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How to Teach Your Dog Tricks

Updated on February 2, 2018
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Anne has a BSc Hons in Applied Psychology (inc. animal psychology) and has trained dogs, cats, rabbits and donkeys over the past 40 years.

High Five!
High Five! | Source

Classical Conditioning and Operant Conditioning

Dog training is based on two types of conditioning:

First there’s Classical Conditioning, in which you use an existing behaviour and train you dog to display that behaviour whenever you want them to.

This type of conditioning was made famous by Ivan Pavlov. (Who hasn’t heard of Pavlov’s dogs?) He would ring a bell at the same as allowing the dogs to sniff their food, causing them to salivate. Before long the dogs would salivate just at the sound of the bell.

The other type of conditioning is Operant Conditioning, made famous by B.F. Skinner. Skinner used rats and pigeons and trained them to do amazing things using the lure of food as a reward.

For example, he put food in a box which was opened by a lever. Of course, the rat would smell the food and in trying to find it, would step on the lever. Pretty soon the rat would go straight to the lever and press it. From there,

Skinner made more and more complicated ways for the rat (or pigeon) to get to the food. You can see the fascinating video of the pigeon on this page.

Training a dog

As mentioned above, classical conditioning and operant conditioning can be used successfully to train dogs.

The obvious disadvantage of classical conditioning is that the desired behaviour may not already be present. However, training your dog to bark on command is one example of classical conditioning.

To train your doge to bark on command, first, find a stimulus that makes him or her bark. Some dogs will bark when you clap your hands, blow on a whistle or make any loud noise.

At the same time as they are barking, you say “Bark” or whatever command you want to use.

Try to make it sound like a command rather than a reprimand by saying it clearly but without shouting.

Then praise and pet your dog, or give them a treat, whichever works best for you.

If you do use treats, try to limit them to tricks training rather than basic training such as “come”, “sit” or “heal”.

Tricks are seldom if ever essential to the safety of the dog or of people, but basic training can be and you won’t always have treats on hand in those situations.

Training your dog to jump over obstacles can be a bit more difficult, but rewarding.
Training your dog to jump over obstacles can be a bit more difficult, but rewarding. | Source

Dog tricks

Training your dog to shake hands is easy.

Get your dog to sit, then put out your hand and say “Shake hands” at the same time lifting his paw and placing it in your upturned hand.

Reward him immediately, let go of his paw and then repeat the exercise.

A more challenging trick is to train your dog to jump over obstacles.

The way I did this was to call the dog to follow me as I jumped over a barrel.

As I jumped I said “jump” and then praised him as he jumped.

I have known some dogs though to run around the obstacle rather than jump over it. In this case, you can clip on his lead and then he will have no option but to follow you.

Again ,reward, reward, reward.

Dogs are pretty motivated to please, you are after all the leader of their pack.

Treats can also increase that motivation, but I’ve personally never found them necessary.

Using treats while training your dog

In this case, I'm using raw carrot
In this case, I'm using raw carrot | Source

Dog training takes patience

I think by now you’ve got the idea.

Like Skinner’s rats and pigeons, the dog pretty soon figures out what gets them the reward.

It’s been my experience that dogs love training sessions. It’s their time with you, they have your undivided attention and provided you treat them with respect and patience you can both have fun.

And don’t expect them to get it right after just a couple of times.

Depending on the dog, it can take days, weeks or even months before they finally get it.

And remember the golden rule; reward, reward, reward.

And if you have lots of time and patience...


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