Dogs bring so much joy to our lives, and we share so much in common with them. Our canine companions are intelligent, social, and emotional animals. This means that dogs need their brains stimulated with tasks and purpose, they need to be around others, and they need to be able to express their emotional state, knowing that we are listening to them.
I adore teaching dogs new behaviours, because learning new things fulfils their brain, their social needs as well as a positive emotional state. In other words, learning a new trick helps to make our dogs healthier and happier. Plus, it brings joy into our lives, too!
If you want some fun and easy tricks to teach your dog, you will need the most important ingredient. This is a reinforcer – something your dog values very highly above all else around them. For my dogs, it’s food. Nowadays, we can treat our dogs with delicious food that is actually beneficial to their health. The ZamiPet HappiTreats® range is big hit with my dogs, and also in my professional work. Their Relax & Calm treats include the calming benefits of L-Tryptophan and chamomile, and the Joints treats include glucosamine and chondroitin, which both help to support joint health and mobility.
When using food as a reinforcer, try to give your dog the treat immediately after the behaviour. That way, your dog will make the connection. If you’re fumbling around for a treat and taking too long to reward your dog, you risk losing the connection and motivation of your best mate.
Here are some really fun ways you can get your dog inspired and excited to work with you.
Hide their treats
Holding a treat in your hand, cue your dog to sit and stay. Hide the treat somewhere they can easily locate it and wait for them to return to you to play the next game. Gradually make it more difficult to find the treasure.
Capture the 3 C’s
For many dogs, anxiety and worry is a part of their daily life. We can help to alleviate this by giving them skills to cope. And, I call this the C-words. Whenever you happen to see your dog feeling Calm, Cooperating with you, and/or controlling their impulses – capture it and reward instantly with a ‘thank you’ and treat.
Some examples of being Calm:
- Choosing to go to their bed
- Volunteering to lie down at the café
Some examples of being Cooperative
- Volunteering to sit
- Following you at the park
- Looking at you for direction.
Some examples of Controlling impulses include:
- Not jumping up
- Resisting a fence bark or two, or
- Simply coming to you instead of chasing that rabbit.
The thing about the C-words is that they happen all the time. We just need to learn to look for them and set our dogs up in environments that elicit them.
Guess which cup the treat is under
This is so much fun and allows dogs to show off how good their sense of smell is. When they paw at the cup or sit, reveal the treat underneath.
If you just want to start off simple, any behaviour can be rewarded such as sit, drop, wait, loose-lead walk, bark on cue, shake hands to name a few. Always make sure that your dog is motivated and willing. If your dog does not feel comfortable doing a behaviour, don’t enforce it. Rather, take a mental step back and try making it a bit easier. If they are still struggling, remove any distractions by practising inside the home first.
I don’t ever ask my 13-year-old Chester to sit because I believe that would be uncomfortable for him. Relationships with our dogs should always be about trust and respect, so it is important we listen to what our dogs feel by observing their behaviour and body language.
Training should always be fun for everyone involved. And always finish on a high note with some playtime. Research shows that playing with our dogs after learning a new skill helps improve their memory of the new behaviour. Not to mention playtime is great for our brains too!
In collaboration with ZamiPet.
The information in this article was checked by ZamiPet Veterinarian and General Manager Dr Andrew McKay, BVSc, University of Melbourne, 2000. Vet Registration No: V3985
Disclaimer: This information is general advice only. Before starting any treatment or supplement with your pet, please consult your vet first for the best approach to getting your pet back to their best health.