Teach a New Dog an Old Trick

My dog Dax loves to bring newspapers to me. Every morning, she wakes up and she goes to the garage door where she paces back and forth and bounces up and down on her front paws. As soon as I open the door say "Get the paper!" she's out like a flash.  She brings in the first one, hands it over and heads back out for the second one. On Sundays, the papers may be as big as her head and are difficult for her to grab, but we don't help her. Oh no! She doesn't want any help. It's her job and she'll do it all by herself, thank you very much!

Fetching the newspaper is a task your dog is likely to enjoy as much as mine does. But before you begin teaching your dog this trick, make sure it has mastered basic obedience commands. The most important, of course, is the "come" command . You don't want your dog dashing off down the street when it should have been getting the paper. So if your dog's basic obedience skills need some work, conquer those first.

When you and your dog are ready, the first step is to teach your dog that the newspaper is safe to hold in its mouth. Take one section of the paper (not the whole thing) and roll it up tightly. Secure the ends with masking tape so it won't unroll. (Don't tape the center where your dog will grab it.) Hold the rolled paper with a hand on each end, offering the middle to your dog. Say: "Get the paper! Good boy!" When your dog grabs it, praise by saying: "Good to get the paper!" If your dog holds on, play a bit. You want to make the paper seem exciting.

Next, you want to show that you're happy when it gives the paper to you. Say: "Give" and gently and calmly take the paper away. Praise your pup for giving you the paper.  If your dog is motivated by food, offer a treat as you praise.

Do this routine a few times a day for at least a week. When your dog thinks this is a great game and is showing you he's ready to play as soon as he sees the rolled-up paper, start tossing it for him to fetch. Just toss it to the floor right in front of him at first, encouraging him to get it and praising him when he does. Gradually increase the distance, but do so slowly. You want to make sure you're setting him up to succeed.

When you can toss the paper across the room, it's time to take this game outside. Repeat the entire training process out in the driveway where the newspaper is delivered. This may take a few days. As soon as your dog goes for the paper tossed down the driveway, it is ready to go for the paper without it being thrown.

Have your dog sit and stay. Walk away and place the paper at the end of the driveway, or wherever the newspaper usually lands. Go back to your dog and tell him, "Fido, get the paper!" and run with him toward the paper. When he sees it and surges forward, hang back and let him get it on his own. When he picks it up, call him to you, "Good boy to get the paper! Bring it here!" Take it from him, praise him and pop a treat in his mouth.

At this point your dog has mastered the basics and you can just polish the trick. Where do you want to stand when you send your dog after the paper? I like to stand inside the door where my neighbors can't see me. You may want to stand in the garage or inside the front gate. Start sending your dog from that position. In the beginning, go with your dog as you send him toward the paper, but as he gets more confident just take a step or two. Eventually you will be able to just open the door or gate.

As your dog begins to do this on its own, watch for any potential problems. When Dax first began getting the paper, she would get frustrated if the paper wasn't where it was supposed to be and I had to teach her to look for it. I would tell her, "Get the paper!" and point under the car or in the bushes. When she found it, I made a big fuss over her, telling her what a wonderful job she did. Now she will search on her own if she doesn't see it in plain sight.

This trick can turn into others, once your dog understands the concept. You can teach him the names of other items, such as TV remote, cell phone, keys, wallet, purse or slippers, and then send your dog after those items. Just don't do this if your dog has a tendency to be a chewer. That could be an expensive trick!