Getting the kids involved with training the family pet is an excellent learning opportunity. It also gives them a chance to see your dog in a new way – as an intelligent being capable of interactive communication. Basic training principles are simple enough that even young children can be taught how to use them. Here are some activities to try:
One of the most important skills you can give your dog is to come to you when called. Dog training professionals call this “recall.” In fact, a strong recall can even save your dog’s life in an emergency. This is a great game for multiple children ages 5 and up. Consider it for play dates.
- Give each child a bag of high value rewards and have them sit on the floor in a wide circle. Examples include small pieces of hot dog, cheese or cooked chicken. Tiny pieces, about the size of a pea, are best.
- Have them take turns calling the dog with their specific recall word in an excited, positive tone: “Fido, Come!”
- After they call the dog (only use the recall command once), they can do whatever they want to get her attention. Being silly is encouraged! As soon as the dog goes to the right person, they get a reward and some praise and it is time for someone else to take a turn.
- To make it even more fun, have the kids spread out, even working up to being in different rooms to make the game more challenging for your dog and more exciting for the kids.
- You can probably already imagine that this game quickly evolves into a childhood favorite: Hide and Seek.
2. The Waiting Game
Dog trainers often focus on “impulse control” as one of the areas to develop in puppies and dogs. The idea is to teach a dog that waiting patiently is a desirable behavior. This activity is suitable for ages 5 and up.
- Assemble some small high-value treats in baggies.
- Demonstrate the game a few times before encouraging your child to give it a try.
- Place a treat on the floor and cup your hand over it. Your dog will probably sniff at it a bit. Say “Wait” and when your dog chooses to stop nosing at your hand (be patient!), reveal the treat and say “OK!” Let them gobble up the treat.
- Then, up the ante by saying “Wait” and lifting your hand a little bit without your release word. If the dog goes for the treat before the release is given, then you snap your hand back over the treat and try again.
- The goal of The Waiting Game is to be able to have the treat lay on the floor without any hand over it until the release word is given. Slowly increase the time the treat is revealed without a release so that your dog can be successful.
3. The Clicker Game
For kids 8 and up, this game is an opportunity to work on hand and eye coordination, timing and focus. It will also teach the basics of clicker training, a powerful behavior shaping tool. Try using luring and clicking to teach your dog a simple trick: The Twirl.
- Have the youngster lead the dog with a treat in their fingers a few steps before clicking and then giving the dog the reward. Make it easy, the point here is mainly to communicate to the dog: “If you follow my hand, you will hear the click then get the treat.”
- The next step is to use the lure to lead the dog to turn in a circle, clicking at the instant the dog completes the circle, followed by a reward.
- The trick to luring with dogs is to “fade the lure” as quickly as possible. As soon as the dog seems to “get it,” use the hand motion without the food. Continue to click then treat the instant the circle is complete.
- Once the dog is following the motion without the lure, it is time to make the signal smaller and smaller until it is simply the youngster’s finger indicating a small circle in the air. Continue to click and treat for a successful twirl.
Set your dog and your child up for success by keeping training games simple, short and fun. Training time is something that they should both look forward to and associate with success. If either the dog or the youngster seems frustrated, end the session on an easy win and come back to it later.
I hope these activities will inspire you to learn more about positive training methods and getting the whole family involved with training your dog!
Mat Coulton has worked with dogs for just under a decade and is the founder of Wiley Pup, a doggy lover’s website that provides great tips and advice for pet parents everywhere. Love doggy kisses but not so much dog breath? Check out Toothpaste for pups.