Here's a fun twist on the "Fetch" cue to teach your dog that provides mental as well as physical exercise. The goal: to identify objects by name. You can use any of these as the cue phrase: "Fetch" or "Find It" or "Go Get...." The cue can be applied to other beings in the household as well as objects ("Find Zack!").
Whichever cue phrase you choose, do not expect your dog to understand what to do until you've spending "education time" - in just a few 3- to 5-minute sessions a day for a few days, you can help your dog learn what the phrase means, and what each individual object/being name refers to.
Steps and tips:
- Start by verbally pairing the cue phrase with the action. Look for opportunities such as when you're presenting a toy your dog already shows interest in, or when you're tossing a ball that your dog already desires. Or when your dog trotting over to your spouse. When you notice the dog eying or moving toward one of these objects/beings, say the phrase. Examples: "Fetch the Ball," "Find Kong,""Go get Daddy."
- Next, take one of those desired objects and set it out with two other objects that are not familiar by name to your dog. For example, place a Kong alongside of a balled-up dishtowel and a paperweight. Get your dog's attention (make sure you've taught your dog his name and how to "sit"). Place your dog in a "sit." Then point to the display of these objects and say: "Find Kong."
- Verbally praise your dog for selecting the correct object.
- When your dog makes a move toward bringing the object to you, visually offer a small training treat.
- Provide the training treat along with verbal praise when he brings the object to you. Say "Drop It" or "Out" to signal him to drop the Kong (or whatever object involved). See the Dog Tipsheet on teaching trades with "Drop It" or "Out" at <http://www.paw-rescue.org/PAW/PETTIPS/DogTip_RemoveItems.html>
- Keep in mind the distinction between the "fetch" and "find" oriented cues and the commands for dropping and relinquishing objects. You'll need to help your dog distinguish between these cues - which is easy to do through practice - since there will be times you want your dog to bring and release an object, and other times when you simply want him to get something to play with or otherwise enjoy.
- Next, teach him the names of objects. After you are certain he knows the name of one desired object (ball, Kong), change the line-up of 3 objects to include the known-by-name object, another desired object, and a neutral (unattractive) object. For example: the known-by-name ball, a stuffed dog toy given a specific name (such as bone for a squeaker bone) and a balled-up dishtowel. Tell him to get the known-by-name ball first. Then tell him to get the "bone." If he chooses the wrong object, instead of scolding, stay silent.
- Note: By withhold acknowledgment and staying quiet, you help keep the training scenario simple. You want to minimize distractions for the early stages of training. Later, after your dog demonstrates a firm understanding of the cue words and several object names, you can introduce distractions and practice in different locations. But don't introduce multiple complications simultaneously. Introduce distractions one by one, perhaps by having a friend involved in showing additional objects. Same goes for changing the environment, such as moving from the family room to the backyard.
- Verbally praise whenever your dog selects the right object. Then encourage him to bring it to you, using treats. After a few repetitions, go to an "intermittent" or random reward schedule, meaning, offer the tasty treats for some successful responses, but not every time. This will help your dog learn to engage in the correct response even when there's no extra reward for that action. You want your dog to regard the real reward as getting the object and the mental satisfaction of showing that he understands what his person means. Similar to the human student who raises his hand in joy because he knows the answer to the teacher's question.
- Find It. Description of this cue is based on advice from several trainers. For another how-to on the "Find It" cue, see the May/June 2007 of BARK, which features one of Kyra Sundance's "101 Dog Tricks" (Quarry Books 2007). For details about Bark, "the modern dog culture magazine," visit www.thebark.com.
- Drop It. See the tipsheet about teaching Drop It or Out, so your dog will learn to respond to verbal cues for releasing objects from his or her mouth.
For more of Robin's Dog Tips, see the index at:
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