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Teach an old (or new) dog some new tricks!

Top skills for your dog to learn

Posted: May 31, 2013 3:40 p.m.
Updated: June 3, 2013 5:00 a.m.

With summer quickly approaching and the school year coming to a close, outdoor activities are in full swing. This means more time available to be spent outdoors with family and friends. One family member that might receive more attention with summer is one commonly referred to as "man’s best friend." That’s right, the family dog. What better way to spend quality time than learning skills to teach your favorite pet some new tricks. It turns out you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Here’s a list of some basic tricks and skills to fill your sunny afternoons spent with a furry friend:

• Default Sit: The very first thing that is suggested to teach any new canine charge is a default sit. Most people aren’t too crazy about dogs that jump all over them -- even the most enthusiastic dog lover. It is more beneficial to teach a dog to sit rather than to jump. Sitting is incompatible with jumping. A dog simply cannot sit and jump at the same time.

To do this, you would first want to set the dog up so that he or she can’t make many (or preferably any) paws on people mistakes. Make sure your dog was either on a leash or on a tether whenever new people are around. This takes the anxiety out of any human/dog interaction. It means that you no longer have to worry about whether your dog will jump on someone because she or he can’t.

Next, begin the task of teaching the sit. Make sure that you always had some very high value rewards on hand to help ensure that your dog will want to work with you even if there are exciting things happening all around him or her. Since the goal is to teach the dog to automatically sit whenever new people appear, refrain from telling or asking the dog to sit (he or she might not choose to respond anyway and you wouldn’t want to inadvertently teach my dog to ignore your commands) but rather allow the dog to explore his or her options.

Each time the dog chooses to sit, follow that sit with a tasty treat because any behavior that is rewarded should happen more often. You need to be patient during this process. It can take a bit of time before the dog figures out that it is the sitting that is getting him the tasty treats. Once the dog becomes more reliable about responding to each new person that comes along with a sit, begin to work on teaching your dog or pup to maintain his or her sit for longer and longer periods of time.

• Chill On a Mat: The idea is that you will be able to send your dog over to a portable mat (like a bath mat or towel) where he or she will lie down and remain until released.

• Come: We all want our dogs to come when called but a lot of dogs just don’t. They are completely unreliable. You need to teach your dog that it is totally worth giving up whatever he or she is engaged with to come running to you. It is important to reinforce this behavior every time with a super tasty treat (if your dog is food motivated) or a game of tug (if your dog is play motivated).

If your dog isn’t reliable, work on this skill with your dog on a long leash and then inside an enclosed area before ever trusting him off leash. If your dog does not come when he or she is called, whatever you do, don’t nag him. Repeating commands is the quickest way to teach your dog to ignore you. Go and get her or him and go back to working with the dog on a line until he or she is more reliable.

• Eye Contact: Eye contact is a great way to teach your dog to keep his or her focus on you. Start this skill by rewarding your dog every time he or she chooses to look at you -- on walks, at the dog park, when kids are around, in the house, etc. These can be referred to as "check-ins". Check-ins are a great way to start to teach your dog or pup that it pays to look.

• Leave It: Leave that alone! Don’t mess with it. The purpose of this skill is to teach your dog to back away and not to touch anything that you’ve asked him or her not to. The "it" in question could be a cat, a hamburger bun, a sock. Imagine how handy that would be!

In closing, remember to dedicate some time to training your dog or pup. It’s not fair to get angry with your dog for misbehaving if you haven’t taken the time to teach your dog what is expected of him or her.

No matter which skills you find important for your dog to learn, understand that behaviors need to be rewarded often and well and you will need to limit your dogs opportunity to make the wrong choices by using better management-head halters or no pull harnesses for a dog who pulls, leashes and tethers for jumpers and long lines for a dog who won’t come when he or she is called. Good luck!

(Provided by


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