Winter Fun and Games

This morning’s temperature hovered at zero and the wind chill of -7 or colder motivated Sasha to set a new speed record in the yard.  With brutal cold predicted for days to come, I’m going to be smart and substitute indoor work for our daily neighborhood walks. Fortunately, Sasha enjoys any sort of training time. Recently, I’ve challenged her to go beyond obedience drills to working through games, puzzles, and tricks. Teaching tricks is a great way to mentally challenge your dog, help them focus, and have fun with you!

Sasha earned her Novice Trick Dog title in December, and she enjoyed that so much we’re aiming for her Intermediate title. The tricks I’m sharing today include some that we learned at a recent seminar held at the NWA School for Dogs. If you can’t attend a training seminar, you can go the DIY route and watch the video links included in this post. (There are a LOT of videos freely available on YouTube.)

If you and your dog are new to tricks, start with brief sessions when you’re both relaxed and interested. Sasha, for example, tends to be more focused when I break our workout sessions into 10-15 minutes blocks.  Most importantly, have fun with your dog!

One of Sasha’s favorite tricks is the Scent Trick. Place tennis balls in a muffin tin, then hide a savory treat (bits of hot dog, cheese, chicken, or anything special) under one of the balls. Place it on the floor and let your dog use its nose to find the treat. I started with a 6-muffin tin and placed treats under 4 of the 6 balls, and then once she understood the game I gradually reduced the number of treats, and then used a larger muffin tin with just a couple of treats hidden. If your dog gets frustrated when the muffin tin slides around, try placing it on a non-skid mat.

Some dogs like to nudge the ball out with their nose, while others use their paws. (Sasha’s a nose girl with this game.) If your dog flips the tin over to get the treats, try wedging the tin under something sturdy to discourage that quick solution and make him think. Here’s the basic how-to:

If your dog enjoys the challenge of scent training, you can play hide-and-seek using a treat-stuffed sock or a Kong toy. Put your dog in a sit-stay, then give your dog time to catch the scent by sniffing the sock. For the first round, I recommend letting the dog see where you place the sock/toy. Return to your dog and tell them “Find it” or “Fetch” or whatever command you want to use. Remember to be consistent with your commands.

Some prefer to have the dog return to you with the “find” for their reward. When I want Sasha to return to me with the item, I use the command “Bring it.” Adapt to suit your dog’s interest and ability level. Be sure to praise the find and reward with a piece of whatever treat’s in the sock/toy. Once your dog understands the game, increase the challenge by placing the object out of sight, gradually increasing the distance and difficulty.

Another fun trick is the Spin. Lure with a treat at nose level while dog is standing. Encourage your dog to follow the scent as you move your hand in a large circle. Go slow, and be patient!  If they stop before making the entire circle, treat where they stop, then go a bit further next time. If you use a clicker, click and treat; otherwise, use verbal praise. Here’s a “how to” demonstration:

Trick training can be a great way to help your dog learn basic tasks. Here’s how to teach your dog to carry a basket:

Ready for something a bit more physical? Try the Weave. Fair warning: this one takes a bit of balance!

Start with your dog on your left, then spread your legs. Holding a yummy treat in your right hand so it’s visible, coax your dog to move between your legs as you lure the dog through your legs and around to your right. Repeat going the opposite direction. Here’s a visual:

If you’re working with a big dog, you may want to teach them to Crawl first so they can more easily move between your legs. In this demonstration, you’ll see the trainer places her hand on the dog’s back. It’s important to note that she is not pressing down or forcing the dog in any way!

Whatever you choose to do, make it fun for you and your dog!

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