TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. — Dear Carla,
We recently saw a video on YouTube with a dog named Jessie who does amazing tricks. We’d like to teach our dog Oscar some tricks like closing doors but can’t figure out how. Can you help?
Mike and Sheila
Dear Mike and Sheila,
I show one of Jessie’s videos at the start of my Tricks class as inspiration! That dog is truly amazing and the new videos just keep on coming. Many of the tricks that Jessie performs are based on the same foundation cues. He closes the front door, cabinet doors and the washing machine door which are all taught using the same method.
Begin by teaching Oscar to touch his nose or paw to your hand. I prefer using the nose because he could scratch the finish on a door if he uses his paw and it’s easier to train the nose touch. Using a clicker is an effective way to teach this, but a verbal reward marker like “Yes” or “Yip” will also work.
Put something smelly on the palm of one hand and hold it at your side in front of your dog’s nose. When he sniffs it, immediately mark it with a click or word and feed him a treat. Repeat this until he enthusiastically bumps your hand with his nose. At this point, add the cue “Touch” as he taps your hand with his nose.
Now get a plastic lid. I like the ones from cottage cheese containers because they are light weight. Place the lid in the palm of your hand and do the same exercise described above. Be sure to use the “Touch” cue when he does it. Gradually move the lid out of your palm and hold onto the edge. You are clicking and rewarding as he touches the lid, not your hand. When he reliably touches the lid, tape it to a cabinet door. You may need to start with your palm close to the lid, but work toward having him tap the lid with his nose when you give him the “Touch” cue.
Gradually shape for harder touches by selectively rewarding. If he taps the taped lid hard enough, the cabinet door will close.
Carla Brown, CPDT is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and owner of The Savvy Dog in Truckee. If you have a pet topic/issue you would like to see covered in the Ask the Trainer column, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.