cleaner. Tune in to her “Oh Behave!” show on Pet Life Radio.com and contact her at arden@ardenmoore.com.

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