How to teach a dog tricks – Sentinel and Enterprise

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Jazzy walks on stage as part of her stunts at the Somerville Dog Festival in 2019.

Dear Pet Talk: I want to teach my pet tricks. How do I do this? – Dog and cat lovers

Dear Dog and Cat Lovers: I bet you’ll want to teach both the dog and the cat some tricks! Let’s start with our dog, and talk about cat tricks in a future column.

Dogs have the potential to “learn” most tricks because of the thousands of years of co-evolving with our species. We breed canines for a variety of reasons (hunting, protection, retrieving) including “human-pleasing”. That’s part of their charm, and the beauty of life with a dog is that you don’t need experience to teach them – just be patient. First, “think small” and continue training sessions for three to five minutes without any distractions. Both Jenn Bragdon and Cap Corduan of TheraPAWS pet teams emphasize the following: “Repetition and rewards.”

Start with the basic commands: “Sit,” (scratch on the floor), “Lie” (front paws on the floor, head above the floor). You can teach your dog the latter by watching your finger as you place it on the floor while saying “lie down.” (Treatment training will also work – but work on getting your dog to follow your instructions with voice commands as quickly as possible). Do the following with “paw me” or “paja”. Say “paw” and gently lift the dog’s paw. Give him a treat. do it again Repeat several times. Dogs need time to commit instructions to their hard drive, so to speak.

This is one I haven’t tried yet, but plan to work on. Some dogs do this more naturally than others (smaller dogs, and those with terrier traits). They will need an invitation to get this idea. Hold the treat in your cupped hand so your dog knows you have it. Then move your hand in a wide circle around your dog, encouraging your dog to “follow the nose.” When he does this, use the word “spin.” Once around, give them a treat. Eventually, you can graduate to just using the word “spin” and move your hand in a circle. Tell us how it works!

Sally Cragin is the director of Be PAWSitive: Therapy Pets and Community Education. Send questions to 978-320-1335.

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