We all want our dog to do cool and fun tricks so we can show him off to our family and friends. However, in order for your dog to do those tricks you need to teach him. Just like us, our pets aren’t born knowing all the tricks in the book.
Teaching your dog a new trick takes time and can it be a frustrating process. The speed of this process depends a lot on the method you apply and your dog’s ability to learn. However, there are some tips on how to teach a dog new tricks that you can use to make it easier for both of you.
1. Start in a “No Distractions” Zone
Dogs have a very short attention span and are easily distracted. This is especially true if you have never tried to teach your dog any tricks before and, if your dog is still a young pup.
Set your dog up for success. Make sure you and your dog are going to practice in a place where there are as little distractions as possible. When teaching a new trick you have to guarantee that your dog is focused on you and not on that bird that just landed on your garden or the high pitch sound that the TV just made.
Ideally, you’ll want to be with your dog in a closed room where you can be alone with him. This means you should avoid training outside and you should also let your family know that you and your dog will be in a training session so that they avoid doing anything that can be a distraction.
After being successful for several times in a row in that close and isolated room, you can progress to an environment with a few distractions (not too many, though). After being successful for some times in a row in that second scenario, you can progress to another environment with more distractions… and so on until your dog is able to do the new trick anywhere, under any circumstances.
2. Grab Your Dog’s Favorite Treat
To help get your dog focused on you and the training process, you need to find out what motivates him the most. Dogs are motivated by three things:
- The connection they have with us;
Start by using your dog’s drive for food. After succeeding several times in a row using food as praise you can slowly wean your dog off treats, praising him in other ways (more on that later).
You’ll want to start by grabbing a variety of small treats. When I say “small” I mean it. A lot of dogs become overweight because they get a lot of big and highly caloric treats. For dogs, a treat is a treat, the size of it doesn’t matter. It’s not like a dog thinks “this is such a small treat, I’m not sitting down again for something this tiny”. You can also grab some human foods like carrots, pieces of apple, etc. Just make sure that the human food you pick is dog-safe!
Show the treat to your dog, make sure he knows what is waiting for him. This way you’ll have his undivided attention and at this point he’s wondering what can he do to get that delicious treat!
3. Give Him Physical Guidance
You can say whatever you want and as many times you want but, if you don’t help your dog understand what you mean by it, it’ll be a long process until your dog finally does what you want him to do. To make this process faster, guide him through it the first couple of times until he’s able to associate the command you’re giving him to the action he takes that will get him that treat. When he understands what you mean, you won’t need to guide him anymore and he’ll do it by himself.
To do this you can place the treat in specific places or touch him and apply pressure in specific places to get him to do what you want. For example, if you’re trying to teach him to sit, place the treat above his head and apply a bit of pressure on his back end. Also, if you’re trying to teach him to lie down, place the treat near the floor or have him sit first and push his front legs forward and place him in the position you want. He’ll only need this the first couple of times and, if you time the command and praising right, he’ll pick it up quickly.
Another thing you’ll want to do is introduce a command such as “sit” or “lie down” or whatever is appropriate to command you’re trying to teach. You can also use a hand signal associated to this command. In order to introduce the command, make sure you say it as the dog is doing what you want him to do. For example, make sure you say “sit” as your dog sits down.
4. Praise Your Dog
We finally get to the reason why your dog is doing what he’s doing and paying attention to you, to get praise! Give him the yummy treat as soon as he does what you wanted and follow that with a vocal praise as well. Something like the old “good boy”. That way you can also tell your dog that when you say “good boy” (or anything else that you might choose) it also means that he did the right thing. Vocal sounds can also be a way of praising your dog just like petting him is also a form of praise.
Another way of praising your dog is by playing with him. Remember that earlier I said they were motivated by play time? It’s true, another way you can get your dog focused on you is by holding on to his favorite toy and, whenever he does the right action, let him play with his toy for a few seconds.
You can use praising with his favorite toy or just with sounds and by petting him when you want to slowly wean your dog off treats.
5. Be Patient & Consistent
It’s crucial that you realize that practice makes perfect and your dog won’t flawlessly do this new trick in one day. It takes time and consistent practice just like when you try to learn a new skill. You sure didn’t learn a new language in just one day. It took a lot of consistent practicing for you to become fluent in any language that you may know. Don’t forget that that is what your dog is doing, he’s learning a few words in our language so that he knows what you mean and what you want him to do.
Now that you know these tips on how to teach a dog new tricks you can go wild and teach your dog anything! Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below and what cool new tricks did your dog learn when you applied this newfound knowledge.