Hi everyone! My name is Naomi and I am a stay-at-home-mum and a part-time veterinarian. I am especially interested in animal behaviour, and one of my most enjoyable things to do is spending time with our 2 dogs and 2 cats. We have Cav, short for Cavalier, (our 10 year old border collie cross), Toby (our 1 year border collie), Mickey (our 6 year old black domestic short hair), and Winnie (our grey tabby kitten). Toby is the main one who does the tricks, but Cav still loves having his pats!
When feeling frustrated about something (like I’m feeling a bit over finances and budgeting at the moment…), I reckon one of the best things to do is spending time with family, reading a favourite book, spending time with your pets (I love going and training Toby new tricks), or if not able to go out straight away, writing about pets! Today I have been able to do most of these already. I have had the morning with my wonderful husband and gorgeous, although being quite contrary today, 20-month-old son (he has been practicing his wanting something while not wanting that something at the same time). I was also able to finish re-reading one of my favourite books while alternating reading Hairy Maclary books to our little man, and now thought I would sit down and start writing about animals and how I have taught Toby some of his tricks!
Prior to doing any training, it is necessary to be aware of what motivates your dog. In Toby’s case, he is largely food driven! For him, anything usually goes, such as biscuits, liver treats, bread, cheese, chicken. Use SMALL treats, breaking them apart (especially if using something like cheese). Big pieces will only fill your dog up faster causing him/her to lose interest sooner. Now… my vet side is going to come out for a moment, just make sure common sense prevails here! If your dog does have a sensitive stomach only use what you know to be safe, and don’t use too much of something like bread or cheese as this can lead to a belly upset. For example, if your dog is so sensitive he can only eat an intestinal diet food (e.g. Hills I/D), then stick with that!
Every dog is different and while food may work for some, not all dogs are motivated by food, and that’s ok! Find what does work. Other things that may be good motivators for your dog are favourite toys (if this is the case, keep that favourite toy out of reach and save it for training purposes) or for some, even just praising (such as saying “YES” in an excited voice, or giving pats). Toby will do a few tricks for a toy or just pats, but it’s definitely not the same as using food for him.
I thought I would start with one of the most fundamental commands that is usually the first taught at puppy obedience – how to sit. Just for ease, I’m going to refer to what I have done using treats for him.
- Start with your dog standing in front of you with his attention on you.
- Place the treat between your thumb and forefinger and hold this in front of your dog’s nose. He’ll start to show interest in the treat by sniffing and/or licking.
- Use the treat as a lure and gradually draw it back over his head making sure his nose stays ‘attached’ to the treat until his bottom touches the ground. Say ‘YES’ and reward.
- Repeat until he is sitting quickly and confidently.
- At this stage, you can add in the command, ‘sit’. This needs to be said as he is going through the action of sitting, not before or after as the connection between the word and the action. Repeat and reward.
- The use of the luring hand eventually becomes the hand-signal for sit. In Toby’s case, I use a flat hand with palm facing up and move the whole hand up.
- Keep training sessions short! 5-10 minutes is a good time to keep their attention before they start to lose focus.
- When luring, keep your hand close to your dog’s head. He will follow the treat and if the treat is too high, his front paws may come off the ground instead of sitting.
- If your dog’s not getting it (or any trick) straight away, don’t get frustrated. Always finish on a good note, give your dog a pat, take a break and try again later.
- Practice, practice, practice! The more you practice and catch your dog doing the right thing, the more he will do that.