Tuesday 25 September 2018

Expert reveals top tips to teach your dog a new trick (no matter how old they are)

'Sparky' - Anne Cully-Ryan & Bill Ryan submitted this picture of their dog Sparky into Independent.ie's Ireland's Top Dog competition
'Sparky' - Anne Cully-Ryan & Bill Ryan submitted this picture of their dog Sparky into Independent.ie's Ireland's Top Dog competition
Denise Calnan

Denise Calnan

Can you teach an old dog new tricks? Of course you can, according to a well-known dog trainer and behaviour advisor.

Alison Ramsey, who works with families with dogs on a one-to-one basis, said you can teach a dog a new trick "no matter how many grey hairs they have."

She also said sometimes it is easier to teach an older dog a trick, as younger dogs may have trouble focusing on a task.

Speaking to Independent.ie, Alison said teaching a dog a new trick is also a great benefit to the dog's confidence.

So, if you're looking to teach your pup a new trick (and hoping to win Independent.ie's Ireland Top Dog competition), here are six questions you may have:

How do I start if I want to teach my dog a new trick?

"Set yourself up with some tasty food and have a clear plan of what you would like to teach your dog," Alison advised dog owners.

"Pick a quiet spot in the house with minimal distractions.

"Break the trick down into tiny steps and reward your dog with a tasty treat for each increment. Limit yourself to five minutes as that is a long time for them to have to puzzle out what you are asking them to do.

"Remember it should never feel like homework, for dog or trainer."

What do you think is the simplest trick to teach a dog?

Alison says one of the simplest tricks to teach your dog is "spin".

"Most dogs will follow a tasty piece of food in your hand, so you can guide them in a circle," she said.

"Once they can follow the food, try to do it with an imaginary piece of food in your hand.

"Once they can follow an imaginary piece of food add your verbal cue 'spin' and hey presto you have a 'spin' trick.

"Remember to reward each step along the way. Also most dogs have a left or right preference so it might be easier to spin one way rather then the other."

Can I only teach a puppy tricks, or will an older dog be able to learn a trick?

"The old saying you can't teach an old dog new tricks is all wrong," Alison said.

"You can teach any dog something new regardless of how many grey hairs there are on on their face. In fact, sometimes older dogs are even easier as they can focus for longer then a puppy."

Have you ever seen a dog do a trick that made you think 'wow'? What was it?

"I once saw a dog do a stage performance where they took food from a picnic hamper and hide it every time their owner started to read the newspaper, that was an impressive trick!"

How does learning tricks benefit a dog, or does it?

Alison encouraged dog owners to put some time aside to teach their pup a new trick.

"Trick training is not only fun for the humans half of the team it is great fun for the dog too," she said.

"It also builds a strong relationship, increases confidence, enriched their day to day lives and is super tiring. So you get a happy, relaxed dog as well as a well trained one."

How long should it take for a dog to learn a trick?

"Just like people all dogs are individuals. This means some dogs learn super fast and some take a little longer," Alison said.

"If your dog is really struggling maybe make the trick a little easier for them. Equally if you have a trick pro think how can I make this a little more complex."

Independent.ie are running its inaugural Ireland's Top Dog competition. Readers can enter three prizes (Ireland's Best-Looking Dog, Ireland's Best Trick and the Lifetime Achievement Award) until October 21st.

See all the details here

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