Are you having fun with trick training? I enjoy trick training – not just because I laugh with my dog when we do tricks – but because trick training is so much fun. It’s great for the relationship I have with my dogs, it increases our communication, and enhances my training skills. There is no downside.
Even though it’s a lot of fun, trick training doesn’t have to be silly. Using your trick training skills, you can teach your dog a behavior that can also be a practical skill. For example, my Australian Shepherd, Sisko, can pick up the damp towels in the bathroom and put them in the laundry hamper. Is it easier for me to just pick up the towels myself? Sure. But it’s more fun when Sisko helps me.
Teach “Get It”
The definition I want my dog to understand when I say, “Get it,” is that I want him to pick up an item. I may identify the item to be picked up by pointing at it – dogs do understand when people point – or I may have taught the dog the name of the item.
To teach ‘get it,’ begin with several treats in your pocket. Place one in the palm of your hand with your hand open. As you move your hand towards your dog, tell him, “Sweetie, get it!” When he does, praise him. Repeat this several times.
For the next step, have some different treats. Start with one on your palm as you did in the first training step. Then place the treat on the ground and ask your dog to get it. Then place the treat on a rug, then on a hassock, and then on the seat of a chair – vary the surfaces and locations.
Now, to make it more challenging, have your dog sit next to you, ask him to stay, and then walk away from him to place the treat about six feet away. Remain near the treat, point at it, and tell your dog, “Sweetie, get it!” Praise your dog and, over several sessions, repeat this training step but vary your position in relation to the treat.
Your goal is to have your dog get the treat no matter where you place it and where he is in relation to the treat. Plus, you want him to learn to pay attention to your hand signal (the pointing) as a clue to where the item is located.
Introduce the Towels
Teaching your dog to get the treat isn’t difficult. Now you’re going to use the skills that your dog learned during those easy training steps.
You will need a couple of old towels for these training exercises. One hand towel is fine but you’ll also need one full sized towel.
Take the hand towel and use it as a toy. Play tug with it and praise your dog when he grabs it. Hide some treats under it and cheer your dog on when he paws it aside to find the treats. Then toss it a few feet away and tell your dog, “Sweetie, get it!” When he does, praise him! “Yeah, good boy! Awesome!”
If he doesn’t go for the towel, go back to playing with it until he thinks it’s a toy. Then try again.
Now repeat the first training steps with the hand towel in the bathroom, where you will be asking him to pick up the towels. This time, identify the towel, “Sweetie, get the towel!” Make sure you praise him enthusiastically as a reward for this strange (to him!) and silly game in the bathroom.
When he’ll pick up the hand towel with no hesitation, then introduce the hamper. Place the hamper in the bathroom, and with you and your dog standing close to the hamper, hand the towel to your dog, “Sweetie, get the towel!” Then tilting the hamper so it’s under the towel (or as close as possible) tell your dog, “In the hamper!” and offer your dog a treat. He will drop the towel to get the treat. Praise him.
Over several training sessions, begin with him a few steps away from the hamper, asking him to bring the towel closer and closer. When the towel ends up in the hamper, give him a jackpot (huge handful) of treats and praise him to the skies, “Awesome! Smart boy! Look at you!”
The End Result
When I’m ready to do laundry, I call Sisko and tell him, “Let’s get the towels!” He prances to the bathroom, stub of his tail wiggling like crazy. He’ll pick up one towel at a time and bring it to me. I’ll tilt the hamper so he can reach it and he’ll drop it in. I’ll tell him what an awesome dog he is and then will ask him to get another towel. When all the towels are in the hamper, I’ll praise him and we’ll go to the laundry room. He follows along, prancing and wiggling. I think he feels a responsibility for the towels!