Thursday, July 30, 2015

Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks

Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks

Dogs are our best friends. They provide us with endless compassion, a cuddle buddy on cold nights, and endless hours of joy and entertainment. Even when you've had a hard day, coming home to an excited dog will brighten your day and your problems seem to melt away.

Dogs and humans have been companions for centuries, and because of this dogs are eager to please their human counterparts (and we'd be lying if we didn't say that humans love to please their pets!). To keep your dog safe, happy, and mentally stimulated, it is crucial to teach her basic obedience such at sit, stay, down, and heel.

You can add to this stimulation and strengthen your bond with your best fur-iend by adding in trick training. Trick training is a great way to add enrichment to both your life and your dog's. The feeling of success and the proud moment of successfully learning the trick together is a feeling like no other!

Before you get started, choose what type of reward you know will work best for your dog. Some dogs thrive from a simple praise and lots of petting. Other dogs are very food driven and will do anything for a treat! If you choose to use treats, pick a very special treat that your dog absolutely loves and use it only for training. You should also cut it up into very small pieces to prevent high caloric intake. Another option is using a clicker.

Clickers are a great way to mark the good behavior at the exact moment is performed. If you ask the dog to sit, the clicker is "clicked" the moment the dog's bottom touches the floor, and the reward comes after the click. This lets the dog know exactly what you wanted. Clickers are inexpensive and available at almost all pet stores. To train your dog with a clicker you must first "load" the clicker. All you have to do is click and give them a reward! Repeat doing this to train your dog that a "click" means a reward is coming! Once you've done this a few times, you can begin adding commands and using a clicker to mark the good behavior.

1. High Five

Teaching your dog to high five is very easy and a great trick to amuse friends and especially children.

Start by giving your dog the "sit" command and reward her. Rewards can be praises, using a clicker, or giving her a treat. Just remember to be consistent with your rewards so your dog understands when they have completed what you want of them.

Next, hold your hand out just beyond your dog's reach. With your other hand, tap one of your dog's front paws and say the command "high five." This will get your dog to raise it's foot. As the dog raises its foot, use your outreached hand to gently tap the paw pad (like a high five). Give the dog lots of praise and the reward the exact moment your hand makes contact with the paw.

Keep repeating these steps until your dog automatically raises her foot every time you give the command. If your dog is hesitant to lift her foot, gently tap the inside of her knee until she bends her leg. Once her paw is off the ground, softly tickle to bottom of her foot to encourage her to raise it more. Continue to repeat "high five" slowly and firmly.

Your dog may eventually learn to perform this trick without a verbal command, if it is practice often enough. Simply give your dog the "sit" command and then raise your hand in front of her. Most times, this will be enough to get her to high five you!

2.Wave Hello & Good-Bye

Waving is a great trick to teach after your dog has learned to high five!

Ask your dog to "wave" while holding out your hand. Once your dog raises it's paw, move your hand slightly higher so that she must raise her paw higher. Do not allow her paw to make contact with your hand. Reward her when she raises her paw higher. Repeat these steps, raising your hand a little higher each time until your pup is raising her paw above her head.

If your dog still needs help understanding this command, first ask her to "shake" and when she reaches for your hand ask her to "wave." Do this multiple times until you can removed the "shake" command.

Once your dog understands wave, you can perfect by only rewarding only the best of her waves.

3. Peek-a-Boo

Peek-a-Boo is yet another great (and absolutely adorable) trick you can teach your dog using "high five" or "wave" as the building blocks. 

There are two ways to teach your dog this trick. If you have already taught your dog to give her paw on command then begin by asking her to sit in front of you and ask for her paw (you can use "high five" or "wave" or simply hold out your hand).

Once she offers you her paw, gently grasp it and raise it over her eyes. Gently and firmly say "Peek-a-Boo" and reward her immediately. Continue this process until your dog is a professional at "Peek-a-Boo!"

Another way to teach this trick is by using a small piece of scotch tape. Ask your dog to sit in front of you and then place a small piece of tape or post-it note on the tip of her nose. Do not use any tape like duck tape, as this will be hard to remove and likely hurt your dog. Scotch tape, post-it notes, and painter's tape are all great options that are easy to remove without harming your dog. 

Give the command "Peek-a-Boo." Your dog will lift her paw to wipe the tape from her nose. Once her paw and nose connect, reward her. Next, try gently tapping her nose to get her to raise her paw while repeating the command "Peek-a-Boo."

4. Roll Over

This trick requires your dog to know how to lie down on command. Roll over is a more challenging trick to teach, but has a very rewarding pay off!

Begin by asking your to lie down. Using a treat or toy, lure your dog to roll onto her side while saying "Roll Over." Once she does, reward her! While still on her side, continue to say "Roll Over" and use the lure to get her to roll on her back. This may be more challenging for some dogs. Reward her again for rolling onto her back. Again, use the lure and command to to have your dog roll onto the opposite hip she started on and reward her once more. Once your dog has learned the steps, try putting them together.

Because this is a challenge for many dogs, the pay off for them must be significant. Continue to use the lure to try to get your dog to do a complete roll over. Once she completes a full one with the lure you will want to make a big deal out of it! Give her lots of praise and a few extra treats. Use the lure until she becomes faster and more fluid and performing the trick more readily. Again, you can select for the best "Roll Overs" by only rewarding the ones that your dog best executes.