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
you need to begin with
Flash cards, rewards (food or toy) and heaps of
cardboard into rectangles and write
the words you are going to use with a bold black felt tip pen in
To begin with write
your dog's name on just one card.
expected of the dog?
The idea is to get
the dog to sit in front of you while you hold out the card
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.
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
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
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
Repeat the question
that you have been asking the dog when you only had
"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
He may again point to the wrong card. Use the same response
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.
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
Now we swap
the cards around and the difficulty level has
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
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
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.
5. Start with
one card only.
Introduce a second card
7. Swap the card into the
the cards into the opposite hand more frequently.
9. Have patience
10. Repeat all steps with a new
pair of flash cards.