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by Veronique Fournier September 30, 2019 6 min read
Keep your dog busy and happy by teaching him some new tricks. Mental stimulation in a dog is just as important as physical exercise. A few daily training sessions reinforces your connection with your pup and teaches him to be obedient while having fun!
Teaching tricks to a dog can sometimes seem impossible, seeing that some have rather exuberant personalities, but if you follow the three points noted below, I assure you that anything is possible.
Basic Principles: How to teach your dog new tricks
A dog learns by making links. By associating his behavior with something positive, he will want to reproduce this behavior.
Any action that your dog does naturally can be rewarded with a mouth-watering treat, a favorite toy, or simply good words. Then associate a voice command with this action.
My dog Kiwi, for example, does his business on command. I simply added a command when he does this and reinforce his behavior with a treat.
It is recommended that you organize several short training sessions. It will be easier for you to keep your dog's focus.
At first, your dog will not do exactly what you ask. Don’t be discouraged. It’s important to go step by step and reward each improvement.
Always use the same words for your commands. Using a specific word to signal good behavior is also a good idea. For example, I personally use "YES!"
It's important to start with the basics; teach your dog to be a good doggie and listen to you on command. These simple tricks will help you achieve this goal.
Firstly, you will benefit from the natural tendency of a dog to want to sit, so reward your mate when he does this spontaneously. To speed up the process, you can also teach him this trick actively.
Place a treat over your dog's nose and gently move your hand towards his backside. Instinctively, he will sit down. It’s at this exact moment that you will say your keyword ("Yes!"), then give your reward. Then gradually introduce your voice command at the very beginning of its execution.
It is important not to force the behavior by pressing on the rump of your dog, he will experience this as a constraint.
Once "sit" is mastered, we move to "lay down". When the dog is seated, show him a treat in front of his nose and gently move your hand towards the ground. Reward him when he begins to slide willingly.
If he does not slide completely, reward him in stages. Every step of progress toward what you expect of him must be rewarded in order for him to understand your intention.
Once you’ve got “lay down" sorted, work on his patience. Reward him when he lays down, but also when he stays down. Make your dog wait for his treat and slowly increase this waiting period.
Then, give the command "stay" and move away little by little before giving him the treat. Slowly increase the distance and the distractions.
I turned this into a game of hide and seek with my dog at home!
Begin the education of this trick in a calm place, for example your backyard. Put your dog on a leash and start walking near a wall or fence so that you leave little space for your dog. As you walk, reward your dog with a treat or congratulations when he is focused on you and does not pull on the leash.
If he pulls, make him sit until he calms down. I know, this is easier said than done... but, as I said earlier, patience is key in training!
With a lot of work, you can associate this behavior with the "Heel" command and your dog will walk by your side even without a leash.
This trick can save lives if a dog snatches a dangerous item or food.
When your dog has his toy in his mouth, bring a treat to his snout and if it is attractive enough, he will drop the object. As he opens his mouth, give the voice command then give him his reward. Take possession of the object and repeat.
The mistake we often make when a dog runs away is to shout his name several times and keep repeating for him to come to us.
If you know that your dog is too distracted in a certain situation, do not use this voice command so as not to spoil it. We don’t want him to learn that he has the right to ignore this command.
You have to first work on this command in a place without distraction and reward your dog whenever he comes to you over short distances. When he starts to approach, say your command and reward him the second he comes over to you.
Then, gradually increase the distance and the distractions to ultimately get him to respond to this command in an environment that is very exciting for him.
The basics of obedience are important, but it's time to have a little fun with some unusual tricks!
Find out what is causing your dog to bark and use it to induce this behavior. As soon as your dog barks, say "Yes!" and then reward him. After a few tries, ask him to "Speak" before using the trigger word in order to create the association and you will be able to get your dog to bark on command!
Sit on your knees or sit on the floor with a treat in your hand. Have your dog approach you by showing it to him and then bring it up behind your neck. Your dog will place his head on your shoulder trying to reach the treat. Release the treat when he leans his head on you and congratulate him. Then integrate the voice command.
Teach your dog to put his nose on an object of your choice. Always keep the same object for training (see Consistency). Personally, I taught this trick to my dog using my open hand.
I placed my open hand close to him and each time that he approached, I gave him a treat. Once he touched my hand with his nose, I rewarded him even more and congratulated him with great enthusiasm.
To speed up the process, you can make the dog touch your hand by hiding a treat between your fingers.
I taught this trick to my dog in the following way. While he was sitting, I put a treat near his nose and brought it over his head. I kept a reasonable distance so that he did not have to jump to reach it, but still had to lift his front legs.
Once in this position, I rewarded him. He eventually understood and I then associated this behavior with the voice command “Hands up!”
After achieving this, I increased the difficulty by gradually moving away, so that the treat was no longer right over his head.
Teach your dog to yawn on command by congratulating him every time that he yawns! Once he has finished yawning, give him a treat. When he begins to repeat this behavior, associate it with the "Tired?" command when he starts to yawn.
When your dog has mastered the "lay down" command, increase the difficulty by asking him to crawl forward in this position. Place a treat in your hand and put it near his snout, on the ground. Slowly drag it toward you to encourage him to follow.
If he moves forward, even a little bit, give him the reward. Slowly increase the distance. If he gets up, ignore and start again.
In training, always put your dog in a successful situation. Aim for small goals and avoid frustrations!
Some dogs look for drugs at airports, others find people in avalanches and some guide people who are blind. With a little imagination, you can teach unimaginable tricks to your dog!
ANIMAL HEALTH TECHNICIAN
Véronique Fournier uses her extensive knowledge to write articles about pet health for Zumalka.
She earned her degree in Animal Health from Cégep La Pocatière in Quebec. Her experience includes internships on animal production farms and rehabilitating birds of prey; managing the care of up to 100 wild animals in a day at the SOS Miss Dolittle Refuge; working at the Aquarium of Quebec, where she monitored 10,000 animals of 300 different species. She worked as a chief animal health technician in a veterinary clinic in British Columbia, as well as a few contracts in various other veterinary clinics.
She also makes lots of canine friends by volunteering at local shelters, fostering, and dog sitting for friends.
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