Saturday, April 5, 2014

If You Want Your Dog To Do Something, Teach It

I bet you're thinking, "Is she dense? Of course we need to teach them things."

We know we need to teach our dogs to potty outside, sit, stay, walk and greet nicely, we teach them tricks ...

But how many things do we just expect them to do or figure out on their own?

It is quite possible that I am the last one to catch on because it didn't sink in to me until recently and I came to a realization that WHATEVER I want my dogs to do, the best way is to teach it as a trick.

We, humans, don't actually come with an instruction manual.

I do feel that there are many things we take for granted and expect our dogs to do just for the privilege of sharing in our lives. And that can be a cause of frustration for both ourselves and our dogs.

It kind of occurred to me when we were struggling with medicating Cookie's ears

It occurred to me but it didn't turn into true realization.

It wasn't until recently when the light bulb truly came on in my head.

We had somewhat hard time getting Cookie's harness on. Particularly with the excitement surrounding the act, we typically ended up chasing her all over trying to put it on. I didn't really mind but hubby found that frustrating. And Cookie probably by then thought that's how it was done.

Jasmine was quite easy in this regard, she knew what the harness meant and did her best to climb into it, even though not always the right way. Cookie did get excited, as she knew we were going to go somewhere, but didn't seem to quite realize the importance of getting the harness on first.

Then the idea struck. Why not teach it as a trick?

I've seen some videos of teaching a dog to accept a muzzle and I decided to use a similar technique.

I'd hold out the harness and offer the treat on the other side, so Cookie would have to reach through the loop to get it. When she did, I'd mark and release the treat. Gradually, I held the treat further and further, until the harness ended up in its right place but it was all Cookie's doing. Then I'd just present the loop and mark and reward when Cookie stuck her head through.

Needless to say it took only couple of sessions to get to things to where we wanted them.

Now, all we have to do is to present the harness and Cookie's head is right there. Easy as pie.

If I didn't figure this out, we'd be still chasing her around trying to get the harness on Cookie. This way, she gets it on by herself.

And that is when I really got to understand this. If you want your dog to do something - anything - teach it as a trick.

Teaching your dog tricks is fun for both you and your dog, right? Why not treat any behavior you want as a trick? Much more fun and much less frustration.

Am I really the last one to figure this out? 

Or are there things you'd like your dog to do which might get easier if taught as a trick?

Related articles:
From The End Of A Lead Line To Casa Jasmine: Meet Cookie, Our New Adoptee
And So It Begins Again(?) Our First Health-Related Heart Attack With Cookie 
I Didn't Know I Could Fly: Why Cookie Wears A Harness Instead Of A Collar
C.E.T. Oral Hygiene Chews For Dogs CAN Be A Choking Hazzard 
Our First Health-Related Heart Attack With Cookie: The Knee Or The Foot? 
Creative Solutions And An Incidental Product Review
Too Young For Pot: Cookie's Snack With A Side Of Hydrogen Peroxide  
Taming Of The Wild Beast: Cookie's Transition To Civilization  
Staying On Top Of The Ears: Cookie Is Not Impressed  
Putting The Easy Back Into Walking
Cookie's Ears Are Still Not Happy 
The Threat Of The Bulge Is Always Lurking 
Today Is Cookie's Three-Months Adoptoversary  
Cookie Meets The Electric Horse Fence And Her First Chiropractic Adjustment  
Why Examine Your Dog's Vomit? 
Why Is That Leg Still Not Happy? Cookie's Leg Keeps Getting Sore 
Cookie Too Is Insured With Trupanion
Does Being Insured Mean Being Covered? Our First Claim With Trupanion
Is Cookie's Leg Finally Getting Better?
Is Cookie Going To Be Another Medical Challenge Or Are We Looking To Closely? 
The Project That Is Cookie: Pancreatitis Up Close And Personal  
Pancreatitis: Cookie’s Blood Work   
Another Belly Upset: Pancreatitis Again Or Not?  
Happy Birthday, Cookie 
Who's Training Whom? Stick And Treat 
Incontinence? Cookie's Mysterious Leaks 
Observation Skills Of Dogs 


  1. Another excellent blog!

    Good girl!


    Thank you!


    1. Aww, thank you. It's funny how there is always something to learn.

  2. You are definitely not the last one to figure this out! My problem is that while I know this, I don't always take the time to train the correct behavior/trick. Wilhelm's running from his harness was definitely one we had to fix just like you did. I laughed thinking of you chasing your big dog around, though!

    1. Yeah, it was kind of funny :-) She wasn't running per se but quite successfully avoiding the loop :-)

  3. I agree with Bethany - not the last to learn it, but we forget and then it's like, Doh! Good reminder.

  4. I enjoyed this very much. I had Rottweilers for many years and it is so nice to see them in a favorable light, such as in your blog. New follower here! Come by and see us sometime!

    1. Hi Rama's Mama.

      Nice to meet you, glad you enjoyed the article.

      Yes, we LOVE Rotties, had them for over 20 years now.

  5. I turn things into games. Our puppies hated baths so I turned it into a game. They tolerate baths and look forward to being dried off afterwards, which is a fun game with each of them.

    We have taught our dogs to lift their paws for cleaning or drying. They do really well with this one - automatically lifting when they see me with a towel :)

    1. Yeah, that is the best way, isn't it? Turn stuff into a game.