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Are you smarter than your dog?

Robin Trimingham’s Yorkshire Terrier, Sunny (Photograph supplied)

I was always told that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

Rather than wasting time challenging this notion, I thought it would be much more interesting to consider whether an old dog can teach himself new tricks — or whether he would be more effective teaching me new tricks.

A case in point: my Yorkshire Terrier Sunny who is nearly eight in dog years (making him approximately 56 in human years) has suddenly taken to emptying the small trash can that I keep under the kitchen sink.

To accomplish this, he first had to teach himself how to hook his paw under the lower edge of the spring-loaded cupboard door, pull it towards himself and then quickly stick his head into the opening he had created before it sprang back into place.

No small feat when you are barely ten inches high and, judging by the muffled whimpers that I have heard on a couple of occasions, I am fairly certain that he smacked himself on the nose on more than one occasion.

Did this dissuade him from perfecting his technique? Not in the least.

Never having had any children of my own, we played this game more times than I would like to admit before it dawned on me that I really needed to invest in a childproof lock.

You would think that the story would end here, but sadly Sunny’s human mom is a slow learner and has failed to engage the lock on numerous occasions. Not to worry, Sunny is a patient teacher and has embarked on a strategy of kindness and situational repetition to reinforce just how essential it is to keep the lower cupboard locked.

He now checks to see whether I have remembered to lock the cupboard every time that I leave the room by pawing at the lower edge of the door.

I say kindness because lately when he catches me out, rather than knocking over the trash as he initially did, he has made the game simpler for me.

Having worked out that I am indeed a slow learner he now just props the door open and then barks repeatedly to alert me that the coveted trash can is in view and I’ve gotten it wrong again. When I enter the kitchen to correct my mistake, he grins gleefully at me with a face that says, “Come on mom, I know you can get this.”

What interests me about this is exactly why I can’t seem to remember to lock the cupboard. It’s tempting to dismiss the issue as middle-aged brain fog, but I am beginning to wonder whether I secretly find it funny that I might be receiving life lessons from my dog. After all, I could simply move the trash can and end all of this — but I haven’t.

In any case, I’m not really sure exactly what the universe has stuffed into the dog suit, but Sunny is clearly not a mere dog. His current status in my household is “person with fur” and he prefers to be addressed as “sir” until he’s had his breakfast.

I’m thinking about seeing whether he can learn to balance my monthly budget, but that’s a story for another day.

Robin Trimingham is an author and thought leader in the field of retirement who specialises in helping corporate groups and individuals understand and prepare for a new life beyond work. Contact her at www.olderhoodgroup.com, 538-8937 or robin@olderhood.com