I hear so many people amazed when they see someone with a well-behaved dog. Or a dog that knows lots of tricks. Or when they see a dog on TV, in a movie, on a commercial, etc., and the tricks that the dog performs. They can’t believe that any dog can be trained to do these tricks, behaviors, etc., but it’s true! Well… most dogs can be trained to do them.
Not every dog can be trained for every trick, but many are universal and do not depend on the dogs breeding. Yes, some dogs are easier to train for some things then other dogs are. That is why there are so many different breeds of dogs. Some are better for hunting, some better for herding. Some are better for guarding, some are better for scent work. But most dogs can be trained to do lots of different tricks. It all depends on how much time and effort you are willing to put into it.
However, before starting to try to train a bunch of fun tricks, I recommend that you start with the basic obedience training. First you want to create a bond with your dog. You want your dog to learn to look to you for direction. The better the bond with you, the easier for your dog to learn new tricks.
One of the easiest tricks to teach your dog is to go and get a particular toy from a pile of toys. Start with maybe three particular toys. Put all of the rest away somewhere for now. (You might want to hide them when your dog is outside or something.)
Take the three toys and figure out a name for each toy (such as snowman, ball and turtle). Now, bring your dog in. Pick one toy, say snowman. Show the dog the toy. Say something like, “You want the snowman?” Throw the snowman and say, “Go get snowman.” Then, when it brings the snowman back, say, “Good boy, got snowman.”
Keep doing this. Each time say, “Snowman” and show him the toy. Do this for several days, several times a day. Every time the dog gets the right toy, praise him. Eventually, you will be able to just tell the dog to go get snowman, and the dog will go look for that toy. Then pick another toy and do the same thing.
Just make sure everyone knows the new names of the toys and uses the same names. Also, do not try to teach too many too fast. Every day, work on the old toys. As your dog learns more and more toys, you do not need to do every one every day, but in the course of the week, try to do every toy your dog has learned so far.
One of the games I like to play with my bloodhounds is “find the last toy I touched.” I get three identical toys. I put two out in the yard and leave them there for a while. Then when we go out to play, I take the third one and throw it near the other two.
It is almost natural for them to go out and smell them and bring back the one I just threw, but it’s fun to watch them. It’s also a good game for them to find the most recent scent — especially important if you decide to do search-and-rescue work with them.
Now, I realize how we all watch the dog on TV that goes to the fridge and gets its owner a can of beer. Before you decide to try to teach your dog this trick, think about it. Now, if you have a well-behaved dog that obeys your commands and doesn’t get into trouble, it might be OK to train this trick.
However, do you trust your dog to learn how to open the fridge any time it wants to? Locking a fridge is usually not an easy thing to do, so think of possible consequences before you decide to teach your dog a trick.
I know a lot of people that have taught their dogs to self-serve ice cubes from the ice dispenser because it was cute and saved them a few seconds of getting their dog an ice cube. However, when you come home to an empty ice-maker and water and melting ice cubes all over your kitchen floor… So, think before you teach!
Most tricks that you want to teach your dog need to be broken down into lots of little tricks. They are taught the same way as sit, using repetition, praise and treats and a command word or phrase. (Yes, I said phrase. Not everything has to be just a one-word command, but that’s for another article.)
Break the trick down into little parts, like the getting the beer can from the fridge — the dog needs to learn to open the fridge, pick up a can out of the fridge and carry the can. You can start teaching the dog to open the door by tying a rope or towel to the fridge handle. Teach the dog to pull on the towel to open the door. Once that is accomplished, take the rope or towel away, and teach the dog to use his paw or nose to use the handle to open the door.
OK, so you have the idea. The thing is that anything you want to teach your dog takes lots and lots and lots of practice. But first, it takes a bond between you and your dog. Dogs generally want to please us. They want to be a part of our lives, and the more time we spend with them, the more they will work to please us.
So, what are some ways to bond with your dog?
Spend time with your dog! One way is to walk your dog — not just a little potty trip, but rather an actual walk with your dog. You want to walk your dog at a pace where the dog is going at a steady clip, fast enough that it is not putting its head down to sniff the ground. Of course, that speed will depend on the size of your dog, so obviously you cannot walk your great dane and your Yorkie at the same time.
If you have a larger dog, you will be at a speed-walking pace, maybe even a jog. For small dogs, you might want to start out with a 20-minute walk, working gradually up to a 45-minute walk. Larger dogs you may be working up to 90-minute walks.
Also, work with your dog daily, with games, training, tricks and such. Do this several times a day. Also, consider taking your dog along with you in the car to run your errands (when the weather is appropriate). Of course, you want to make sure your dog has learned to behave in your car while you are not in it. You can use a crate in your car also.
While you are home, engage your dog. Talk to them all of the time. Make them work for things, too. Don’t just plop the food bowl down and walk away. Call the dog to you. Make it sit or lay down. Maybe run through a few of its tricks, like shake, paw, high five or whatever. Then, once you put the bowl down, make the dog wait until you give permission for it to eat.
If the dog wants to go out, make it work for it. Don’t just open the door to the yard and let it out. Maybe make it bark/speak, maybe sit, maybe turn in a circle. Just pick a trick that you have taught the dog and ask for it. If you ask for the same trick a few times in a row, the dog will try that trick next time, so switch them up.
Make the dog use its brain. It stimulates the dog. It exercises the dog’s brain. If you keep using different tricks, sometimes you will watch the dog try to figure out which one you want by running through several of their tricks.
My dog Bo sometimes would sit, hold up a paw, then the other one, then lay down and roll on his side. He was so excited about whatever it was I had at the time, he didn’t want to wait until I told him what I wanted, so he would run through his repertoire of regular tricks, hoping he might get it right. It was kind of funny to watch, because sometimes he might run through them two or three times while I would try to get him to calm down and pay attention. Sometimes I just had to laugh at him!
Cheryl Loveland is a semi-retired dog groomer. She currently lives with Noel, her bichon frisée; Reba, her female bloodhound; Nala, her indoor cat; KitCat, the outdoor farm cat; and Max, her scarlet macaw. Also living on the property are numerous chickens and rabbits. Her daughter’s pets include two dogs, a guinea pig, a box turtle and a tank of fish. She is a member of Colonial Bloodhound Club and Mispillion Kennel Club. She welcomes hearing from readers, with their comments and suggestions for future articles. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Cheryl Loveland
Special to the Coastal Point