Activities with Bentley: Teaching “Close” Command. The full episode of The East’s Daily Download with this activity aired Monday, June 1st.
Bentley and I will be demonstrating the few, short steps to teach your dog how to close a door! This is a fun trick to work your dog’s brain in novel ways all while being indoors. We will show you how your dog can target an object with his nose and then use that to close a door. Let’s get started!
You’ll want one or two pieces of bright tape that contrasts the color of your door well, a clicker, and your dog’s food or treats.
Loading the Clicker
I’ll be using a clicker with Bentley today. This is a great tool for quick and precise communication with your dog. When introduced properly, it lets your dog know he’s done exactly what you want him to do. In order to ensure your dog understands the clicker, first, you must teach him what it means, or “load” the clicker. Do this by giving a click, then giving a treat, and repeat. This may take several repetitions for your dog to understand the meaning of the click, I would recommend spending at least a few sessions loading the clicker before attempting to teach anything with the clicker. You’ll know he understands what the click means when he begins to anticipate the food reward. A good indicator of this is how Bentley wags his tail right after a click. If you do not have a clicker handy, you could opt to use the markers, “good” or “yes.” I do prefer the clicker when teaching something more complex like this as it will give clear indications to my dog that he’s done what I have asked.
Begin by holding your hand down with your palm out at your dog’s eye level. It’s natural for dogs to investigate the world with their nose, so they will likely touch your hand right away. If not, try moving it in a way that gets their attention, or balling your hand into a fist. As soon as their nose touches your hand, click, and reward with food. Repeat this several times without any commands, just simple encouragement. Think of it as a fun game with your dog!
Begin naming this command after 8 or 9 repetitions or he seems to understand what you are asking from him. I use the command, “touch.” Practice this command with your dog several times. Change the height of your hand, move it away from your body, and move around to different spots.
Next, you will ask the dog to simply touch a designated spot on the closed door you have chosen. I like to start with kitchen cabinet doors since they are perfect for almost any dog’s height and usually easy to close. It helps to stand by the object when he is first learning to touch it with his nose. Pointing to the tape will also help your dog understand what you are asking. Dogs are one of the few animals to understand joint attention! I have designated the spot I want Bentley to touch with his nose with blue tape. The bright contrast of the tape should naturally draw his attention. Most dogs will probably touch it with their nose on their own! Click and reward this if he offers it, even if you haven’t given the command yet. You can use the command, “touch” here, but you will gradually phase out the command as your dog begins to reliably touch the designated spot.
Open the door, point to the designated spot, and without giving any command, see what your dog offers you. Reward his efforts often as long as they are on the right track of what is being asked. If he touches the door without applying pressure, reward this a few times, but then push him further and ask for a bit more. Some dogs may hesitate to offer much pressure to an object. If this is the case with your dog, you may want to take a step back and get the dog more comfortable around the door. I would recommend using doors that don’t squeak or grind in any way so as to not scare the dog. Throw pieces of food around the door, make it like a fun game for the dog so he builds confidence close to the object and grows more comfortable around it. After playing this game with him, try asking him to apply pressure to the door again. Reward whatever he gives! You want him excited for more in this learning stage.
Finally, once your dog has demonstrated he knows what you are asking — that is, he has closed the door without a command several times — you may begin to name the command. I like to use “close.”
Make sure to reward only when you ask him to do the command. Otherwise, he will learn to close the door when he wants to rather than when you ask him. This is a multi-step trick you will be teaching, and it will likely take more than one or two days for your dog to master the trick. Remain patient with him, and most importantly, have fun! Lastly, there are endless possibilities with this trick. Once you and your dog have the basic idea down, see what else he can close!
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