time for some new tricks, right?
Let’s get one thing out of the way right up front: Yes, old dogs can learn new tricks. In fact, learning safe tricks is a great way to keep dogs, old and young, mentally and physically fit. Tricks can also help build the bond between owner and pup as you play, learn, and work together.
Positivity is powerful
First and foremost, when teaching a dog a trick, you should always rely on positive reinforcement, which rewards desired behavior instead of punishing bad behavior (negative reinforcement). Not only is positive reinforcement the right thing to do, negative reinforcement could confuse or harm your dog and it certainly won’t help the bond you’re trying to build.
Using bits of their favorite food is a typical method of positive reinforcement, but dogs will also respond to established verbal praise or even good, old fashioned head scratches. The key with positive reinforcement is to reward your dog as soon as they accomplish what you want them to do so they relate the behavior with the treat.
Teaching your dog to sit and stay is foundational to both good manners and learning more tricks. By starting with the basics, you can build an understanding with your dog so they’ll see that cooperation leads to delicious rewards.
To get your dog to sit, it’s important that you never physically push them down into some kind of sitting position. It’s best to either wait for them to sit naturally then say “sit” and reward them, or to hold a treat close to them and slowly lift it higher in the air until they sit, then say “sit” and reward them. These two methods are referred to as capturing and luring, and can be applied to many more simple tricks like staying or even “speaking.”
Before advancing to any next-level, physical tricks, have a conversation with your Banfield veterinary team to make sure your pet is healthy enough for more activity. You want to ensure that your pet has good heart, good joints, good body condition, and no underlying health issues.
Go big (?)
Maybe you’ve seen a competitive dog show on TV with dogs (and people) running all over a little agility course, and maybe you thought that there was no way your dog could level up to something like that – but we promise, it’s possible!
Like many things in life, the key is taking it step by step. Take, for example, the tunnel. Of course, a dog might not naturally dart through a tunnel, but by helping them start slowly and rewarding them, they might just develop a knack for it.
Want to try? You’ll need something for your dog to crouch and crawl under. Remember, it absolutely needs to be safe, light, and easy for them to get through, like, say, a light cardboard box, folded up into tunnel-ish design. Just put your dog at the front and encourage them through with a treat. Once you’ve mastered one box, try stringing a few together for more fun.
A little bit, a little at a time. That’s the secret. And with the right training, support, and diligent monitoring (by you!) for safety, your dog can learn to do just about anything.