One of the most difficult thing about living in a multiple dog household and working full time is finding enough time for one-on-one training. Individual is ideal, but in day-to-day life it isn’t practical. I’m a firm believer in training every day, even if it is only for a few minutes. My personal goal is a few exercises before and after work, but due to time restraints it’s often in a group setting. On the positive side, the group forces your dogs to focus on you and not each other. This can be difficult for them to master, particularly when you are just starting out or when they are puppies.
A normal quick session for my dogs are obedience drills, sit, down, wait, and stay. During some sessions we will deviate and practice tricks instead. On the weekends or days with more time I often do combination.
We started these drills because we have a busy household. At the time our oldest was living at home and she did most of Ella’s original training. This was great, but it also meant that her commands were not as strong as Luna’s. I hadn’t spent as much time with her as I should have, and Ella’s a terrier. She is notorious for choosing when she does and doesn’t want to do something. And she knew just when to pick at Luna and destroy a session. Still does some days. Looking back it's kind of amazing she passed her Canine Good Citizenship on her first try.
This was before Charlie came to live with us, and by then we were up to four. It was time to get the whole pack to focus, even when the distractions were each other. When we started it was all I could do to get everyone to do sit and down in unison. Hell, half the time Ella still wouldn't sit on her own. And forget down. If you didn't have a treat for a lure, it wasn't happening.
It all came down to patience and the little things, both in a group and outside of it. Making everyone sit for their food. They learned that a treat meant work. Now, whether it's their morning dental bone or something small when I come home the sit is automatic 99% of the time. We progressed to downs until all the dogs were firm on the basics, even the monster.
Here's a list of our favorite drills. Feel free to leave your own in the comments, we are always looking for new ones to try!
Call it shake, paw, or pick your own command, teaching your dog to lift their paw for you is a trick staple. It's the one that strangers on the street will ask your dog, “Can you shake?” And wait for your dog’s non-verbal answer. Maybe it’s because we associate shaking hands as etiquette. But whatever the reason, shake is a crowd pleaser. It also leads to dozens of other tricks: wave, high five (or ten), to name the easier ones.
Ironically, shake is one of the few tricks that Luna didn’t seem to ‘get’ for the longest time. I assumed it would be easiest to pick up her paw for her, ‘shake’ it while repeating the command. I figured she would either recognize the word or the hand signal, but she always just looked at me confused. After a while I gave up and moved on to tricks she was more naturally inclined to do.
Turned out I was doing it wrong. Or at least wrong for her. Since then I have found that whenever possible you need to lure your dog into doing whatever it is you are asking of them. While I was attempting to teach her shake I was in fact doing the motion for her. In her mind we were doing the trick as designed, and I guess she’s right.
Ready to give it a try?
Paw is best taught on the ground with your dog in a sitting position in front of you. Take a tasty treat (the tastier the better) and let them watch you put it in a closed fist. Place your hand on the ground just in front of their paws. Your dog will probably sniff at the treat, they may lie down, or even lick your hand. As soon as their paw leaves the ground mark the behavior (such as using the word ‘yes’!), followed by the command (good paw), and then reward them with the treat.
Continue to praise and reward for raising the paw. Transition to holding your hand open, palm up, and shaking before raising your arm to a greater height. Your goal should be chest high for the dog.
Every dog learns this trick at a different pace. Once Luna understood I wanted her paw to touch my hand she was shaking after just a few sessions. Ella still paws at me half the time, and for Charlie it’s one of his favorite tricks.
Already have it mastered?
Try taking shake to a new level. Teach your dog to switch paws. Like humans they have a preference between right and left. Or move your hand away to teach wave, hand forward and towards them for high five.
When teaching additional tricks it is often helpful to use both the new and old command at first. For example, with wave I would call it ‘shake wave’ to encourage the paw lift.
Now for a real challenge explore your own tricks involving paw. Think buttons and switches - even musical instruments.
Have a unique way of using the paw command? Let us know in the comments below.
I promised a few posts ago that we would post more on Trick Dog. Last week Luna and I set out to sign off her Novice, Intermediate, and Advanced titles. To some, it may sound like a rush, but I wanted to get hers finished and off the table so I could move onto Ella and Charlie. Not that it means we’re done, because constant training keeps Luna happy and strengthens our bond.
She completed 20 tricks last Saturday to obtain all three titles. Her wave was a little sketchy...but she had also only learned it that same week. There is still one more title she can earn, Performer, but we have to do a video for that. If I’m going that far with it I want to put a whole sketch together. I’m thinking something musically inclined, as we are working on ‘keys’ with Dad’s keyboard.
As I mentioned before, I want to share the Trick Dog journey with you. But to be honest Luna's is towards the end of that path, so we’ll be focusing more on Charlie and Ella. Not that she won’t still make an appearance now and then, because, well, it’s Luna.
So how do you get started in Trick Dog? A good starting place would be to find a local AKC obedience club. If you don’t have one available or you want to go it alone start by picking up Kyra Sundance’s 101 Dog Tricks. I recommend everyone, whether or not you are interested in Trick Dog, to complete a basic training program. This should include getting your Canine Good Citizen (CGC). Depending on the program you choose and how much training you have done on your own this may take more than one complete class.
Lisa (and Luna)