Keeping a pet lively and in shape doesn’t just have to involve run-of-the-mill dog games—here are fun and challenging tricks to keep a dog eager and interested. Numerous photos make the practical application of these exercises simple and encourage readers to try them at home. The main objective is for the human and the dog to enjoy themselves while working together in harmony. Also incorporated are some tasks for guide and support dogs.
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About the Author
Manuela Zaitz runs dog-training classes and has extensive experience in the occupation and training of dogs.
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Trick School for Dogs
By Manuela Zaitz, Andrea Höfling, Andreas Maurer, Thomas Stens
Cadmos Publishing LimitedCopyright © 2010 Cadmos Books, Great Britain
All rights reserved.
Initially, the basic requirements for learning tricks are time, dedication and patience. It should be easy to motivate your dog with the help of some tasty treats. Every one of us surely remembers our school days: the best conditions for learning are a relaxed environment without any stress or pressure. Turn off the television, take your time preparing the trick you want to practise, pick up the treats and then call your dog. Please don't practise at times when you're in a bad mood, irritable or impatient for whatever reason. Your dog will sense your mood, he will start feeling insecure, and the atmosphere will be tense and unpleasant for him.
There will always be situations where you can't seem to be able to make any progress with a particular trick. Don't keep trying with grim determination and clenched teeth, and above all never blame the dog. Take a break, take your dog for a nice walk, do something enjoyable and pleasant. Forget about this trick for a few days, and practise something else, before trying again.
It is helpful to have a video camera running during training sessions. Even if it does feel a bit funny at first, it helps you notice any mistakes, which you can then avoid the next time round.
As for all the jumps described in this book, you should first make sure that both dog and owner are healthy and physically capable of carrying them out. They should always be done on a soft surface – lawn or sand are very suitable. If your dog generally has trouble jumping, if he lands on his front or hind legs at an angle that is too steep, if he has a physical impairment or isn't fully grown yet, you should avoid all tricks involving jumps. Always remember that your dog's safety has to come first, and that he won't take any precautions himself. That is your responsibility.
Dogs do things because they are worthwhile. A behaviour is only worthwhile, if it is reinforced. A behaviour that is worthwhile will therefore be repeated frequently. For instance praise, food or being played with are all great incentives for a dog. All these are unconditioned (primary) reinforcements. 'Unconditioned' because you don't have to teach the dog that these things are brilliant; he knows that they are worthwhile for him.
If the dog shows a desirable behaviour, you could reward him with a treat straight away. For this to work, the dog has to be very close to you at the time. The reinforcement of a behaviour displayed some distance away from you would thus be impossible. Of course you can still praise your dog by using your voice. Unfortunately, experience shows that during an average day, most dogs get so many 'text messages', they hardly pay any attention to us talking to them any more.
In this scenario, conditioned reinforcements come in very handy. Following a certain signal (a click, a tongue click or a signal word), you immediately give the dog a treat. The dog learns that the signal equals the promise of a treat. To achieve this, you need to repeat this routine again and again; every time the dog hears a signal such as a click, a tongue click or a signal chosen by you, he is rewarded with a treat. You should condition your dog to react to only one specific signal at first, otherwise things will get too confusing for him.
The clicker really is a most useful accessory for dog training. The method of affirming an animal's action with a sound signal has become wellnown through dolphin training. It quickly turned out that this way of training could achieve staggering results with other animals too.
It is important that the dog has learned the meaning of the 'click' beforehand, that he actually knows that 'click' means: 'Well done, you'll get a treat now.'
This way, you can individually encourage and shape a particular behaviour in an animal. If your dog usually has a good stretch after getting up, you can affirm the moment of the stretching and reward the dog on the spot. As most dogs will repeat worthwhile behaviour very soon – the best example is begging at the table – this way you can very easily teach your dog to take a bow.
The best thing about using a clicker is that there are no penalties. Wrong, or rather undesired behaviour is ignored, and only desired behaviour is affirmed. This encourages dogs to experiment, because they can work and try out new things without fear of reprimand.
But don't worry, if you haven't worked with a clicker yet, all tricks can be taught without a clicker as well. Having said that, I bet that once you have tried the clicker, you will not want to do without any more. It's not just that all of a sudden teaching new things becomes much easier, but it also improves the communication between dog and owner. It is marvellous to see how clicker-trained dogs offer actions, and then 11 Basic Requirements glance at their owner as if to say: 'Shall I do it like this? Is this what you wanted to see?'
If your dog often does something nicely, which you would like him to do on command as well, then you should think about conditioning your dog to react to the tongue click. Clicking with your tongue is easy. The advantage over a clicker is that you always have your tongue with you, and you will be able to affirm your dog's displayed behaviour at all times and in any situation. The conditioning is done the same way as with a 'normal' clicker. Another advantage is that you have both hands free.
You can also decide on a combination of both: to use the clicker for normal practice sessions, and the tongue click for spontaneous actions outdoors. A dog who has been conditioned to react to both will not be confused at all.
Words of praise
An enthusiastic 'Yes!' can also become a conditioned affirmation, which will show the dog the exact action for which he is being praised. To achieve this you must always try and use the same tone of voice, and of course the same term of praise. Don't say 'Great!' on one occasion, 'Fantastic!' the next, and 'Super!' the third time. Of course your dog may be able to sense your enthusiasm from the tone of your voice alone, but you'll make it that much harder for him to learn. Decide on one single word, a short one would be best, and stick to it. Condition your dog to react to this word and only use this particular word, when you want to praise him during practice for doing things the right way.
One step at a time
Taking a cursory glance at this book, you may quickly get an idea of what you would like to teach your dog first. Please pick only one exercise a time, take your time reading about the trick, and work out which basic commands you will need. If your dog hasn't mastered these yet, start with the basic commands or choose a different trick. If you require accessories, such as treats, clicker, target stick, have everything laid out ready for use, before you get the dog to join in.
Most of the tricks in this book are subdivided into small steps. Even if it is tempting to do more, please take only one step at a time. Some tricks are very complex. In order to be reliable and repeatable, the basic elements have to be in place first. It is very important to make sure the individual tricks are developed slowly and on a solid foundation. Please don't practise more than one trick at a time, as doing so would confuse not just the dog, but often the owner as well.
Be patient with your dog and don't give up. Should you fail to get to grips with a particular trick altogether, give it a few weeks' break, and practise something else in the meantime.
Sometimes a trick will work surprisingly well when you return to it after a pause. And if it still doesn't work, then this may just not be your dog's sort of trick. Not every dog has to be able to do everything, and each dog has his strong points and his weak points. The art is to recognise these, and this will enable you to work successfully with your dog.CHAPTER 2
By basic commands, I don't mean 'Sit', 'Stay', 'Heel', or similar terms. These are certainly very important commands, which your dog has probably mastered already, but in this case I mean commands that will be needed for your dog to carry out the tricks described in this book. I am talking about recurring commands, which you can use for a huge variety of tricks and everyday things alike.
The command 'Take' is supposed to prompt the dog to take in his mouth an object chosen by you. With many dogs, this is a simple matter: they have a favourite object such as a ball or a soft toy. Put the toy next to the dog and encourage him with a 'Take' to take it in his mouth. If he does so, give him instant affirmation with a click, a treat or a praise word.
Once this works well with a toy or a ball, start using everyday objects such as handkerchiefs, socks, empty cigarette packets etc.
Once this works without any problems, try your hand at more difficult things, such as bank notes, keys or similar things. Many dogs are reluctant to take metal objects in their mouths, for example keys. Make it easier for your dog by attaching a lanyard keychain to your keys, or a key fob that is easy to take hold of.
If your dog doesn't want to take the object up in his mouth, you will have to be creative. Make the object exciting, make sure it smells nice. Play with the object, but without taking any notice of your dog. Do this with such exuberance that your dog is bound to become really keen to play with it too.
Don't use any objects which you are very attached to. If you want your dog to take a telephone in his mouth, don't use your newest mobile for practice, but use a very old or defective phone. A flea market can be a treasure trove for objects to practise with.
When asked to 'Touch', the dog is supposed to touch objects with his paw. There are various methods for teaching this to a dog. One is with the use of a target stick. The target stick is something you may remember from geography lessons at school: a telescopic indicator stick whose length can be adjusted like an old-fashioned car aerial. For training with a clicker there are special target sticks available, which have a slightly enlarged rounded tip. Using a fly swatter works just as well. Show your target stick to the dog, and let him examine and sniff it. If the dog uses his paws for this, affirm this behaviour.
At first, affirm every use of a paw, and then begin only to affirm those actions which involve the dog hitting the tip of the target stick. Introduce the command 'Touch!' for this. With the target stick you can lead your dog to the objects you want him to touch, and then prompt him with a 'Touch!' to put his paw exactly on the desired spot. It should then prove quite easy to gradually wean the dog off the target stick during the individual exercises.
Instead of the target stick, another option would be to use a sticky dot. This works best, when you attach a sticky dot to your hand first, and then have the dog put his paw on it. You gradually move the sticky dot, for example onto a finger or onto your arm. The next step could be to stick the dot on the floor. Once the dog has understood 'Touch!', you can attempt more difficult tasks, such as switching on the light. For this you simply stick the dot on the light switch. As the dog has already learnt that he must put his paw onto the dot, switching on the light is only a small step. Following the same principle, you can stick the dot on a drawer in order to teach the dog to close it.
On the command 'Nudge!', the dog will touch objects with his nose. The simplest way to develop this is by holding your hand in front of the dog's nose, and to give affirmation as soon as he touches your hand with his nose. You can also shape the 'Nudge' command with a target stick or a sticky dot, in the same way as 'Touch'.
If the dog approaches the hand or the target, but doesn't nudge it, you can carefully push the hand or the target against the dog's nose, and follow this by instant praise, as if the dog had managed it all by himself. Every time the dog's nose touches the target or your hand, you say 'Nudge!' Repeat this several times, until the dog has understood that every nose-target contact results in a treat. Now hold the target in front of his nose once more. Hold it quite close to the dog's nose, in order to make it as easy for him as possible. If you see a small movement in the direction of the target stick, give the command 'Nudge!' When he does the nudge for the first time without any help, reward him instantly with a jackpot.
This command is best taught to your dog during a 'tug of war' game, during which you cheer the dog on by using the command 'Pull!' Take an old towel and let him pull it from your fingers. If the dog isn't keen to join in at first, wave the towel around with fast and jerky movements, while making wild squealing noises. If he takes it into his mouth, pull on it for only a split second, and then let the dog win and play with his prey. This game is selfrewarding, therefore there is hardly any need for treats. Repeat this game again and again, in between other activities. In order to see whether the dog has understood the command, and has made the right associations, take the towel lightly in your hand and, while omitting the previous 'tug of war' game, just ask the dog to pull the towel by using the command 'Pull!' If he pulls it from your hand, reward him with a jackpot.
Make sure, however, that the pulling action doesn't get out of control. At a later stage, when the dog is asked to remove your socks, it would not be particularly pleasant if he were to end up shaking your leg vigorously in the process.
This is an extension of the 'Take!' command. The dog is supposed to bring you an object chosen at random on command. If your dog is not yet able to 'Fetch', begin with a stepbystep approach. Take one of your dog's toys and place it directly in front of your feet. Encourage your dog to take the toy using the command 'Fetch!' Exchange the toy he has just picked up with an especially tasty treat. Very important: return the toy to your dog afterwards. Giving up a desired object is not particularly easy for a dog. Your aim, however, is that your dog should be eager to bring you anything you ask for, therefore you have to make it worthwhile for him. A tasty treat or a nice game is a suitable reinforcement. If your dog is standing in front of you with an object in his mouth, and you offer him a tasty treat in exchange, he will drop the object. Take the toy and give him the treat. Once this works well, put the toy on the floor a few centimetres away.
Increase the distance further and further, but make sure you do things really slowly, step by step, in order to develop the command with solid foundations.
Put it in my hand
The dog places an object in your hand. For this trick, your dog already needs to be able to pick up objects in his mouth, and to bring them to you. If he is unable to do this yet, start with the previous exercise, and once your dog has mastered the 'Fetch!' command, continue from this point onwards.
The dog is standing in front of you with the object in his mouth. Place your hand directly below your dog's jaw and hold a treat in front of his nose with the other hand. The moment he opens his mouth to take the treat, you say 'Give it to me!', or a different command of your choice. Whatever command you choose, it should be clearly distinguishable from the 'Let go!' command. Once he has eaten the treat, encourage him to pick up the object once more, and repeat the action of 'Put it in my hand' several times. If your dog doesn't want to let go of the object, try the same routine using a less attractive object, a folded pair of socks, perhaps, or something similar.
Once the 'Put it into my hand' routine is working well, increase the difficulty by placing your hand not directly under his jaw, but a few centimetres to one side. If your dog has understood the command, he will place the object in your hand. Reward him instantly with a jackpot. If the object falls to the ground, because your dog hasn't yet made the right associations with the command, go back one step and practise several more times with your hand under his jaw, before making any fresh attempts. The aim is to have the dog place objects in your hand, no matter how high you hold it. Of course you'll have to take into account the physical limitations of your dog.
Excerpted from Trick School for Dogs by Manuela Zaitz, Andrea Höfling, Andreas Maurer, Thomas Stens. Copyright © 2010 Cadmos Books, Great Britain. Excerpted by permission of Cadmos Publishing Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Basic Requirements, 9,
Important Things for the Trick School, 25,