Teach Your Dog the A, B, Cs

Teaching your dog tricks can be great fun. Not only can trick training add some fun to your obedience training, but it's fun to show off your dog's tricks. If you want to teach your dog a trick that will wow crowds and astound audiences, teach your dog to recognize his A, B, Cs.

To teach your dog his A, B, Cs, begin by teaching him the "touch" command. Have some good treats in one hand. Tell your dog, "Sweetie, touch" and gently touch his nose with the flat part of your empty hand. Praise him and pop a treat in his mouth. Repeat this several times, then stop and come back to it later. After a few days, stop touching his nose and hold your hand a half an inch from his nose. Wait for him to reach forward and touch your hand himself. Praise him and give him the treat. When you can hold your hand on either side and at different distances and he will reach forward to touch it, you're ready to go on to the next step.

At your local craft or hardware store, buy three alphabet letters made out of wood. Often these are about six inches high and are sold to be painted and used as name signs. Paint the letters if you wish, because this can help them stand out more, especially if you will be doing this trick as a demonstration.

Begin with one letter, such as A. Hold the A in your hand and tell your dog, "Sweetie, touch A." Your dog knows the command "touch" but does not know A, so gently touch the A to his nose. Repeat a few times over several sessions. He will catch on quickly.

Then put A away and bring out B. Repeat the same procedure. He will be slightly confused, but knows the "touch" command so will just continue to touch whatever you have in your hand.

Now, here's the hard part. So far, your dog has learned to touch your hand or whatever is in your hand, but he isn't making any choices; it's in your hand so he's touching it. Now you have to teach him to look at the item and make a choice. Bring out the A and B, holding one in each hand and tell him, "Sweetie, touch A." If he touches A, praise him enthusiastically and pop a few treats in his mouth. Now swap letters -- putting the A in the hand that held the B and the B in the hand that held A. Now tell him to touch A. Did he?

This stage of the training can be hard. The dog has to learn that the wooden object in the shape of an A equals the command "A," and that the wooden object in the shape of the B equals the command "B." Keep your training sessions short and sweet and always end on a high note; make sure your dog succeeds at something.

Some dogs get frustrated when they don't understand, so watch your dog for signs of stress. If he begins panting, starts whining or wants to turn away, have him do something he can do (such as sit or shake hands), reward him for it, and stop training for awhile.

Once your dog understands the concept, however, the training will progress very quickly. Just add one letter at a time, and do not add another until your dog can touch that letter in different orders all mixed up with the letters he already knows. Don't show the letters in the same order; dogs learn patterns very quickly! And make sure you enunciate clearly, "Bee, cee, dee, and eee" sound very much the same!

Riker, my four-year-old Australian Shepherd, knows and can touch on command A, B, C, X, Y, Z, 1, 2, 3, red, green, and yellow. When we make therapy dog visits to schools, day care centers and special education classrooms, the teachers love it and use Riker's trick as a motivational tool to help the kids learn. On our second visit to one particular classroom, the teacher had made an entire set of those letters and numbers and the kids got to show off for Riker!