Humans have been training animals for hundreds of years. From dogs herding livestock in Neolithic times, to the Navy training dolphins for mine detection, humans have a long history of training animals of all kinds.
Any companion animal can be trained. We’ve all seen the videos online of chickens playing tic-tac-toe, or birds dancing, cats singing, horses bowing, and dogs riding skateboards. These amazing feats are done at the simple command of a human companion. Impressive! This is called trick training.
Trick training your companion animal will not only allow you the chance to become an internet star, but the process is actually beneficial to both people and animals. Trick training creates a stronger bond between you and your pet, and is both mentally and physically stimulating.
Dog training is a job that every new puppy owner dives into almost immediately. Cat training is different, but not difficult, once you understand what motivates your cat to perform certain behaviors.
Cat training usually begins with litter box training. You place your cat in a box of litter and then take the cat’s front paw and dig or scratch at the litter. This is something cats do instinctively before they… well, you know. You’ve just motivated your cat to use the litter box! Your cat feels confident and relaxed now that he knows where to go, and he now knows that your home is his home also. You’ve bonded, and you’ve discovered that even simple things can motivate a cat to perform a specific behavior!
Dog training becomes more involved. Our dogs accompany us almost everywhere. They are expected to behave a certain way to be accepted in public. Nobody likes a dog that jumps up onto random people on the street. An untrained dog can be a danger. Experts recommend puppy classes to begin what will become a life-long habit of training and reinforcing good behavior in your dog.
Training your dog is something that can provide years of fun and emotional well-being as well as laughs from friends and even strangers. Here are two simple tricks to teach your dog:
From a lying down position, place a treat close to the dog’s muzzle. As we all know, dogs have an incredible sense of smell, so keeping the treat in a closed hand is fine – especially if you have a particularly sneaky or fast pooch. Now, give the command, “Roll Over”. It’s important to remember that you want your dog to complete the trick after a single command. Don’t continue to repeat the command through the trick. Run the treat back along your dogs face and up and around the back of his neck. If your dog loses interest in the treat and does not begin to roll over, that’s okay. Stand up, and begin again from the start. Once your dog begins to roll, continue moving the treat around to the other side of his face until he has rolled over completely and is is back in the original position. Give him the treat as positive reinforcement.
Beg (Sit Up)
Start this trick by placing your dog in the corner of a room, with his hind end in the corner. Give the command, “Beg”. Raise a treat above the dog’s head, just above his nose. Keep raising the treat until the dog’s front feet come off the floor and he begins to “sit up”. If your dog jumps for the treat, lower it a bit and move it back toward your dog’s ears, then slowly raise the treat again until he complete’s the trick. Only give him the treat once he has completed the trick correctly, and held the begging position for about 5 seconds.
Training your dog can be rewarding in some unexpected ways. As you become more comfortable with teaching your dog tricks, you may find that you are both enjoying the training so much, that you’d like to step up your game! Professional training can help with some of the more advanced “tricks”. Teaching your dog “go to” commands can be challenging, but worth the effort. Go to the kitchen. Go to the crate. Go to Dad. Go to Tommy. Your dog will amaze you at how many commands he’s able to remember!
Fetching things is an oldie-but-goodie, and particularly helpful. Fetch the book, fetch the keys, fetch the beer from the fridge. Fetching isn’t just for hunters anymore!
Many people today are interested in training their dogs to assist with home security. This is a highly specialized area, and usually requires the assistance of skilled trainers to accomplish. Some of these highly specialized skills require a very specific dog, so consulting with a professional as early as choosing a puppy to train may be advisable!
Dogs who perform highly specialized tricks become search and rescue animals, bomb or drug-sniffing animals, and they become companion animals or service animals for the blind or disabled. All of these animals began their careers by learning simple tricks, and then expanding on them. And it isn’t just dogs. Miniature horses, rabbits, pot-belly pigs… I once met a man at an airport with his grey parrot, Nico, who was specially trained to detect oncoming seizures. Amazing!
While human need has fueled the training of animals in the past and still does in the present, the simple joy of having a well trained companion animal is reward in itself! Enjoy the bonding, the confidence, the exercise and the emotional well-being of training your companion animal. There’s no better time to start than today!