Train Your Dog to Go Fetch

No matter how complicated, most dog tricks become teachable if you think of them in terms of a series of steps preceded by other basic training. In her book 101 Dog Tricks, Kyra Sundance does a great job of explaining how to teach your dog this soda-fetching trick. Here is an overview of the steps:

1. Tie a dishtowel to your refrigerator door handle.

2. Play with your dog, encouraging him to pull on the towel, which then opens the fridge door. Make sure that your dog keeps all four paws on the ground as he pulls.

3. Now, take a break for another game. This time, empty a drink can and have your dog play fetch with it. As Sundance notes, it helps to place a foam can insulator around the drink, giving your dog something easier to grasp. It’s important to get your dog to associate the word “fetch” with this beverage can.

4. Place a full soda can (again, ideally with a foam insulator around it) in your fridge right at the front, so your dog can quickly see and retrieve it.

5. Close the door and play the towel game again, this time adding the “Fetch drink” component.

6. Train your dog to close the door after he gets the drink. A visual cue, such as you tapping on the front of the door, can help him understand the goal.

With some practice, you may now be able to sit in an easy chair, give the command “Fetch soda,” and then enjoy your cool drink while praising your dog for its cleverness.

Train Your Dog Properly

Proper training can lead to a more socialized, better-behaved, safer and happier dog. These same goals may be achieved by exercise too. In fact, lack of daily aerobic exercise could even be to blame for some of the problems that you hope to prevent with training, suggests Colleen Paige, author of The Good Behavior Book for Dogs: The Most Annoying Dog Behaviors … Solved! Digging, barking, and displaying aggressive and destructive behavior can all be energy outlets for antsy canines.

It’s therefore best that you exercise with your dog before training, to help work off some of that extra energy. Your dog shouldn’t be too tired, but it should release a bit of excess energy so that more attention can be paid to you. As Paige shares, the most important aspect of obedience training is to get your dog to take notice of you. The second most important part is to then have your dog maintain the focus on you. Exercising with your dog, such as going on a walk or enjoying a backyard Frisbee throw, will help to establish that positive connection between you and your pet.

While training is serious work, consider thinking of it as a game, or at least to encourage your dog to do so. Let’s face it. No one, including your dog, wants to engage in boring drudgery. If you remain attentive and reward good behavior with treats, toys or your praise, your dog will do better during the training session and look forward to the next one.

Teaching Your Dog Commands

Researchers at Wofford College have been working with this border collie, Chaser, for a while. As of early this year, it was reported that Chaser knows the names of 1,022 objects, with no upper limit to his extensive vocabulary in sight.

Says Wofford researcher Alliston Reid: “This research is important because it demonstrates that dogs, like children, can develop extensive vocabularies and understand that certain words represent individual objects and other words represent categories of objects, independent in meaning of what one is asked to do with those objects.”

The Family Education Network provides very good, detailed instructions on one way you can teach your dog new words. In a nutshell, you begin by teaching your dog to touch your hand. When she does this, you provide a small food reward. Next, provide an object, such as a favorite ball. Ask your dog to touch the ball. If your dog touches your hand, do not offer the food reward. Only do so when it gets the “ball” connection. After some practice with this, you can test your dog by presenting multiple objects, such as ropes and other toys, to see if it really gets that “rope” refers to the rope, “ball” refers to the ball and so on.

How to Prepare Your Dog for Playgroup

Playgroup sessions provide a fantastic exercise outlet for dogs and improve their social skills. Owners usually enjoy them too, as the shared interest in dogs provides a wonderful conversation icebreaker. I’ve received some great tips while chatting with other pet owners.

The Animal Humane Society in Minnesota is one of many different places that organize such playgroups. This particular organization offers playgroups for small dogs, puppies, featherweights, micro dogs (canines under 7 pounds), teen puppies and -- my favorite -- the “yappy hour,” which is a mixed-age, all-size group. Make sure you bring your dog to the appropriate group; if your pet is small and skittish, larger dogs might intimidate it.

The society advises that your dog goes to the bathroom before attending these or other playgroups. They recommend toileting your dog before you get in the car and also after you arrive. If your dog marks, it must wear a belly band or sani-panties.

Arrive early to ensure your dog’s placement in the group. If it’s your first time, most organizers require that you fill out some paperwork and provide proof that your dog is up-to-date with vaccinations. Rabies, distemper/parvo and bordetella are the usual basics.

All such preparations help to make the experience a safe and enjoyable one for you and your dog.

Westminster Dog Show Expert Shares Training Secrets

The life of a puppy with a show dog future is slightly different than that of a pup with simpler aspirations. For one thing, puppies in training are likely to spend some of their time with a professional dog handler, like Clint Livingston of Denver. Livingston has been training Westminster hopefuls for three decades. “We start them young, and the key is socialization,” he explains. “We make sure they’re around lots of people, with lots of hands on them so they get used to it.”

While non-show dogs don’t need to be as comfortable with the human touch as Westminster wannabes, they can nonetheless learn something from Westminster training and grooming standards. Below, Livingston shares his tips for helping your furry friend achieve best in its own show. 

What’s crucial to training a dog to do just about anything? Repetition, food motivation and compliments. “Dogs want to make people happy,” emphasizes Livingston. “Give them lots of praise when they do something right, and lots of verbal encouragement along the way. Positive reinforcement is the best training tool of all.”

Before they compete, show dogs must master these skills:

  • Stacking A “stacked” dog is one that stands squarely and still. For most breeds, front legs are straight and under the shoulder blades. Rear legs are vertical from the hock (comparable to the human ankle) down. Paws face forward. To teach your dog to stack, place four bricks on the floor where you’d like your pet’s paws to go. With treats, help your dog practice standing in this position on the bricks before moving your pet to the floor to replicate the position.
  • Giving ears A dog that is “giving ears” has its ears perked up, its head held high and its eyes gleaming with confidence. To train your pet to put its best ear forward, hold a treat at a level where head and neck are drawn high. As your pet gets used to this position, pull the treat away quickly to keep your dog’s attention before allowing your pet to indulge.
  • Walking If a model struts, a show dog trots, which means its right front leg and left back leg move in concert (followed by the movement of the left front leg and right back leg), showing off its physique to best advantage. Pacing is key to proper trotting. Take your pet’s leash in your left hand. Try different speeds to see which one allows your dog to trot comfortably.

While grooming standards vary greatly by breed, all show dogs are brushed and bathed weekly. “Clean hair grows, and it also looks nice,” explains Livingston. To make bath time easy at home, try this:

  1. Brush your furry friend first to remove loose hairs.
  2. Lay out bathing supplies -- such as a diluted commercial shampoo, a pitcher for rinsing and a towel for drying -- in advance.
  3. Put cotton in your dog’s ears to keep water out.
  4. Always use warm water.

But the work doesn’t end there. If you want your pet to look like a show dog, add nail clipping, teeth brushing and ear cleaning to your weekly to-do list. For each, choose a time of day when your dog tends to be relaxed. Talk sweetly to your best friend throughout, and if it begins to resist you, finish up another day. But more specifically:

  • Invest in a nail clipper made just for dogs. Trim only the nail tips to avoid cutting into “the quick,” or the veins in your pet’s nails.
  • To brush your pet’s teeth, position your dog on an elevated surface like a table, hold its head firmly and its mouth open with one hand. Move the toothbrush in a circular motion, making sure to brush at the gum line.
  • Moisten a cotton ball with a commercial ear cleaner and swab the outer ear canal outward in order to remove dirt and wax. 

Your pal doesn’t have to be a show dog to look and act like one. With Livingston’s guidelines, your dog can be like the puppies he trains in no time. “It’s great to watch them learn,” he says. “You watch their confidence grow by the minute. They get more and more adventurous the more you teach them.”

Check out the backstage Westminster coverage at