By Harriet Whitehead and Iain Watts
This dog has proved he’s one clever canine after being videoed obeying commands he READ on a card.
Goldendoodle Oakley stunned his owners when he appeared to read the instructions from left to right before performing commands like ‘sit’, ‘wave’ and ‘down’.
The bright pooch was showing off what he’d learned after a session with a trainer who thinks with practise and determination any dog can become a reader.
David Greenbaum, 51, and wife Joanne Greenbaum, 51, got one-year-old Oakley – who is a cross between a poodle and golden retriever – when he was eight weeks old and found he was a fast learner.
David, from Colorado, US, said: “We had been working with trainer Ciera Wilson since he was a puppy.
“She had heard that it was possible to teach dogs to recognise words but we would never have thought that was possible. We thought she was crazy for trying, but Oakley picked it up really quickly.
“She asks him to do the command and shows him the word at the same time and Oakley associates it with the words. Obviously it involves a lot of treats.
“She slowly introduced them. When he got ‘sit’ she introduced ‘down’ and then ‘wave’.
“From what we’ve been told it’s the shape of the word and they associate that with what they are supposed to do.
“He’s up to four words at the moment – sit, down, wave and turn – but we want to get him up to 10.
“When he first did it I thought it was pretty cool – I had no idea they could. It’s quite funny to watch because it looks like he is reading it left to right.
“It’s amazing, he’s such a good dog and for some reason he managed to pick it up.
“We hope to make him a service dog so he can go and visit children in hospital.
“We want to show people, especially children, what he can do and entertain them with it.”
David said Oakley’s a big softie who has his flaws – including chasing cars.
David said: “He’s not a very athletic dog – he’s just a big lapdog really and he doesn’t realise he weighs 70 pounds when he tries to sit on you.
“He’s got his issues but he’s a unique dog and has always been a quick learner. He had learned the vocal command ‘sit’ very quickly – he seems to understand commands really quickly and easily.”
The pair, who have three children, have tried it out on their two other dogs – Oakley’s sister Goldendoodle puppy Harper and mongrel Maggie, 8, but they’ve failed to grasp it so far.
Ciera, 25, from Colorado, who runs Canine Defined dog training and is studying for a masters in canine life sciences, said Oakley was one of her best students.
Ciera said: “We learn a lot of cool training techniques on my course and fun things to try at home.
“I often take them back to my clients and see if they want to try them. Oakley picked them up so quickly.
“I think in that video that was the first day we had been trying to do it.
“We have added a few commands since taking that in November – he has added ‘turn’ and we’re getting him to do play dead when he reads ‘bang’.”
Ciera said Oakley is not the only dog who can read, including her Australian Shepherd Hendrix, but Oakley picked it up the quickest.
She said: “They do not learn the words like a human would, they learn the shape of the word. They would need to be retrained if the font changed.
“We started with three letter words then increased it to four. We started with ‘sit’ then ‘wave’ and added ‘down’.
“I think we also tried ‘speak’ but he doesn’t bark so it didn’t work.
“We’re working on ‘hop’ and ‘get it’ for picking something up.
“It’s a sequence. He knows how to sit so you show him the card when he sits and hopefully he learns what the card means. He associates words with that card.
“It’s totally incredible, what I’m learning is the extent to which dogs can learn.
“They are really incredible beings and there’s so much more they can be taught.
“The biggest application of this so far has been teaching them things like ‘fire exit’. Dogs can be trained to recognise this and then will know how to lead people outside or, for example, if you have somebody suffering from PTSD and is anxious of a crowd environment they can ask the dog to lead them out of there.
“There’s also a programme in schools to help children that struggle with reading. It’s really good encouragement for them – you can say to them ‘the dog can read, you can read too’.
“I think I’ve taught about three dogs how to do it – Oakley is definitely the most hungry to learn. With any training it takes practise but I believe any dog can do it with practice and determination.
“Oakley is adorable – he loves to cuddle before a session then I tell him it’s time to work and he’s focused on the training.”