Did you know that almost 80% of family dogs in this country are usually trained by moms? What starts off as a good idea–getting a dog for the family–often ends up being the responsibility of mom. Want to get your kids back in the picture and have them involved in training? The answer may be as simple as adding some trick training to the repertoire.
Here are some pointers to keep in mind when starting any training program with your dog. All dogs respond better to training when they earn all of their rewards including food and treats, petting and play. There are no freebies. When I work with families I usually suggest a plan of leadership with all family members school age and beyond repeating the same consistent behaviors with the family pet; all learning to speak “dog”. Of course all interactions between children and dogs should be supervised. And even well-meaning friends can behave inappropriately with the family pet leading to safety issues. By getting everyone on board early to understand how to stay safe and have fun, training becomes a part of everyday living.
One program that really gets kids excited about working with their dogs is Trick Training. One of the foremost authors on the subject is Kyra Sundance has published more than 15 books on the topic. Her books are richly illustrated and geared toward making your dog into a little circus performer. But the best part is as the dog is taught the behaviors, they improve in their relationship with the family. They begin to understand and respond to commands. And your children can earn national titles with their pets all in the comfort of their home with her “Do More With Your Dog Program”.
When introducing trick training adults should supervise the interaction between child and dog to offer encouragement and to make sure interaction is appropriate. Training should be kept fun and positive, with praise and treats for good behavior. It is far easier to start where there are little distractions such as indoors before attempting to train outdoors. When working outdoors care should be taken to be in a “safe” area such as a fenced yard and it is often easier to gain the dog’s attention after they have had a some exercise and not after eating a big meal. This usually makes them sleepy or unresponsive.
Trick training is “real” obedience because it teaches your dog to give attention when asked, to understand and perform a specific behavior, to enjoy working with their owners, and to adapt to new environments. Some favorite tricks of my students includes teaching their dogs to “say their prayers”, to jump through hoops and dance with them. But my favorite part is having their children get excited when I arrive for a lesson to show me what they have trained their dog to do this week. In order to get the dog to understand that they must listen to their young trainers, parents should take an active role getting things started by modeling the behavior and then having their child follow accordingly.
And not surprisingly, many of the children that took an interest in their dogs early on are now active doing community service with their dogs as therapy teams and visit local hospitals and nursing homes. Some have even gone on to earn titles with their pets in obedience, rally and agility or had the thrill of entertaining their scouting friends and classmates as they work toward their badges. It is a great lesson in patience, perseverance and success!
Want to get started? Here are 10 Top Tricks Kids Can Teach Dogs, and of course consulting a local Certified Pet Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA) that is certified for trick training is a great start too.
*Please note: this article applies to happy, friendly dogs that do not have problems with aggression or other serious behavior issues. For these types of problems it is suggested to call a certified CPDT-KA or contact your veterinarian.
Dorice Stancher, MBA, CPDT-KA Certified Pet Dog Trainer (CPDT), Consultant for Pet Therapy, Writer for AKC Family Dog and Gazette, Owner of Canines Can Do