Puppy Push-Ups

Behavior & training

Dogs provide companionship, security, motivation to exercise, and a relief from loneliness. Dogs make us laugh and are an opening for conversation with other dog owners. Every dog owner has her own reasons why there is a dog (or two) in the household. When dogs are a part of our family, we enjoy their company and love to spend time with them.

However, there comes the moment when that nudging nose trying to get your attention is too forward and potentially even annoying. Many dogs, especially teen-age puppies (six to 12 months of age generally), can be quite demanding. These puppies want attention and want it NOW!

You can distract the pushy puppy by putting him outside, giving him a food dispensing toy, or something to chew on. Sometimes though, the best reaction from you is to demand something of that puppy.

The Psychology of Push-Ups

In military boot camp, the drill instructors have their recruits do many exercises, including push-ups, for a variety of reasons. The physical exercise during boot camp is to help the recruit gain fitness as well as push the recruit to see how far he and she can go. There is a mental aspect of it too though. Many recruits may not have ever had anyone give them orders before and, in boot camp, this can be a tough adjustment.

With your adolescent puppy or adult dog, you’re going to use psychology too. You won’t be giving your puppy screamed orders as drill instructors do; that’s definitely counter-productive in dog training. But you will be working to gain your puppy’s cooperation, and he won’t even realize it until you’ve got it. Your puppy is bugging you for your attention? Super! He’s got it, and now he’s going to do something – puppy push-ups – for you.

Teaching Push-Ups

A push-up is simply a sit, then a lie down, and then back up to a sit. That’s one. Repeated, it can become two, three, four, and so on. At Kindred Spirits Dog Training in Vista, CA, we’ll have push up contests for the adult dogs and some can do fifteen to sixteen push-ups in 30 seconds. The winner of each contest gets a dog toy as a prize.

To teach this, have a high value treat in your hand and several more in your pocket or treat pouch. Ask your dog to sit and praise him. Then, with a treat in front of his nose, bring his head down as you did when teaching him to lie down. Then move the treat upwards so he brings himself back up to a sit. Give him the treat as you praise him some more.

Do not pull him up into a sit using the leash nor yank him down to the ground. Instead use the treat as a lure to help him move to the correct position. In fact, even if your dog knows sit and down, using the lure can help make this more exciting, more fun, and will encourage him to change positions more quickly.

In the beginning, give a treat after each push-up. However, once your dog learns this new game, then give the treat randomly – maybe after two push-ups or four, then after one really quick push-up. Random reinforcement can make the game even more exciting.

Using It

With a year old adolescent puppy in the house, I keep some dog treats on my desk. When Bones nudges my arm for attention, if I can’t take a break at the moment, I make eye contact with him to let him know I see him, then I ask him to do half a dozen push-ups. I praise him enthusiastically and then give him a treat.

He gains my attention – which is what he wanted – but then he does something for me. Plus, he used some physical and mental energy. He can then go play with a toy, go outside, or relax until I can take a break.