INDOOR GAMES TO TEACH YOUR DOG
I don’t know about you but the dismal, cold, cloudy weather last week made ‘lockdown’ very difficult. The sunshine today has lifted my spirits and I feel a little more normal!
As it was cold as well as miserable, I wasn’t too keen to stay outside after I’d walked and played ‘footie’ with Juno. But all she wanted to do was have fun with me outside. So it was time to work on indoor games to test her brain and skills. Getting a dog to use its brain is as tiring as going for a long walk.
Muffin Tin Game: I got this game from online and haven’t yet played it. But it sounds like fun. (I know everyone is baking madly at the moment but your muffin tin will be empty at some stage. And don’t forget to wash it well after the game!)
Take your muffin tin and place a treat at the bottom of each cup. Then squash a tennis ball on top. Let your dog watch you doing this. Then hold the tin and encourage him to ‘Find the Treat’! Make sure he gets really excited and has fun removing the tennis balls to get the treats.
(There are lots of interactive games online for you to buy but the above is homemade and, thus, free!)
Find the treat under the mug/bowl: Have three solid mugs or bowls and let your dog watch closely while you place a treat under one of the containers. Say ‘Find it’ and watch him sniff a particular mug/bowl. Lift it and if it’s the right one with the treat, praise as he eats it. If he sniffed the wrong one, lift the mug/bowl, say ‘Oops’, and reset the mugs and ask him to try again.
Once he can find the treat immediately most of the time, you can raise the bar.
Place a treat under one container and shuffle it with another one of the three. That means the treat has been moved one place. Ensure your dog is watching closely. Then say, ‘Find it’. Pick up the mug/bowl he noses. If the treat is there, he gets his reward plus loads of praise. Wrong mug, ‘Oops’ and repeat.
When your dog is nosing out the treat at once more times than not, then create more difficulty by shuffling all three mugs for a couple of times. Once he’s nosing out that treat each time, then shuffle the mugs for longer periods.
In both instances, make sure you enter into the spirit of the game. Get excited! Let him know he’s a star when he finds the treats immediately. But don’t flog the games to death. Repeating each one five times is more than enough otherwise your dog gets bored. You want him coming back for more the next time.
Object Choice: This game helps your dog to really use his brain. If you’ve not got too much experience in training your dog, I would suggest that you start by asking your dog to ‘touch’ your hand. You hold out your hand, palm facing, near him. He’ll probably imagine you have something in your hand so will automatically sniff it or even paw it. Just say ‘Good’ and reward. As he begins to automatically ‘touch’ your hand, say ‘Good’ and add ‘Hand’ Touch’.
Then start with toys that your dog already plays with such as a ball or tug toy. Sit him down and show him the toy. Say ‘Ball, touch’. You’re looking for him to touch it with his paw or nose. When he does. Say ‘Good!’ and reward. When he automatically touches the ball each time, introduce another toy, and go through the same procedure, naming the second toy.
Once he’s touching the second toy, hold each one, with one much closer to him and name the specific toy and ask him to touch it. You can change the toys around so the other is closer. (Remember the whole point is to name the toy.) When this becomes automatic, hold both at the same distance and ask him to touch one or other, naming the specific one.
Get him familiar with the two items and then gradually add another toy, one at a time. Soon you’ll have him touching that toy when you name it. And, finally, you can place them all in a row, stand back and ask him to go up to whichever toy you name and nose or paw it.
(When the ‘lockdown’ is lifted, you can then show off your dog’s amazing skills to all your friends!)
Week three and you’ve either settled into a routine or you’re climbing the walls with the enforced confinement!
Whichever it is, why not take a break and do something positive with your dog?
I’ve found that Juno has been ignoring some of my commands and only doing them after a fashion or when she feels like it. So this morning, I used our walk as a good way to reinforce some of those that she’s been fudging.
Juno’s pretty good at that one unless there is a distraction outside, which can happen on the walk. Today her speed of walking was increasing as one of the routes I follow takes us past her favourite pal. Anticipating seeing him makes her thoroughly deaf!
So I insisted she stop, sat, and, most importantly, made consistent eye contact before I allowed her to carry on. At first, she kept looking away to see if her friend was in the garden. I kept encouraging her to look at me until she concentrated on me and then came the reward – to go and investigate. It took a while, but, in the end, she did really well. Once she performed the command, immediately sitting and making eye contact, then I said ‘Good’ and released her. I always try to remember to use a release word/phrase.
Have a release word/phrase.
Whenever I want to cross a road or need Juno to sit and wait for a passing car, I use the ‘Sit’ command, then ‘Look at me’, ‘Good’, and finally ‘Go Free’. Juno has very little patience so after a car has passed she likes to get up and go immediately. We’re working on this process because it means we’re keeping connected the whole time.
Not only that, it means that she might be listening and sitting for me but, then, whizzing off doing her own thing. That’s not good enough because often there might be another car coming immediately after the first. So, it’s really important to keep her connected with me until I release her.
She doesn’t ‘do’ patience which means I really have to work at this! Apart from anything, it will help her learn self-control. And I’d got a bit lax about reinforcing the commands.
You can use ‘Go Free’, ‘Off you go’ or just ‘Okay’ as a release.
Don’t keep repeating yourself!
It’s very important that you don’t keep repeating any command until you finally lose your cool and yell it in exasperation. Your blood pressure is off the Richter scale by then and you’ve lost self-control so don’t expect your dog to have any either!
Instead, when it comes to practising a command, work on it at home and always on lead so that your dog can’t just walk away from you.
Have your treat ready and in view, then ask for the command you want just ONCE! If your dog ignores the request, put the treat back in your pocket, and turn your back on him. Then turn round, take the treat out, and ask again. Your dog should automatically perform the command, in which case, say ‘Good’ and reward.
Don’t practise working at any command for longer than 2-5 minutes or your dog will become sulky and slow to react. That makes him less inclined to train again. Instead, finish quickly when he’s performed well, give him a big cuddle, and tell him he’s a star!
Better still, follow it all up with a game. How positive is that?
Liz Mahony has been a Dog Trainer since 2001. She uses alternative therapies such as TTouch and PsychAromatica which allows all animals to choose the oils from the plants they would naturally choose to heal themselves in the wild, and the Dr Bach Flower Remedies. All these therapies are a useful tool alongside normal, practical training methods.