National Train your Dog Month

by: Jennifer Oldfield


January is National Train your Dog Month – so what does that mean?  As someone who has been in the “training” world for over 20 years now, I think this concept varies from person to person.  On a general basis, I think everyone can agree that a “trained” dog is one that doesn’t knock people over, comes when they are called and listens to and understands other basic commands like sit.  What each person and family wants for the training of their dog is very personal.

When I have taught obedience/foundation training classes, I always want to know what the owner hopes to get out of the class.  Do they hope to compete in obedience or Rally-O trials, or do they just want to be able to live with their dog happily and be able to go for a walk without having their arm pulled from it’s socket?  In the first case it means we are going to work harder on getting the dog to understand where the “heel” position is, and we are going to get them to automatically sit when we stop, in the latter it means we want the dog to walk on a loose leash, not cut in front of us, or get under our feet and understand to either sit when asked, or to stand patiently and not pull when stopped.  Whatever it is you want from your dog, it is all training.

treat on nose


A great way to think of training is to think of it in terms of teaching your dog “tricks”.  Your dog doesn’t understand that the word “sit” means to put one’s bum down while your front stays upright, they only know that it is what you have taught them the word “sit” means.  You could really use any word you want… say “green” for example and as long as in the beginning, every time you have your dog sit, you say “green” and reward them, they are going to understand “green” to mean: put my bum down while my front stays upright.  Think about what you would like from your dog: do you want him to get out from under your feet while you carry in the groceries?  do you want him to not run out the door when you open it?  do you want him to lay nicely on his dog bed while you watch your favourite show?  or would you like him to retrieve a kleenex for you when you sneeze? pick up his toys and put them away?  or roll over and play dead?

Dogs learn things best on a reward based system.  If they get something positive when they do something, they will do it again. (It’s the reason most dogs who successfully steal something off the counter become counter surfers for life, even if you make certain they never get anything again).  Training your dog can be a lot of fun and what you teach them is really only limited by your imagination.

With the outrageously cold weather we are having, I am certain there are many dogs going “stir crazy” because of the lack of physical activity – mine included!  Teaching some tricks is a great way to tire your dog mentally, which has the same affect as tiring them physically.  Plus an added bonus is no matter how small your living room is, there is plenty of room to train a few tricks.  Make it your mission in the month of January to teach your dog something new.

shake a paw

Here is a list of a few ideas to get you thinking of what you can teach your dog to do, plus I will include some tips on training a couple of these.

  • Shake a paw, shake the other paw
  • Roll over (in both directions)
  • Put your feet on an item
  • Relax (lay with your head down on the floor)
  • Spin and turn
  • Move back (a great one for when your hands are full of groceries and you are trying to get through the door or make your way to the kitchen)
  • Touch (with their nose)
  • Play dead
  • High five
  • Bow
  • Crawl
  • Weave between your legs
  • Hokey Pokey

weave bw legs

Teaching Back Up:

To teach your dog to move backwards, straight away from you, utilize your couch and coffee table.  Call your dog to you and move yourself backwards so that you are now both between the two pieces of furniture. With a treat in your hand at your dog’s head level when they are standing (not raised up so they invariably sit because there head comes up), take a gentle step into your dog.  If they even take only 1 step backwards praise and reward.  Do this a few times until they understand you do want them moving backwards, then take a couple steps into them before rewarding.

No coffee table to use, instead you can stand with your legs slightly wide apart (wide enough your dog can go between them).  Toss a treat between your legs (not far back just enough that they only need there head to go between to get it).  After they get the treat they will naturally back up to come out from between your legs, praise and reward them for that.  Do this a couple times with a lot of praise and treats given for the behaviour of backing up.

Once your dog is doing the behaviour consistently you can name it – call it whatever works for you but be sure that what you call this doesn’t already mean to do something else.

Teaching Touch:

Teaching your dog to touch your hand with their nose is very easy.  Simply take a treat, place it between your fingers with your palm flat, place your hand in front of your dog and when they move to take the treat, let them.  Do this a few times, each time with your hand a little further away, so that they have to move their body to get the treat and touch your hand.  Name this command while there is still a treat in your hand for them to get.  Once they are performing this behaviour, place the treat in the other hand – with the same initial hand place your palm flat and ask them to “touch”.  They will automatically go for your hand believing there is still a treat there, once they have touched your hand with their nose quickly praise them and give them the treat from the other hand.  This is a good time to take a break.  In a while you can try this again, the first time have a treat between your fingers, then after that have no treat in the immediate hand that they will be touching.

This trick can also be expanded to get them to “touch” other objects, the wall, the couch, your leg.  Just start by having them target your hand on the desired item then slowly less the amount your hand is there and reward them for moving to the new object.

Is there something that your dog does that you would love to have them do on command?  A well timed reward and tons of praise can get them to do it on a regular basis, so you can start to name it and get it on command.  Many tricks that my dog, Finny, does, were trained this way: she Eskimo kisses, hides between my legs and jumps into my arms.  All by accident in their training and all well rewarded when they happened.

Finny Kiss

Most importantly have fun with your training – if something isn’t going well, move to something they do great and end your training session there.  It only takes a few minutes a few times a day to get your dog to perform the behaviours you would like.  Besides what else are you going to do in -35 degree weather?!?

Also see our website’s page:  Training Tricks for additional ideas along with the information on how to train them.

For information on local training facilities see the Links tab on our website 

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