Dear Old Trainer: My wife and I taught our Aussie, Stormy, many of the tricks from your column. We love it and so does she. You haven't had any new ones for a while, so how about a new trick we can work on.
-- Marty, Merced
A: Marty, here is how to teach Stormy a basic move that will lead to a dozen variations, including learning to close a door. I just taught it to my youngest dog, Joker. Now he wants to do it all day.
Choose a bench, porch railing, counter or any surface where it is comfortable for Stormy to stand on her back legs and place her front paws. Pat the surface with your hand and say "close the door, Stormy."
When she rears up and puts her paws on the surface, praise her and pet her. Do it several times, then give her a rest, but come back and repeat it throughout the day.
Once she has that part down, leave a door open a few inches, pat it with your hand at the point where it is comfortable for her to place her front paws, and give the command. As soon as she touches it, the door will close. Pet her and praise her and tell her what a smart girl she is.
Work on it every day, but make sure she touches the door in the right spot while she is learning. You don't want her to get her paw caught. The trick will work on any door, including a car door. Your friends will love it when you drive up to the dog park and leave your door open. Then after you go a few steps say, "Stormy, you forgot to close the door." She'll race back and close it.
Every dog should learn the basic move of the trick--rearing up and placing her front paws where you tell her to. Then she can rear up and put her paws on a tree while you put the leash on. Or put her collar on. Or when you just want to love on her. You eliminate all bending over by teaching her to come up to your level.
I am currently teaching Joker another variation for use in a TV commercial. I have a wooden bench painted to look like a piano keyboard. Once his paws are on the surface, I move my hand to the right and say, "play piano." He moves down the surface to follow my hand, shifting his paws as he goes. Then I move my hand left and he does the same thing the other direction.
He gets better every day, and it is hilarious to watch. He puts everything he has into it, moving left and right, pounding the keyboard, bobbing his head and wagging his tail, playing rock and roll like a canine Jerry Lee Lewis.
It looks hard, but, like all tricks, it's easy to teach once you figure out how to let the dog know what you want.
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