Wouldn’t it be fun to have your dog know his lefts and rights? Of course! Why? Because then your dog can be directed to:
- Change direction when retrieving - even while swimming! After splashing into the water, my dog Cannon sometimes loses sight of his water bumper and I am able to tell him which way to turn to find his beloved toy.
- Wipe off his own paws on the mat by doing a few tail-chasing tight circles when he comes into the house. I don’t need to do any extra chores or cleaning, so I love this time-saving trick!
- “Stretch out” the kinks before and after exercise – this is a great warm-up for dog sports or long hikes!
- Impress your friends. Your dog may learn his lefts and rights better than some humans!
To teach left and right, you’ll train your dog to spin in a full 360 circle as if he were chasing his tail. To begin, grab your dog treats and your hungry dog and follow these instructions:
- Put a treat at the nose level of your dog when he is standing. If the treat is too high, your dog may sit down. If the treat is too low, your dog may go into a down position. Ensure the dog is standing when you start the lure in step 2. Luring your dog with food means that your dog follows the food in your hand with his nose and then his body follows his nose!
- Move the treat from your dog’s nose toward your dog’s tail. Keep the treat the same height from the floor. Your dog’s head should follow the treat! Finish the 360 degree lure where you started the lure (the location your dog’s nose was at the beginning)! When the dog finishes the 360 degree rotation, say “yes” (or click if you prefer clicker training) and give the dog the treat!
What if my dog won’t follow the treat more than two inches? Then start with two inches instead of the full circle. When your dog turns his head an inch, say “yes” and treat. In the next repetition, have the dog move his head three inches and then say “yes” and treat. Gradually increase the distance the dog must turn his head. Eventually you’ll get a quarter of a circle, then half a circle, then three-quarters of a circle, and then the full 360 degrees. This is called splitting – breaking a task into baby steps for the dog to accomplish.
- After two successful lures of 360 degrees in the same direction, say the command word before you lure the dog. Say “left,” put the treat in front of the dog’s nose, lure 360 degrees, say “yes,” and deliver the cookie to your dog’s mouth. Victorious!
Extra tips: Avoid being a “greedy” dog trainer and doing too many repetitions during one training session. You want to end the session when your dog is still having fun and before your dog gets dizzy! Dogs get dizzy, too!
- Train the dog both “left” and “right” directions. Be sure to give the command (“left” or “right”) for the direction that the dog is turning and not for your right or your left. Keep in mind that when the dog is facing you, turning to his right will be your left.
- Now you’re ready to start reducing the lure! You don’t want your dog to rely on the treat always being so close to his nose, so wean the dog off the lure by increasing the distance between his nose and the treat gradually over time. This means instead of always having the treat one inch from the dog’s nose, do the next repetition with the treat two inches away from the nose. Then three inches. Then six inches and so on. Eventually you’ll be standing and showing the dog your circle pattern with your hand at your shoulder height! This small circle pattern by your hand with your extended arm becomes the hand signal to the dog for the command. You still say “yes” and then treat the dog with a cookie (even if the cookie is in your pocket during the trick and not in your hand as a lure) after each repetition.
Extra credit: Eventually have your dog practice “lefts” and “rights” with just the verbal signal or just the hand signal. The most powerful command is using a hand signal and verbal command together.
This post is a continuation of a series of blogs on trick training fun! For more trick training tips, see this post for the nose touch and this post for the pout command.