We all know those talented dogs who work as assistance dogs and can complete detailed and complicated tasks such as helping their owner do shopping, answer the phone, open the fridge or recognise signs of low blood sugar. Could your dog have unfulfilled potential? While many of these tasks could be beyond our reach, it certainly is possible to train your dog to bring you things, find people and understand basic words. With just 10 minutes a day, you can teach your dog some of these advanced skills and soon have the pet of your dreams.
The easiest way to teach advanced tricks is to clicker train your dog. The idea is that the clicker tells your dog that he is on the right track in learning a skill. It means you can be a distance away from your dog and reward exactly the behaviour you want in a very precise way. You can click a slight eye movement in your dog for example. There is no ambiguity in what your dog is being rewarded for. Clickers allow you to shape behaviour, which essentially means encouraging and rewarding closer and closer approximations to the behaviour you want. The clicker should always be paired with a treat, your dog needs to know that whenever you ‘click’ he will get a treat.
You can buy special dog training clickers, or use anything that makes a consistent noise. To pair the clicker and the reward simply click, wait 1 second, then give your dog a treat. Repeat this around 10 times until your dog understands that a click means he gets a treat. Now you are ready to use clicker training for some advanced skills.
A reward is usually a treat, but can also be play or praise. Treats are often used to really motivate dogs and are quick and easy to administer. You can use any treat you like, but try to stay away from those with lots of salt, fat and preservatives.
That said, some dogs are not that food motivated, so it can be difficult to find what they like. Sometimes very small cubes of cheese will work, though in large quantities they can give a dog an upset stomach due to lactose intolerance. Small pieces of BBQ chicken also work for those fussy toy breeds. It also helps to train when your dog is hungry, so do a short 10 minute session before breakfast or dinner.
General Training Tips
Remember to always keep training sessions short to reduce frustration and enhance concentration, 10 minutes is perfect. Remember to always reward after clicking your dog and reward within 3 seconds. The more you train with your dog, the more he will experiment with behaviours during training sessions to work out what you want him to do. When teaching a difficult command, you can give your dog a ‘jackpot’ of lots of treats and a big cuddle and praise when he finally gets it right.
Training should be fun for you and your dog, so whenever you complete a training session, always end on a positive note. If you are both getting frustrated, ask your dog to do something he knows how to do and reward him for that. Never end on a failure. The following video has some great training advice and features the clicker and how to shape behaviours.
No, this is not the stick you beat your dog with when he gets it wrong. We only believe in positive reinforcement when training your dog. The training stick is a long stick or piece of dowel that you can use as an indicator for your dog. You can use it to point at things and also for your dog to jump over or go around. It needs to be around 30cm long.
The first step is to hold the stick out and wait for your dog to sniff it, most dogs will do this with little encouragement, click and reward as your dog touches the end of the stick with his nose. Repeat this until your dog is reliably touching the stick each time for a reward.
The fundamental of training your dog is to teach him to pay attention. Say his name then click and reward him when he looks at you. Repeat this several times until it is reliable. You may initially just be rewarding a slight movement of his head towards you, but shape the behaviour so that you eventually get actual eye contact and longer periods of attention.
Find a toy and place it on the ground in front of your dog. If he takes it, click and reward. If you are having trouble getting him to pick the toy up, click when he just looks at the toy, then when he moves closer to it click again. Reward any approximation of the behaviour you want. Always click and treat when he gets close to doing what you want. When your dog is consistently picking up the toy say ‘take it’, click and reward.
Use the ‘take it’ command to get your dog to pick up a toy, then click and reward when he takes a step towards you. You may need to encourage him by tapping your side. Click and reward even a slight movement towards you. When he is reliably coming to you with the toy, pair the action with ‘bring it’.
If ultimately you want to get your dog to get your slippers and a newspaper, the first step is to teach the names of things. You can do the same with people (using the training stick), his food bowl, lead and favourite toy.
First, get your dog to touch your hand with his nose then click and treat. Place a newspaper in your hand and encourage him to touch the paper, then click and treat. When he is reliably doing this say ‘paper’ and reward him for touching the paper. You can then place the paper on the ground and encourage him to touch it with his nose and say ‘paper’.
To teach your dog to speak on command, get your dog excited until he barks, then click and reward. When he is regularly barking for a reward, pair it with ‘speak’ or ‘bark’. If you are having trouble getting your dog to bark you can ring a doorbell, tap on a wall or even just click and reward when he makes the slightest noise or looks like he is going to bark.
Remember, you are rewarding each time he gets anywhere close to what you want him to do, so sometimes you need to start small with what you reward.
Teaching Your Dog to Get You Something
It has always been my dream to teach my dog to take out the recycling. Now, perhaps a 3kg Pomeranian isn’t ideal for this task, but with some training it is possible to train your dog to get things for you combining the 3 previous commands. Essentially you are combining ‘take it’, ‘bring it’ and adding the name of the item.
You have already taught your dog to touch something with his nose on command. Simply place the item on the floor in front of him and say the name for example ‘paper’ so that he touches it. Just as he does this say ‘take it’ and reward him if he picks it up. Then say ‘bring it’. Repeat several times until he is stringing all 3 together, then say ‘bring paper’, click and reward.
Teaching Your Dog to Go to Someone
Another parental dream is to have my dog go and find missing children. This is not as hard as it sounds. The first step is to teach him using the training stick the name of your child. You do this in a similar way to the method you used to name things, but use the training stick as an indicator. Hold out the stick and reward your dog for touching it with his nose. Then point the stick at your child and reward him for following it. Reward and click when he touches the person with his nose. Once he is doing this reliably say the name of the person, click and reward when he goes to them.
Teaching Your Dog to Find Something or Someone
If you are interested in teaching your dog to follow his nose, you can start out with something that smells strongly or a favourite toy. Hide it close by or just in front of him under a towel making sure he can see where it goes. Encourage him to find the toy then reward him for uncovering it. When this is reliable introduce the word ‘find’. You then hide the item further away and in progressively more difficult locations, so that ultimately he really is having to rely upon smell.
There is only a small addition to then ask him to find a person if he already knows the name of that person and their scent. You can then string this command and ‘speak’ together, so that he will find your child then bark when he finds them. The perfect parental solution. The following video shows how to teach your dog to find something.
If you have always dreamed of your dog being a Hollywood star or the new Red Dog, you can train him with just 10 minutes a day. Soon you will be sitting back and raking in the royalties. For some more inspiration, this beautiful fellow has a great range of skills.
- Always reward just after you click. Your dog needs to know a click ALWAYS means a treat.
- Find a treat your dog really likes and train when he is hungry.
- Keep training sessions short, 10 minutes a day is perfect.
- With any training session end on a positive note, try to get him to do a behaviour he knows and reward it.
- When your dog finally gets the idea and performs the trick perfectly, give him a jackpot of lots of treats and a big fuss, so he knows he did well.
- Shaping a behaviour means rewarding progressive approximations of the behaviour, so to teach a new behaviour analyse the steps and reward each small step on the way
- If you are getting frustrated, stop and try again another day. Dogs, like people have good days and bad days and you want all training to be positive.
- Always end on a positive note.