As a little 8-16 week old, I began to teach a puppy to recognize exit signs, bathroom symbols, and numbers like in our grocery store. If a pup takes to that easily, I want them to learn words commonly found on checklists.
Words like bed mean “pull up covers”, or “shoes” mean the ones laying on the floor go in the closet.
I’m hoping a pup can and will be a good reader since I have a tendency to be forgetful or get distracted while doing something and forget to go back to finish. A pup that can check a checklist for me would be a wonderful help.
How many times have I forgotten something on the grocery list? If the pup just doesn’t take to the game, that’s okay. They can learn to remind ME to check the list. But having stimulated the puppy’s visual learning centers during that 16 week early development, I belive a pup can surprise us with how much they can learn.
Nobody believes you when you say a dog can read–it’s not like I’m asking them to read the Twilight Saga and have a conversation about the plot! It’s just a visual cue to an action rather than a verbal cue.
It’s not such a stretch, really, considering we teach dogs both verbal “sit” and a hand signal for the same action. The puppy does not have an understanding of the written word until we teach them what it means. They will never know or care about grammar!
Many dogs are experts at recognizing visual cues in their environment. Great Danes were used for hunting, without human assistance. So they are very good at visual recognition, and that is a skill I can shape into a task.
But my pup may already have mastered the pull up covers on a verbal cue. Now all I need to do is use that verbal cue with the written word until the puppy understands that written and verbal mean the same action.
You may have noticed that the verbal command has 3 words, and I’ve chosen to use one written word: the simpler, shorter the word, the easier it is for the puppy to recognize the visual shape.
Canned tomatoes can be “ctom” if that’s easy for me to remember. It makes no difference to the puppy if you teach them “green” means find the car. The puppy is recognizing a word in the way we do symbols.
When teaching to “read”, it is easiest if the puppy already knows a verbal cue to do something. Then all you need to do is have them look at the flash card word while you say the command. Making flash cards is as easy as printing words on cardstock.
If I want them to get the mushrooms from the pantry, I set that object and others they know out where they can easily touch the one I am teaching. Every correct touch, of course gets a click and a reward. It is simple targeting only now with a visual cue added.
If the pup still isn’t making the connection, I show the card and then say the word some more. I will take longer and longer to use the verbal and physical cues until I don’t need to anymore.
Usually, a puppy that’s good at targeting will begin to offer a touch if I wait long enough, and I’ll know if they’ve gotten the word’s meaning. The very first time they get it right, there’s a top notch celebration! Then it’s a matter of repetition, both at home, and in a store or public setting.
Here are two documents; one is a list of objects to target, many of which a puppy can learn a written word for if you need them to, and the other is a household chore list which also can have a written word for an action. Feel free to download and alter to your own needs!