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Teaching Your Dog Words

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When you talk to your dog, speak in a friendly, casual tone. (Save baby talk for praising him.) Look at him and make eye contact so he pays attention to you. Emphasize certain words as you go about your routine: gate, door, turtle, bird, and so on. He's capable of learning many words through his daily experiences.

Your dog might already understand several words. The most common are walk, leash, hungry, treat, cookie, ride in the car, ball, and bone. He should also know commands to relieve himself outside, as well as the basic obedience commands. If you have begun his trick training, he also knows the commands associated with those tricks. Your dog is accumulating a vocabulary.

Now you want to teach your dog that a variety of different items have names associated with them. Then when you ask your dog to retrieve a specific toy, he can. Or you can ask him to find your car keys, and he will know what keys means.

Naming the First Toy

Begin by giving his toys names, because he will be more excited about working with them than he will be with your belongings.

When you begin this training, you will need four or five different dog toys (and these can include a ball or two), but the toys should be different from each other and have different names. For example, you can have a tennis ball, a Frisbee‰, a rope tug toy, a porcupine squeaky toy, and a Planet Dog Orbee‰ ball. The toys should be things your dog is excited about and likes to play with.

Any dog, of any size, breed, or body type, can do this training. The smarter dogs tend to do better at it because it does require some thinking, and dogs that retain learned information also have an easier time.

  1. Begin this training with one toy. We'll use the rope toy as an example. In a relaxed situation, such as in the backyard or in the living room, have that toy in hand and some really good treats in your pocket.
  2. Practice the Touch trick, having your dog Touch your empty hand. When he Touches your hand, praise him and pop a treat in his mouth. Get him enthusiastic about working.
  3. Repeat for a total of five repetitions and give him a short break.
  4. Take the rope toy in hand and tell your dog, “Fido, Touch rope!”
  5. If he Touches your hand but not the rope, withhold your praise and treats and repeat the command. You can try to maneuver your hand so he Touches the rope or you can Touch the rope to his nose.
  6. When he Touches the rope, praise him enthusiastically and pop a treat in his mouth.
  7. Repeat for a total of five repetitions and give him a short break.
  8. Repeat the first six training steps several times over the next few days, always beginning with step 1 as a warm-up exercise, even if your dog knows the Touch command well. By repeating it, you will cue him as to what will follow.

    When your dog is Touching your hand during warm-ups (step 2) and then is Touching the rope on his own in step 6, you're ready to move on.

  9. Repeat steps 1 through 6 as warm-ups.
  10. With the rope in your hand, move it away from your body (half an arm's length away) and ask your dog to touch it, “Fido, Touch rope!”
  11. When he moves to Touch it, praise him, and when he does Touch it, praise him again and pop a treat in his mouth.
  12. Repeat for a total of five repetitions and give him a short break.
  13. Repeat steps 8 and 9 as warm-ups.
  14. Then repeat 8 and 9, but hold the rope an arm's length away.
  15. Repeat for a total of five repetitions and take a break.
  16. Warm up with a few close Touches of the rope (in front of you, half an arm's length and then an arm's length away).
  17. Place the rope on the floor but keep a hand on it. Tell your dog “Fido, Touch rope!”
  18. When he moves toward it, praise him, and when he touches it, praise and treat him.
  19. Repeat for a total of five repetitions and take a break.
  20. Repeat steps 15 through 17 several times. When your dog is moving to the rope toy on the floor easily, without hesitation, go on to the next step.


    If your dog hesitates to move, just hold still and be quiet. Let him think a moment. He might be waiting for you to do something. When he gets no response from you, including no praise and no treats, he will try things on his own.

  21. Place the rope on the floor an arm's length away and move your hand away, standing or sitting in a natural position. Tell your dog to Touch it.
  22. When he moves toward it, praise him, and when he Touches it, give him a jackpot of praise and treats! “Yeah, good job!”

Now play with this trick. Hold the rope close or far away. Place it on the ground, set it on the chair, or drape it over the footstool. Teach your dog to move to the rope and Touch it, then come back to you for the treat. Praise him as he Touches it.

Naming Subsequent Toys

Naming the first toy is easy. It takes quite a few training steps, but you'll see why shortly. But teaching your dog the names of his other toys is sometimes harder. Right now your dog knows that Touch rope means to move toward the toy, Touch it, hear the praise, and come back to you for the treat. However, he might not yet know that the sound that makes up the command Rope actually means that particular toy. He might think the sound of the word rope means all toys, or all toys held in your hand, or all long ropelike toys. However, you'll discover your dog's level of understanding as you begin teaching him the names of subsequent toys.

For the second toy, choose one that has a very different-sounding name from the first toy. The tennis ball, the Orbee‰, or a Frisbee‰ is good if you used a rope toy for the first toy.

  1. After you have chosen the second toy, put the rope toy away, and have the new toy in hand and some treats in your pocket.
  2. Practice a few regular Touches, without using the toy, just having your dog Touch your hand. Praise him well and pop treats in his mouth each time he Touches your hand. Get him excited and enthusiastic about working.
  3. Pick up the toy (let's use the ball as an example) and tell your dog, “Fido, Touch ball!”
  4. If he Touches the ball, praise him enthusiastically and pop a few treats in his mouth. If he Touches your hand, withhold praise and treats and wait a moment. If he doesn't respond, Touch the ball to his nose.
  5. Repeat for a total of five repetitions and take a break.
  6. Repeat these training steps several times over a couple of days. When he is Touching the ball on his own, you're ready to move on.

  7. Repeat steps 1 through 4 as warm-ups.
  8. Down, Boy!

    You will find that your dog will catch on more quickly with the second toy than the first. Because of this, there are fewer training steps for the second toy. Don't skip ahead, though. Follow these training steps so your dog learns what he needs to know.

  9. With the ball in your hand, ask your dog to Touch it at half an arm's length away. Repeat for a total of five repetitions and take a break.
  10. When he will touch it at half an arm's length away, hold it an arm's length away and repeat for a total of five repetitions and then take a break.
  11. Over the next several training sessions, continue moving the ball as you did when you trained the first toy—moving it to the floor with your hand on it, and then moving your hand away. Train in gradual increments, moving on to the next step only when your dog is doing the present step well.

    When your dog will Touch the ball on the floor when your hand is not touching it, you're ready to move on to the next training step.

  12. Now you need both the ball and the rope. Have some treats in your pocket. Sit on the sofa or a chair and have your dog sitting in front of you, facing you.
  13. Place the ball behind you and hold the rope in front of you. Do five touches with the rope, praising and rewarding your dog each time.
  14. Place the rope behind you and bring out the ball. Do five touches with the ball, praising and rewarding your dog each time.
  15. Bring the rope back out and hold it in one hand and the ball in the other hand.
  16. Tell your dog to touch the ball “Fido, Touch ball!”
  17. If he does, praise him enthusiastically and give him a jackpot of treats! “Good job!” If he hesitates, give him a chance to think. When he moves toward the ball, praise him. If he moves to the rope, be quiet.
  18. Troubleshooting

    This stage of training tells you whether your dog understands that items have individual names or whether he's simply touching whatever you send him to. If he's confused, go back and repeat the training steps, beginning at the start of this chapter, and emphasize the names as you do, “Fido, Touch ROPE! Good boy!”

    As you continue training this trick, change where you hold the toys. One time have the rope in your right hand and the ball in your left, and then switch them. Hold the toys directly in front of you or each at arm's length to each side of you. When your dog correctly touches the toy on command, no matter which toy is in which hand, you're ready to move on.

  19. Sit on the floor with your dog sitting by your side.
  20. Place both toys on the floor in front of you.
  21. Down, Boy!

    Don't allow yourself to fall into a pattern as you send your dog to the toys. Dogs learn patterns very quickly.

  22. Send your dog to one toy, “Fido, Touch rope!”
  23. Praise and reward him when he goes to the correct toy.
  24. Practice for a total of five repetitions, sending the dog to each of the toys.

You can add more toys the same way you did the second toy. Follow all of the training steps, even though your dog might appear to catch on much quicker. He probably is, but follow the training steps anyway. It's good training and will assure you that he is learning the new toy's name.

As you add a new toy, put the known toys away. Let him concentrate on the new one's name. Then when the new one is known, bring the first toys back out and reintroduce them. Emphasize the names of each of the toys, “Fido, Touch ORBEE‰! Good boy!” and “Fido, Touch BALL! Good boy!”

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Dog Tricks © 2005 by Liz Palika. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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