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Tricks to teach your dog - Teach your dog to read



So you don't think dogs can read? Well I've got news for you... they can learn. Although the heading of this article is 'Tricks to Teach your Dog' I believe that it is not a trick. I have had three dogs who have learnt to identify words. This of course is not true reading, I haven't owned a dog who would sit down and read the newspaper or go to bed with a paperback but my dogs have successfully learnt to read up to twenty words. They may have had the ability to learn more but I stopped at twenty.

What are we trying to achieve?

The outcome is for you to show your dog flash cards and ask him a question. He is then expected to point to the card with the correct answer to the question


What you need to begin with

Flash cards, rewards (food or toy) and heaps of praise.

Cut white cardboard into rectangles and write the words you are going to use with a bold black felt tip pen in large writing.

To begin with write your dog's name on just one card.

What is expected of the dog?

The idea is to get the dog to sit in front of you while you hold out the card

To begin with the dog has no idea what you are expecting of him so a lot of patience is required to get the idea across. Before teaching him to identify words you must teach him to sit and to point at a card.

Begin with one card only, the one with his name on it

Prepare a reward. Have a little stash of rewards at hand. (either in your pocket or on a table nearby)

I used very tiny cubes of cheese. This worked for my dogs as cheese was a treat they loved. You can use any reward you feel your dog will enjoy either food or a toy.

Hopefully your dog already knows the command 'Sit' as this is the first command you give him.

Kneel down on the floor with your dog in front of you. Tell him to sit. Hold out the card with his name on it and say in a friendly voice "What's your name?"

Next we need to teach him to point. This doesn't just come naturally it is something that has to be taught.

How to teach your dog to point

Gently take his paw and make it touch the card. At the same time say "What's your name?"
As soon as you have done this lavish him with praise saying 'Good dog, good dog' and then give him his reward. Let him know you are very excited about the fact that he touched the card with his paw. Make a big fuss of it.
Repeat repeat repeat.

The aim of this exercise is to re-enforce that touching the card in response to the question "What's your name?" is good fun.

Don't reward him with food every single time. Once every three or four times is enough but DO reward him with praise and excitement every time.

Try to keep your dog in the sitting position for the whole exercise.

Keep up this exercise until your dog points at the card in response to the question "What's your name?" without you having to manually lift his paw on to the card. Some dogs catch on very quickly. One dog I had learned to point after placing his paw on the card only three times. All dogs are different, some may be quicker than others but they can all learn.

Once the dog has learned to point successfully
We practice practice practice, but only for short periods of time. Five minutes a session is usually enough.

When you feel the dog has mastered pointing to the card you can move on to the next step. Two cards.

Introduce a second card

Now we introduce a second card. We have one with your dog's name on it and one with something else written on it. I have used the words 'Bad Dog' but you can use anything you choose.

Repeat the question that you have been asking the dog when you only had one card.
"What's your name?"

Of course your dog won't know at first know the difference between one card and the other and may point to either one.

Just ask the question. The dog will point to one of the two cards. If he points to the card with his name on, give him a reward, heaps of encouragement, lots of excitement.. good dog good dog.

If he points to the card with the other words on it (The card I use says Bad Dog) Say 'NO'  'AH AH'  and do not give him any reward or praise. Don't shout NO and Ah Ah... say it quietly and disinterestedly. Make yourself look totally disinterested to his response. (hmmm he'll think. That wasn't much fun)

NEVER tell him he is bad or scold him for choosing the wrong card. This has to be fun fun fun. We want to keep everything positive. He will strive to please you because he wants to have fun. If you scold him for anything he may decide this is not such a great game after all.


Keep the card with his name on it in the same hand every time for now

Then ask the question again. 'What's your name?'
He may again point to the wrong card. Use the same response as before.

If he points to the right card give him a reward immediately. Then lavish praise on him and act very excited and make a big fuss about it.

If he points to the wrong card remain quiet, no excitement, no reward.

You may find that if he doesn't get it right first time he may immediately point at the other card. That's OK. Say 'Good Dog, well done'' Praise him and reward him.

Repeat Repeat Repeat. Practice makes perfect. But don't keep up the exercises for long periods of time. Practice frequently in short bursts. No more than five minutes at a time. Dogs lose interest after a short period of time. It has to be fun ALL the time. Before beginning a session say to him "Do you want to do your reading" Soon he will become excited whenever you say those words.


Changing the cards around

Soon your dog will be pointing to the card with his name on it 90% of the time. This is excellent progress.  When you feel that he has an understanding of what is expected of him (that is pointing to the card with his name on) it's time to swap the cards around to your other hand.

You must understand at this point that the dog could be pointing to the card in your right hand most of the time because he thinks that this is the card he has to point to to get a reward.

Now we  swap the cards around and the difficulty level has increased.

We repeat the technique of above. Reward, excitement praise for pointing to the right card. No reward, disinterest and a quiet NO - AH AH for the wrong card. NO SCOLDING

It may take some time for your dog to realize what is expected. Be Patient and practice.


The next step

When you feel your dog has grasped the idea of pointing at the right card in the opposite hand it is time to frequently change the cards from one hand to another. We don't want him to associate a card with which hand it is held in.

From here on in it is just a matter of practice. Practice daily if possible. Soon your dog will have mastered successfully choosing the card with his name on most of the time. Your dog has learned to read his name! Don't expect him to get it right 100% of the time. My dogs got it wrong occasionally but getting it right most of the time is good enough.


The Next Round

You can move on from here and introduce the next pair of cards. Make two more cards with different words on them. For example I used the words DINNER and BATH. The question I asked my dog was "What do you hate?"

Now repeat the same procedure we have used previously.

Then it's up to you how far you and your dog want to go. As each word is learned you can move on to the next pair of words. One of my dogs had twenty cards ie he could read ten words. He may have been able to learn more but that is where I stopped.

Summary of Teach Your Dog to Read

1. Your dog must know how to sit before you start this guide.

2. Teach your dog to point.

3. The exercises must be fun at all times.

4. No scolding

5. Start with one card only.

6. Introduce a second card

7. Swap the card into the opposite hand.

8. Swap the cards into the opposite hand more frequently.

9. Have patience

10. Repeat all steps with a new pair of flash cards.







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