Here in the Pacific Northwest, it may rain at any moment. But in much of the rest of the country, April showers do indeed bring May flowers. And when April rains pitter patter down, dog owners may be more reluctant to venture outdoors. Some indoor tricks can help keep everyone occupied, entertained, and dry!
Fetch My Tissue!
If spring flowers and all that pollen bring you a runny nose, having someone to fetch you a tissue may provide some comfort. Any trick that involves fetching depends on two things: finding something enticing for your dog to pick up and carry and attaching the appropriate cue to the trick. For our spring fever drama, you probably don’t want an actual word—you want a sneeze. How vehement or demure is up to you, as long as it’s identifiable as a sneeze.
- Sprinkle a few crumbled dog treats over your tissues to infuse them with a delicious scent.
- Take a tissue and wave it around so that your dog gets a whiff.
- When he seems excited, move the tissue toward you while making your fake sneeze. Hold on tightly so that he can’t play keep-away.
- Once he really seems into it, give your release cue if you have one, hold on to the tissue, sneeze again, and encourage your dog to let go by giving him a small treat.
- Sneeze again, pretend to use your tissue, and keep your dog from fetching again by surreptitiously tossing another treat.
For your second spring trick, have your dog weave between your legs. This will test your dexterity as a handler.
The positioning of yourself and your dog is crucial. If you set things up wrong, you won’t be able to move without kicking your dog, so pay attention!
- With your dog sitting to your right side facing your right leg and your legs in full stride position with your left leg leading, hold a treat in your left hand under your body toward the dog.
- Get your dog’s attention on the treat and move the treat slowly away, enticing him to follow it. This can be awkward if you are short and your dog is very large or you are tall and your dog is very small. You may need to keep feeding treats into your left hand and getting the dog’s attention on them.
- As soon as the dog has moved far enough for you to be able to advance your right leg, lure him to the left, clear of your left leg, change the treat to your right hand, finish moving your right leg forward so that you are again in full stride position, and start luring your dog back under you toward the right. (If your dog is small, it may help to stay down in a semi-crouch. If you are small and your dog is large, you may even have to lift a leg completely off the floor.)
Once you and your dog have both settled into taking a step or two, it should start to get easier. Continue luring for more steps and begin adding a verbal cue, like “stroll,” “romp,” or “rush.” While you’re in the starting position, standing still, say your cue, then start to lure. When your dog is on your other side, freeze again momentarily, repeat your cue, and resume luring. Also start to lure less frequently, only as much as you need to keep your dog moving.
Another fun trick is the spin, which involves having your dog turn in a tight circle. You can use a different cue for each direction, like “whirl” and “wind” or “dash” and “dart.” Choose similar words that have distinctively different sounds. Most dogs will turn in one direction much more easily than in the other. Train the easier direction first using a food lure.
- Hold your lure near the dog’s shoulder on the side he favors and move it toward his hip on the same side. The dog should follow and spin. This behavior should move along quickly, so start doing multiple spins almost immediately.
- Add your cue word early, remembering that the cue comes first when nothing else is happening.
- Add spinning in the opposite direction almost from the beginning; it may help to use your other hand to lure. Movement may progress more slowly on this side, but be patient. Don’t add your second cue until your dog is starting to move well. Keep working on the easier direction as well. Don’t consider your training complete until you can stop luring and rely only on your verbal cues.
Say Your Prayers
Say your prayers is easy to fit into any indoor training routine. It’s taught in two sections: luring the front feet up to put the dog’s body in position and luring the dog’s head down between the front legs to create the “pray” position.
- Start by luring the front legs up. You can use your own forearm as the brace or the back of a chair of the appropriate height. Anchor your non-moving arm in place and use your free hand to lure the dog’s feet up.
- Give the treat while the dog is in position. You don’t have to stay long at this step unless the dog moves his feet when you start to lure his head down—a lot of dogs do. In that case, work longer at having the dog hold the feet up position.
- When you add the head-down portion of the behavior, don’t ask for much of a dip at first. Slowly build up to the full head tucked down, “please answer my prayers” position. It’s almost unbelievably appealing. Keep your dog in position by feeding small food rewards.
Once you have the complete, finished position, add your verbal cue.
Cheryl S. Smith was an award-winning canine behavior & training expert, columnist, editor, and lecturer. Cheryl passed away in July 2016. She authored ten dog-care books, published more than 60 articles for renowned journals, magazines, and organizations, and received several awards for exemplary writing from the Dog Writers Association of America.