Teaching your dog useful tricks is fun and rewarding for both of you. Your dog can perform tasks for you, like bringing in the newspaper (which I’ll be showing you here) or fetching the remote control, or even getting you a soft drink or beer from the fridge! You don’t have to be a professional trainer to teach your dog these tricks as you’ll see here. It’s easy! Try it yourself today to prove it.
Giving your dog jobs to do is also very good for him. It is mentally stimulating, it’s fun for him and builds the self-esteem that is just as important for your dog as it is for you. You will also see improvement in his over-all behavior as this simple and fun training will deepen your communication and bond. The more he learns the more fun he’ll have and the more he’ll want to learn.
The first thing you’ll need are some bite-sized treats, preferably natural treats that are good for him. Don’t use any big biscuits since they take too long to eat and will just distract from your goal. If you don’t have anything right now but want to get started, use little bits of chicken or hotdogs or cheese until you can get some training treats. It’s sometimes best to do your training play (and it is play, not work!), when your dog is a little bit hungry, that is, not right after his meal, though most dogs are “chow hounds” and will go for their treats at any time.
Session 1: Sit down on the floor with your dog and get his undivided attention by giving him a treat. He’ll want more – that’s just where you want him. You’ve already taught him his first behavior, paying attention, that you will be building on. Easy, huh? It’s really never any more difficult than this!
With one hand, touch your dog’s nose and say “touch”. With your other hand, give him a treat. (It’s very important that you give him the treat with your other hand, not the touching hand. We want one hand to be the “object”, the other the reward hand. You’ll see why soon.) Repeat a time or two so your dog will begin to associate the word “touch” with the hand touching his nose and then the treat reward.
Now, you’re going to make him start to earn his treat. Hold your hand a few inches away from your dog’s face and say “touch”. If he doesn’t get it yet, and he might not, move your hand a little closer and say “touch” maybe even wiggle your fingers a little to get his attention back on your hand and off the treat. Do not give him a treat until he touches your hand with his nose. You may have to repeat it a few times, moving your hand just a little closer each time without touching him, until he makes the association. When he touches your hand with his nose, praise him and give him a treat.
Repeat this, moving your hand further away each time until it’s clear he has learned the behavior, responding instantly to the “touch” command. Keep playing this game, even standing across the room to make him come to you to touch your hand. Once he’s mastered it, keep playing but don’t give him the treat every time, just praise. This actually reinforces the reward.
You have just taught your dog to associate a task with a reward in probably less than a half hour. It is the basis of teaching your dog to do most any task within his capability. In Session 2, we’re now ready to teach him to get the newspaper and bring it to you. (Hopefully, you have never, ever punished your dog with the proverbial rolled-up newspaper. If so, there’s a bit of re-training to do to get him past the fear of the paper you’ve instilled in him. It can certainly be done, and should be, but it might take a little longer.)
Session 2: First, reinforce the touch-training lesson by repeating the exercise a few times to remind him and get his doggie brain ready to learn something new.
For this session, you will need a ball or other toy your dog is used to carrying in his mouth so he’ll quickly learn the “take” and “give” commands. Offer the ball and say “take”, which he should do readily since it’s already a behavior he knows. Praise him only, no treat – this is important. He knows you have the treat from your touch-training and knows he has to do something to earn it. You’re going to use that knowledge when you say “give”. He will readily drop the ball in order to take the treat. Give it to him and praise him. Repeat this a few times – it won’t take long, but increase the difficulty a bit by making him put the ball in your hand to get the reward. He should wait to take the ball until you say “take” and keep it until you say “give” so he has the association with those words mastered. Move away from him so he has to get up to perform the tasks – again increase the difficulty a little more so the lesson is firm in his brain.
Now, get the newspaper. Start with “touch”, rewarding when he touches it with his nose. Change your command to “touch paper” and then just “paper” so he learns the word for the object. It shouldn’t take more than a few minutes.
Then, do the same thing as you did with the ball, saying “take” and “give”. Then “take paper” and “give paper”. He should understand quickly, taking the paper in his mouth and handing it back to you on command, being rewarded each time. Put the paper on the floor across the room and repeat the commands. Very soon, all you will have to say is “paper” and your dog will run to get it for you, even outside in the yard (so you don’t have to go out in your jammies anymore to get it). You can now use this technique to teach him to get anything you want and he will learn it very quickly. Reward with a treat less frequently as time goes by until praise and fun alone is plenty to get the behavior you want.
I’m sure you’ve thought at this point that you could go straight to Session 2 and start there, skipping the touch-training completely. You’d likely be successful and I wouldn’t necessarily discourage it. However, the touch-training gives you a firmer foundation for more advanced behaviors and word associations. It’s also very easy and quick, with only one step involved making it so easy to build on from there to be successful from the first session.
This is just a quick overview on “trick” training your dog that is also very useful in more basic training, particularly overcoming problem behaviors. I hope this has encouraged you and given you the confidence to learn more and try new things!