Clever Hans, the horse who outwitted Germany01/03/2020
By Jenn Colella
Raise your paws, pet lovers – how many of you have talented pets? Although many of our furry friends know the basics of sit and stay, it’s worthwhile to delve further into training your pet for a few different reasons. For one, teaching your pet tricks is a great mental workout that plays to furry friend’s natural problem solving skills; it’s also a great way to strengthen the bond that you and your pet share while expending some excess energy. Oh, and training tricks isn’t just for the dogs, either – our feline friends benefit from learning new talents too, although they often need more repetition to get the hang of a new trick. When the training is fun and the motivation is right, most cats or dogs will eagerly take on the challenge of learning something new!
Before you start your first teaching session, take a few minutes to prepare yourself. You won’t need much, however; a hungry pet, a bunch of tiny, super yummy treats (bits of canned food, chicken, or even a bout of playtime work well for kitty rewards), and a quiet space with few distractions. Ready? Let’s get started – here are five fantastic tricks to teach your dog or cat!
Jump through a hoop
Hold a hoop (you can use an embroidery hoop for cats) on the floor between you and your pet. Lure your cat or dog through with a tasty treat or a toy on a string. Once your pet is all the way through the hoop, praise them and give them that reward! Repeat several times until they start going through the hoop on their own- once this happens, start saying the command that you’ll want to use for this trick (like ‘through’ or ‘hoop’) just as your pet enters the hoop, and reward them each time they perform it.
Once your cat or dog learns the command and masters going through the hoop at ground level, raise the hoop an inch or so off the floor and give your cue, rewarding your dog or cat for a successful leap, of course. As time goes by, raise the hoop a bit higher with each training session, and soon your pet will be a four-legged acrobat!
Close the Door!
This is a fun one for pets and pet lovers alike! First, hold a post-it note directly in front of your pet’s face; most will naturally touch it with their nose or bat it with their paws, which is what you want to reward! Repeat until your cat or dog is touching the paper consistently for treats. Next, open a door at your pet’s level – it can be a cupboard or closet door, but should be lightweight and swing easily. Stick the post-it note to the door at the height of your pet’s face, and call your pet’s attention to the note by tapping on it. As soon as your cat or dog touches the note (with paws or nose), praise them immediately and reward them. Repeat over several training sessions! When your pet consistently understands that the idea is to touch the post-it whenever it’s on the door, then you can move to the next step – wait for your pet to push harder on the post-it, causing the door to move. Once this happens, celebrate and give a big reward or several treats. Gradually increase the criteria for getting a treat, from successfully moving the door, to almost closing it, to closing it fully. Once your pet is able to fully close the door each time on their own, then add in your cue word just before they perform the trick – and voila!
A delightful variation on the standard ‘sit’ command, most cats and dogs pick this skill up quickly. Lure your furry friend into a sitting position with a treat or toy, and then move the treat up over their head and slightly backwards. Most pets will lift their paws off the floor and sit back on their hind legs. Once this happens, give that treat! Repeat over several training sessions to allow your pet to get the hang of this new talent, and add your cue word once they’re performing the trick consistently when you lure them.
With a little practice every day, you can soon have your pet give you a rockin’ pawed high five! Hold a treat or favorite toy in your hand in front of your cat or dog’s face and wait for them to paw at it. When they do, touch their paw with your hand, give them a ‘high five!’ cue, and reward them with praise, play or treats each time they repeat the behavior. With repetition, you’ll soon have the coolest pet around!
This one might actually be easier for our feline friends to pick up, since they do it naturally in the first place! Training your pet to weave their body through your legs as you walk sounds complicated, but isn’t that difficult in reality. Grab several tasty treats or your pet’s favorite toy and find a longer room or hallway. After getting your pet’s attention, take a step and lure your pet through the space between your legs (similar to the hoop exercise). Give them the treat (or other reward). Then take another step, reward, and repeat. Once your cat or dog is excited and consistently following your lures after a few practice sessions, add your cue (like ‘weave’, for example). Now you’re part of the act too!
For some pets, these tricks may come more easily, while other cats and dogs might become bored or lose attention more quickly. It helps to keep your training sessions brief – only a few minutes at a time – and change up your rewards to keep it fun and exciting for you both. Before you know it, the talents that your pet has learned will be wowing the neighborhood!
Jenn Colella is a veterinary technician with many years of experience in small animal practice, as well as a published writer and blogger who cares passionately about building the bond between people and their pets. She’s owned by two crotchety old cats and a Pembroke Welsh Corgi named Eine.