I love trick training.
I love how fun it is to see animals learning. I love the relationship built between species. I love how cute the end results are. AND I love that the pup doesn’t always realize that this fun game we’re doing is actually functional for our lives.
As I was thinking about this month’s training challenge (“Teach A Trick”), I mentally scrolled through the whole Rolodex of tricks I’ve seen and done with dogs, and I kept coming back to wanting to teach you something that can be adorable AND functional.
This summer, our household became a playground as we celebrated our human kiddo’s first birthday. I had no idea we had so many cabinets, and to a toddler, behind that cabinet door lies a world of wonder that needs to be explored. Everything stores something and after a few minutes… all of those somethings are on the floor (stay tuned for a future Slick Tricks to teach your pup how to help you clean up toys).
So what did I do when I grew tired of constantly closing the half-opened cabinet to the pots and pans with my foot as my boy whisked me away by pointer fingers to his next exciting discovery? I said to myself, “Corinne! Opie is amazing and he knows how to close the cabinets!”
So let’s learn the trick that I like to call, “Can you get that for me?”
When teaching a trick, it’s important to consider all of the actions that your animal has to do in order to complete the task. When we break the behaviors of the trick down and reward in tiny, manageable steps (“splitting”), we create clarity, increase confidence, and ensure success for our pups.
In order for a dog to close a cabinet door, they need to know how to touch something with their paws or their nose. First, we will teach “paw/high five/shake/fist bump”, then we will transfer this to the cabinet using a target. My pup likes to touch with his paw, but feel free to replace the term “paw” with “nose” if you’d rather your dog close something with his/her snout.
Teaching this skill takes multiple training sessions, so make a note where your pup leaves off at the end of one session and start a step or two before that when you begin your next session. Practice each step until your dog is accurate 80-90% of the time. As always, keep training sessions short, positive, and fun.
What you need for this trick:
- Marker: an auditory cue that tells your dog “what you just did will bring the goodies” (i.e.- click, “yes”, “good”)
- Target: a visual tool to help with precision (i.e.- piece of painters tape)
Part 1: Teach “paw”
- Put a treat in a closed fist.
- Offer the fist to the pup.
- The curious pup may sniff/lick/explore. Wait the pup out.
- When your dog touches your hand with his paw, mark, then reward with the treat.
**Continue this step until your dog is consistently offering his paw **
- Start to offer your fist without the treat inside. Mark and reward with the other hand when his paw makes contact. Repeat.
- Start to open your hand. Mark and reward with the other hand when his paw makes contact with your open palm. Repeat.
**Congrats! You just taught your pup “shake/fist/high five!” Party time! Name this whatever you want and continue using this cue for the next few steps (or stop here, get a high five from your pup, and bask in your training glory). For more info on adding a verbal cue, check out this video.**
Part 2: Transferring the touch
- Continue practicing “high five”, but now add a target on your palm. I like to use a piece of painter’s tape. When your pup touches his paw to your target (the tape), mark and reward. Repeat.
- Start to move your hand (with the target on it) to different levels and angles (in front/side/below/higher/lower/behind/further). Mark and reward each success.
- Move the target to the end of your fingers and repeat the above step. Mark and reward.
- With the target at the end of your fingers, place your hand near/in front of a closed cabinet door, gradually getting closer to the door so that your hand is flat on the cabinet, palm facing out. Mark and reward each success.
- Gradually move the target from halfway on your fingers/halfway on door > to ¼ on your fingers/ ¾ on the door > 100% on the door. Mark and reward each success.
*Congrats! You successfully used a target to transfer the pup from touching your hand to touching the cabinet. Now let’s add the new verbal cue “Can you get that for me?”. For more info on switching cues, click here!
- Once your pup is consistently touching the target on the cabinet, practice doing it with the door open. Mark and reward each time your pup touches the target, even if it does not close the door. Gradually increase the criteria by waiting to mark until the door moves, and eventually, closes. Your goal is to mark the moment you hear the door shut. *NOTE: if your dog has a history of sound sensitivities, consider laying a dish towel over the edge at the bottom of the cabinet to dampen the sound.
- Once your pup is responding to your cue and closing the door all the way, you can start to take the target off the cabinet and transfer it to other doors.
You did it! Your kitchen will never look like that scene from The Sixth Sense again. Have fun with this trick by making a little maze throughout your kitchen that your pup can clear. It’s a very fun 15 secs for both the dog and the humans cheering him on!
- Have fun working with your pup on these tricks! Tricks are awesome because the necessity is so low. Tricks are a great way to deepen your relationship, discover your pup’s motivators, and learn their signals for when they’ve hit their limits (and apply this knowledge to any behavior modification plans you are working on as well).
- Share your pictures and videos of your pup helping you keep the house in order with our Facebook and Instagram pages! You can tag us @PetHarmonyTraining! We love seeing cute things!
You’re doing great!