Dog training, Tricks

Enjoy “muzzle training”!

Don’t you think that we see more dogs wearing a muzzle on their walks than we used to? Yes, one of the reasons (here in Auckland, New Zealand) is the council’s regulation that requires all dogs identified as menace to wear a muzzle. But some dogs are wearing one for other reasons, such as a precaution for a reactive dog or a scavenging dog.

I don’t put a muzzle on my dogs on our walks but sometimes I need to put one on Cinnamon who can get nippy when she is being examined closely at the vet.

Last week a student in a tricks class asked me about muzzle training. Her dog was able to put her nose to the end of her muzzle to earn treats, but she was unable to sustain the contact.

After giving the student some advice, I decided to muzzle train Cinnamon, as I knew that she had not been comfortable wearing a muzzle when she needed to.

Muzzle training with Cinnamon
  1. Present a muzzle in front of your dog.
  2. Mark and reward for touching the muzzle with the nose.
  3. Repeat Step 2 many times.
  4. If your dog looks comfortable doing it, start delaying the mark and reward.

Although I have seen some dog trainers giving treats through a muzzle, I think that you need to be careful so that your dog doesn’t start comparing the fear of the muzzle and the value of the treats. Even if you are intending to reinforce the behaviour positively with treats, the treats can enhance the fear for some dogs. So, if your dog is very scared of a muzzle, I advise you to think twice before luring your dog with food into the muzzle.

At the end of the above video I tied the strap and quickly untied it. However, she didn’t look comfortable about it. So, next time I might try “tying and untying the strap behind the neck” without putting the muzzle on her.

If you progress slowly so that your dog doesn’t get stressed, you can do this training as just another fun trick. So, enjoy “muzzle training” with your dog!! I will with Cinnamon!

Dog training

Yes, focus is important, but if…

In our tricks class at Manukau Dog Training Club, I got a very interesting question from a student.

In the class I had been emphasizing on how to get and keep your dog focused on you. But, the student said “When I read your article, I thought that what you do for the focus might be too much for the dogs”. “Article” means that a piece of paper I give to our students each week, explaining what we have done in the class that week. I thought that she meant that dogs in the class would be too exhausted by playing my focus games to actually practise tricks, which we usually do after the focus games. But, then she added “I understand that the focus is important, but some dogs are always focused on their handlers and keep offering behaviours, such as Border Collies and Malinois.”

992c3c414406ce825b86727812176260_sYes, she is right. There are dogs who don’t need to learn to focus on their handlers because they do it naturally.  Well, as is the case with any type of training or learning, you may need to teach different dogs different things. Thus, in case of dogs who tend to get hyped up by offering behaviours to engage their handlers, we need to teach them something different. Although it again depends on each dog, things that you could teach those dogs may include: 1) how to calm down and 2) how to wait for the handler’s cue.

Making your dog to do a behaviour that has duration could help him calm down, while your dog needs to be vigilant to prepare for the next cue if you give your dog a cue for a different behaviour each time.

As always, when you train your dog, you need to think about how to help your dog, the dog in front of you.




Hand Touch – A Powerful and Convenient Tool

I am in love with one of the tricks in the list of “Easy” tricks by Do More With Your Dog!, the world’s leading trick dog program. In the list the trick is named “touch my hand/target stick.”

In fact it was the first trick I taught my dogs using a clicker. At that time I had no idea about the potential of this simple exercise.

This is my first beagle, Cookie, and my first target stick.

For example, when you want your dog to turn to a certain direction, what would you do? If your dog knows cues for Left, Right, Front, Back, Up, Down, and so on, you could direct your dog with verbal cues. But, few dogs have so much vocabulary. Would you hold your dog and move him as you like? Then, what? Would your dog stay in that position? Wouldn’t he wiggle, refusing to face away from you?

Here the Hand Touch (“touch my hand”) comes in handy. All you have to do is place your hand in a position where you want your dog to place his nose. Yes! So easy! If you don’t want to bend to reach your small dog’s height, you can use a target stick and make him touch the target. If you can’t reach your dog’s nose because your dog is too long, again you can use a target stick.

Now I think that you can imagine how useful this simple trick is in trick training and other types of dog training. If you want your dog to go through between legs to do the leg weaves or figure eight’s, you can simply place a hand on the other side of the legs from your dog, tell him to touch your hand, and repeat it. When you want your dog to heel, you can place your hand in a position that your dog’s nose would have to come when he is in the heel position.

Also, I find this trick very useful when I recall my dogs. If you say to your dog “Come!”, he might come close to you. But, if he has a target to touch, the picture in his mind becomes much clearer and he thinks “Ok, I will touch that hand.”

In addition, I am finding the “touch my hand/target stick” trick useful on our activities as therapy pets volunteers. For people who have difficulty in reaching my therapy dog, Mint, or don’t feel confident with touching a dog, I hand them my target stick so that they can interact with Mint without sitting up from a recliner or actually touching Mint.

Although it may take a while to teach your dog to do sustained hand touch, he would learn to touch your hand quickly. Dogs are naturally curious and touch your hand if it is presented before them, trying to investigate what it is. When your dog touches your hand, say “Yes” and give him a treat. If he licks your hand, say “Yes” a little earlier, just before the actual contact with the hand. Once he’s got the behaviour, you can introduce the command “Touch”. Say “Touch” and place your hand before him.

This is a video from my dog Mint’s training last week. I was using the Hand Touch to reinforce his head position while doing  the heelwork.


Hope you enjoy teaching your dog the Hand Touch if you haven’t already! It’s so easy to teach and easy to use!