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Yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks
Dierdra McElroy, left, and Sandee Wall are shown with Walls boxer Zeus. - photo by DENNIS WYATT

Dogs do not understand English.

That is part  of the advice that Manteca animal behavior specialist Dierdra “DiDi” McElroy gives frustrated  pet owners when she starts working with them.

It is why proper, patient, and consistent training is the key to getting dogs to blend seamlessly into a household’s routine.

McElroy - who once studied to become a veterinarian - has developed expertise over the years and a repertoire of animal behavior specialties ranging from training and temperament testing to therapy dog training.

Her greatest concern during the holidays is the temptation many families have to purchase a puppy for their kids at Christmas.

“That’s the worst thing you can do,” McElroy said.

McElroy noted the intense excitement - and elevated stress - of the holiday makes having a puppy introduced into the home concurrently a disaster waiting to happen. People are distracted by holiday activities, leaving minimal time to effectively work with puppies. And when puppies cause problems - such as messes - during the hectic holidays it only serves to raise the frustration of humans in the household.

That’s why she suggests parents instead give a child a small stuffed puppy with a note saying a real one is waiting for them after the holidays.

McElroy said training is the key for establishing a lifelong relationship with a dog while experiencing minimal problems.

“Some people dismiss dogs jumping up on people as ‘dogs just being dogs’,” McElroy said. “That type of behavior should be unacceptable for a dog.”

As an animal behaviorist, McElroy sees her role as “bridging the gap between dogs and their people.”

McElroy has spent her life living, training and studying canines. She wanted to become a veterinarian before switching her major to Animal Science and Biomedical Science at Texas A&M University, where she focused on animal psychology. She was an emergency veterinarian technician  for years after completing an internship at the El Paso Zoo. McElroy also has a Bachelor of Science in Education and Curriculum. She has also taught in junior high.

For those looking for a dog, McElroy suggests trying no-kill shelters, rescue operations that are typically by breed, and even traditional animal shelters.

McElroy has high regards for the Manteca Animal Shelter staff, whom she credits as among the most caring around.

“They work hard to find a place for a dog so they don’t have to put it down,” McElroy said.

McElroy said that regardless of how you go about training your dog, whether it is on your own, in one-on-one lessons or group lessons, you should keep one thing in mind.

“Dogs want to please you but don’t speak English,” she said. Most dogs want to learn how to get along and be part of the family. You can’t get them to learn out of fear.”

McElroy noted for optimum effectiveness you should use another language than your own for commands you teach a dog to follow. That way it avoids confusion when it hears you use the same words when talking with children or someone else.

McElroy added that training isn’t just for young dogs.

“You can teach an old dog new tricks,” McElroy said.