3 Easy Tricks Your Child Can Teach Your Dog
Kids like to mimic Mom and Dad with the family dog.
If Mom asks the dog to sit for a treat, the kids will probably try to do the same thing.
Although in theory this sounds great, the dog doesn’t always feel the same way. He may be happy to cooperate with adults in the household, but a young child yelling at him to, “Sit! Sit! Sit!” in a shrill voice will probably be ignored.
Trick training, however, is a perfect activity for both children and dogs. The child learns how to train the dog, and the dog learns how to cooperate with the child. The skills learned during trick training can later be expanded upon so the child and dog can do more together.
The Lure and Reward Technique
A lure and reward training technique is the backbone of how to teach these tricks. A variety of training techniques are available, but this particular method is easy to use, fun for a dog to follow, and kids take to it with little difficulty.
The first step is finding a variety of treats the dog likes. Ideally these should have a strong smell, especially something like Swiss cheese; or you can buy treats, but make sure to chop them up into smaller pieces. The treat will be a lure to help the dog do something—either to assume a position or to move.
For example, to have the dog sit, let him sniff the treat and then move it from his nose over his head toward his tail. As his nose moves up to follow the treat, his hips will lower to the ground. He then gets the treat (which is now a reward) and he’s praised, “Good sit!”
If the dog doesn’t sit but instead moves to get the treat, the hand holding the treat probably moved too far away from the dog’s nose or moved too quickly. Think of both the dog’s nose and the treat as having a magnet and lead the dog by his nose.
As the dog learns each movement, a word will be taught for that movement (such as sit), and while a hand signal will still be used to help the dog do what has been asked, the lure will be phased out. The treat for the reward will still be used for the time being, but that too will be decreased as the dog learns the exercise.
Never abruptly stop using any training tool (lure, reward, hand signal, or verbal praise) or the dog will be confused. Instead, make one change at a time, gradually and randomly, and while you decrease one training tool or reward, increase another.
Before the child begins teaching any tricks, have them practice teaching your dog to sit using this technique. Use the treat as both a lure and a reward and teach them when to give the reward. Verbal praise is important too.
Tricks Should be Fun
All training with your dog (obedience skills as well as trick training) should be fun. If it gets too serious, then it’s time to take a break, breathe and relax. This is especially important when your child is the trainer.
If your child gets frustrated, impatient or angry, take a break, and when she’s calm again, explain how the dog learns and that it’s easy for him to become confused. Then, when she tries again, perhaps break the training into smaller steps so that they both can learn more easily.
Make sure that you, as the supervising parent, praise the child trainer as much or more than the child rewards the dog. After all, she’s learning even more than the dog is!
It’s Trick Time!
Trick: Spin in a Circle
When your dog knows this trick, he will move in a small circle when your child says, “Spin.”
Have some treats your dog likes and put them in your child’s pocket. Don’t hold the treats for the child or the dog will be watching you rather than her.
With the dog standing in front of her, let the dog smell the treat. She can then move the treat to either side, leading the dog by the nose, and attempt to lead the dog in a circle. Ideally she can lean over the dog, making a large arm gesture, moving her body as little as possible. The first time the dog may move a quarter of the way around, maybe a few steps, and that’s fine. Have her give the dog the treat and praise him. Do this three or four times and then take a break. Then come back and try again.
The first time he makes a complete circle in front of her, give him several treats and praise him lots, “Yes! Good boy!” Of course, you should praise your child, too, as they accomplished this together.
Once they are doing a complete circle reliably, then she can begin emphasizing the name of the trick, “Spin!” She can also use her hand motion with the treat to make the circle smaller and to help the dog move more quickly. When these have both been accomplished, she can begin decreasing the size of her hand signal, making just a quick circle in the air.
Trick: Watch Me
The goal of the “watch me” trick is to teach the dog to watch his trainer even when there are distractions around him. This is a great trick as well as a useful obedience exercise.
Give your child a pocketful of treats. With the dog sitting in front of her, she should let him smell the treat, and then take it from his nose to her chin. Have her watch his eyes and when he looks her in the eyes she is to praise him and quickly give him the treat.
The reward should identify to the dog that action that is wanted and that is to look her in the eyes. Do this three or four times, take a break, play a little, and then come back and do it again.
After a few days, when he’s easily making eye contact, then she can add a name to the trick, “Watch me,” as she moves the treat from his nose to her chin. When he appears to be comfortable with the name of the trick and what he’s supposed to do, then she can shorten the hand signal and simply hold the treat at her chin.
When the dog is watching her easily and comfortably with no signs of confusion or lunging, she can begin moving around while asking him to continue to watch her. Have her take one step to the right, then one step to the left. Then a couple steps to each side. She can stand up tall or duck low. When the dog keeps his eyes on her as she challenges him, make sure her rewards to him are extra special. Several treats instead of just one, petting, and lots of verbal praise.
Trick: Hide and Seek
Teaching the dog to find something hidden is a fun trick but also a great game that your child and the dog can play. Essentially, you want the dog to know that “Find it” means he should find something. Initially it can be a treat but then a toy or ball can be hidden.
Give your child several treats and have her put all but one in her pocket. Have her place one treat under a small hand towel or wash cloth, letting the dog see her do it.
She then tells the dog, “Find it!” To encourage him, she can lift one corner of the towel so the treat is just barely visible. When he gets the treat, praise him. After a few tries, have her leave the towel on the floor to see whether the dog will try to get the treat on his own. If he lifts the towel or moves it on his own, make sure she praises him enthusiastically.
She can also play this game by hiding one of the dog’s toys or a favorite ball under the towel. If the dog knows some of his toys by name, she can hide one of those toys and ask him to find it by name, “Find the tennis ball!” Later, the game can be expanded by hiding several items under a bigger towel and asking the dog to find the correct item by name.