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Posted on 01-02-2018
Teaching tricks is a fun and interesting way to develop and enhance the human animal bond. People enjoy showing off what their pet has learned in front of family and friends. The basic trick all dogs and cats should learn is sit. This can be taught at a very young age. Since all puppies and kittens are food motivated this is a very opportune time to practice luring them into the sit position. Begin by showing them a piece of kibble or a treat and place it close to their nose. Raise it up above and move it towards their back end so the pet will shift their weight backwards. This should cause the pet to lower its haunches into a sitting position. If they move backwards, you may be moving too quickly. If they jump up you may have the treat too high above their nose.
Go back to the beginning and start again. To keep the pet interested you may need to give the reward to them for making small steps of success. Meaning if they lift their head up with their nose pointing to the ceiling, reward before stepping backward. If their weight shifts back, reward them before they jump up. This will keep the pet engaged in the game. If they get bored they will walk away. Be generous with your rewards, especially if all you are using is their normal kibble. Giving treats in this way will also teach your pet how to take treats softly from your hands.
In the beginning stages of trick training you should not be using a cue word while training. We have a tendency to be repetitive when our pet has not learned the word yet. It is not useful to use a cue word until a pet has already learned a behavior. Once they are performing the behavior consistently is when we want to introduce the verbal cue. Timing here is important. The cue should be paired as the behavior is happening. As you raise your hand with the treat/kibble and your pet is lowering his/her bum to the ground is when the cue should be verbalized. We want to pair them together so that the pet makes the association that "sit" + (hand raising above nose) bum hitting the ground = reward. This will need to be repeated many times until eventually the hand signal fades away. Eventually you will be able to give the verbal command to sit, and their bum will hit the ground.
One thing I have learned from Ken Ramirez is that we pet owners tend to take away rewards too early in our training. If we really want reliable behaviors our pets need our feedback. When you are working with your pet make a list of all the things that they find rewarding so you can use them to your benefit. Keep in mind they will have levels of importance. Like you might pay attention for $5, but you would get up and walk towards something for $20, and you will get really excited for $50 or $100. This is how your pet will see different types of treat or toy rewards.
So I urge you not to be stingy with your reward program. If you are afraid of your pet getting overweight, please call our clinic so we can discuss with you how to integrate the training rewards with your diet plan to help keep your pet at a healthy weight.
-Terri Sajdera, RVT
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