Does your family have a dog? Our guest writer, Beverley Courtney, explains how letting your kids teach their dog tricks actually teaches them many important lessons as well.
Consideration for others, teamwork, goal setting, perseverance.
These are all things which we try to instil into our children. For them to be able to fit into our world as they grow up, a firm, early grasp of these qualities is essential.
And as we have already found out for ourselves – what better way to learn a skill than by teaching?
Showing someone else how to do something requires you to…
- have a secure knowledge of how to do it yourself
- be able to analyse what you’re doing and break it down into manageable steps
- know which are the key structural points on which the whole endeavour rests
Having children teach each other can work very well – but can also be fraught with squabbles and family rivalries.
But having them teach their very best friend – your family dog – how to do something will usually bring the very best out in your child-teacher.
A few ground rules need to be in place.
- Only one child at a time can teach the dog. Any other child may watch quietly and not interfere
- Two children will need two separate tricks to teach
- There will be no force, coercion, pushing or shouting. If these happen it means that the teacher has lost his way and is attempting to take his frustrations out on the learner
- The child needs a clear vision of the finished trick
- The trick must be broken down into baby steps
- Training sessions should be very short (one to two minutes max) and everybody should be enjoying them wholeheartedly!
- A realistic timetable should be worked out using 5 and 6 above
While 4-7 sound as if we’re making heavy weather of this, they can be worked out fairly quickly – perhaps over lunch so the child can’t go hurtling into the task all guns blazing!
Tell me and I forget, Teach me and I may remember, Involve me and I learn.
~ Benjamin Franklin
Let’s have a look at a simple trick you could start with.
We’ll use “Spin”.
Referring to the list above, let’s see how we plan this:
The finished trick: The dog will be standing in front of your child. When the child says “Spin!” your dog will turn to his right in a tight circle till he’s standing straight in front of his teacher again. Let joy be unconfined!
Baby Steps: Step 1 is to get the dog to turn his head to his right; Step 2 to touch his nose to the base of his tail; Step 3 to turn further – to about 1 o’clock from the teacher; Step 4 to complete the circle and line up his back legs behind his front legs and stand.
Length of session: Go for 1-2 minutes for the first session (set a timer – the time flies by!) or easier still – just take ten treats only and work through them.
Realistic timetable: You may need 1 session for Step 1, 3 sessions for Step 2 and so on. Or you may have an engaged and sharp learner who gets to Step 3 in the first ten treats! Don’t expect results to be very fast, but be ready to adapt if they are. If your dog is fast and your child is a natural with impeccable timing, they’ll still need to consolidate over a few sessions.
The actual training can be done in a happy, vibrating, calm quietness. Get your dog to make the action, then name it later – don’t bark gobbledygook commands at him and expect him to work it out. Enthusiastic responses to getting it right are always welcome. But yelling “Sit! Stand! Turn round! Spin!” will result only in total confusion for your poor dog!
You won’t actually be adding your word “Spin” until the trick is complete and bombproof.
How to Use Treats
Use tasty treats! I find cheese, about pea-size, works very well. And it won’t matter if your child eats half of it as they go, on a “one for you and one for me” basis.
You’ll want to be sure your dog doesn’t snatch the treat out of the child’s hand, taking the fingers with it. So beforehand teach the dog to take treats only from the palm of your hand. Show your child how to open his hand flat quickly, with fingers out of the way. If you’ve got a real snatcher, you can just smear some peanut butter on the child’s palm so that every time he opens his hand flat the dog can take a lick without needing to use any teeth.
Your child can use the treat in his hand touched to his dog’s nose to lead the head round towards his tail. This is easier if the child is standing in front of the dog and his hand comes over the dog’s head from above to draw the nose round, rather than trying to push it from the front. And that will make much more sense when you’re actually doing it!
As soon as your dog’s head turns, child-teacher can say Yes! enthusiastically and release the treat. Repeat until all ten treats are gone.
End the session with a joyous run round the garden with a toy!
The next session could be later the same day, or on another day. Be sure your dog is enjoying this – he’ll certainly enjoy the cheese and the peanut butter! Slowly and steadily the trick will progress. Once your child can see results it will encourage him to complete the process. You may have to put the brakes on if your teacher is impetuous and hasty. The easiest way is to keep the sessions very, very short.
Your child will be rightly proud to show off his finished trick to visitors, and your dog will love being the centre of attention.
How Your Kid Teaches Your Dog is a Reflection of How You Teach Your Child
Are you ready for this revelation?
Children are great copiers – great mirrors. If your child is bossing your dog about, barking orders at him without waiting to consider whether what he’s asking is reasonable, understood, possible – you’re going to want to have a cool, dispassionate look at how you interact with your children!
We are so busy running the household, following our own career, trying to get it all fitted in, that it’s horribly easy to start to shout rapid-fire commands and expect instant responses.
I’ve been there myself, and I always found that watching how my boys interacted with our animals was a very good gauge of how things were going.
Once you start helping your child to teach your dog a trick, you’ll find that there are three individuals learning!
And who knows?
Perhaps your dog is the best teacher of all.
I’d love to hear how it goes… please leave a comment and let me know.
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Beverley Courtney, author of the forthcoming book “Calm Down! Six Steps to a Relaxed, Calm and Brilliant Family Dog”, lives in Worcestershire with her four dogs, cat, hens and many tropical fish. She mainly works with puppies and “growly” dogs, always looking to build the bond between dog and owner. Get your free dog training series Top Tips for Turning Your Wild Puppy into a Brilliant Family Dog – a step-by-step guide to changing the things you don’t like about your dog to the things you do like.