turn your dog’s natural behaviors into fun tricks!

Last night while getting ready to take Lucy, my Golden Retriever, for her evening walk I accidentally dropped my hat on the floor while putting on my jacket. Lucy stood there glancing back and forth from me to the hat. I thought, “Lazy me. I really don’t want to bend over to pick that up.”  So I got out the clicker and Lucy’s favorite treats – dog training time!

Here’s how the beginning of the dog training exercise went… Lucy knows how to “Take It,” in fact she does it every day when we play with her toys. I put her favorite squeaky tennis ball in my hand and say, “Lucy, Take It” and she does. So, getting her to put the hat in her mouth should be a piece of cake, right? WRONG!

I imagine that Lucy was very confused. For the 5 1/2 years that we’ve been together, through her obedience training Lucy has learned that there are things she is permitted to put in her mouth; her balls, tug toys, chewies, etc. All other things, including Mom’s hat, are not permitted. (This works beautifully unless she is in the yard where there are sticks to chew on or there is a paper towel on the floor!)  “What does she want me to do – put that in my mouth? Is she crazy? Sure, I’ll put it in my mouth and then she’ll give me a “Lucy, eh eh.” Then I won’t get that yummy liver treat in her hand. Why must this woman torture me?”

Instead of putting the hat in her mouth when I said, “take it,” she kept touching the hat with her nose, demonstrating her reluctance but letting me know she’s paying attention. “Ah…,” I thought. “She’s uncomfortable doing something she’s normally not allowed to, even when I ask her.” My task now was to do what I could to turn this into a fun interaction with Lucy. If she won’t take the hat, what can I do with that beautiful nose she’s using to touch to the hat?

The hat went away and I got a latex ball from the cabinet. Since Lucy was eagerly touching the hat with her nose, and knows how to “Touch,” wouldn’t it be fun to get her to use her nose to roll the ball on the floor. Where’s the Easy Button?

I put the ball in front of her on the floor, asked Lucy to “Stand,” and we were on our way. I did nothing at first – just patiently waited for Lucy to interact with the ball.  She kept checking in with me looking for a cue… nothing. After a few seconds, she start to use her paws. One at a time she picked up a giant paw and planted it on the ball… I did nothing. It is so cool to watch your dog when she is trying to figure out what to do! Once she realized that hitting the ball with her paws was not what I wanted, Lucy started working through her repertoire, “OK, I’ll Spin Left! That didn’t work. How about if I Spin Right? Nope, not that either. I know, I’ll Take a Bow. Darn, that’s not it. High Five? Crap!”

My job was to be patient and communicate with Lucy even if it meant not communicating at all. I was careful not to reinforce her for the tricks performance though it was very hard – she’s so stinkin’ cute! When she was done, I silently stood in front of her and stared at the ball on the floor. At first, I would reward her for simply looking at the ball. “Good girl,” click, treat. This told Lucy the object of my desire. After a few times at this, the rewards stopped; after all, looking at the ball was not the new behavior we were working on. So she had to figure it out, again! Within in a minute or so of no longer getting treats for looking at the ball, she started moving her head to the ball. Progress!  “Good girl,” click, treat! After a few times, it gets harder again.

In no time at all, Lucy started using her nose to touch the ball, then to push the ball along the floor. Bingo! When I was confident that she would push the ball with her nose, I added the word, “Nudge.” Before I knew it, I was walking with Lucy as she “nudged” the ball through the hallways of the house.

In about 15 minutes, we took one of Lucy’s natural behaviors – using her nose – and turned it into a new trick. The benefits were plentiful; Mom and Lucy bonding and relationship strengthening, mental stimulation and lots of positive reinforcement for Lucy.

You can do this with your dog, too. What are the everyday things your dog does that you can shape into tricks or games? Watch closely… the opportunities are right under your nose (or your dog’s)!

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1 Comment

  1. We’re always looking for new ways for our 11 month old pup Marty to show us how smart he is. I can’t wait to print this so we can start working with him! Thanks Proper Pup!

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