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Tips to Teach Your Dog To Read

By: Camp Bow Wow | Published 01/13/2022

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Happy New Year and welcome to 2022! We at Camp Bow Wow® hope everyone and their pets had a safe and happy start to the year. January is the month we celebrate National Train Your Dog Month to encourage pet parents to keep up their training with their pups. Training helps maintain a healthy relationship with your dog, provides your dog much-needed mental stimulation, keeps skills sharp, and can be a fun activity for you and your dog to have together.

If you’re looking for something new and fun to teach your dog, how about teaching them to read? Yes, we said read! Your dog can learn to recognize words for behaviors they know, and you can teach them at home.

Reading a word means a dog can identify the look of a word on a piece of paper and responds in a certain way, letting us know he recognized the word. The written word becomes the new cue to prompt your dog into action. This is a challenging exercise that asks dogs to think and asks pet parents to do very little.

Learn to Read, Step by Step

All you need are a few index cards, a sharpie, and your pup’s favorite treats to get going.

Step 1: Write down a verbal cue that your dog knows well on an index card. Use large, bold font on the card.

Step 2: Stand in front of your dog and show them the card, word facing them so they can see it.

Step 3: After you show your dog the index card, follow up by giving your verbal cue for the behavior on the card (for example, saying “wave”). When your dog responds correctly, reward them with a treat right away.

Step 4: Repeat this process 8-10 times by first showing the card, providing the verbal cue, then waiting until your dog responds correctly before rewarding.

Step 5: Now try just showing your dog the index card without giving the verbal cue that goes with it. Be patient and let your dog figure out how to respond. When your dog responds correctly, give your reward.

Step 6: Repeat step 5 by using just the index card to provide the cue and waiting for the correct response.

Repeat this exercise with additional behaviors, working only on one at a time to start. Pet Parents can work on different behaviors in a single day but choose only one per training session.

Tips

  • It’s easiest to start with a behavior the dog knows well such as down, speak, wave, touch, or other simple behaviors.
  • You may want to avoid using “sit” at first because many dogs tend to sit automatically, which makes it challenging to determine if they are understanding the new cue or not.
  • It’s easiest to use behaviors that the dog already responds to with just a verbal cue, but you can also behaviors that rely on a hand signal as well.
    • This will be a little more challenging to juggle the cue card, offering the hand signal, and giving treats, so ensure the behavior works for this exercise.
  • During this process, it’s best to ignore incorrect responses. If needed, walk your dog away from their position, circle around, and start over.
  • Keep learning sessions short (5-10 minutes max) as this is a challenge! You can end with a short play session too, which can help dogs retain what they’ve just learned.

Adding to the Challenge

Once a dog is reliably responding to cue cards for at least two or three behaviors, you can start helping them distinguish between them. This step should not be taken until the dog is reliably responding to different cue cards. Mix up which cue card you use, at random, and allow your dog to respond with the correct behavior. If your dog struggles to understand the difference, you can help by incorporating the verbal cue or hand signal for a few reps before offering just the cue card again. This part can take patience and practice! Always end on a good note when your pup responds correctly.

Looking for help with your pup’s training? Check out a Camp Bow Wow® location near you to see what training services are available.

By: Erin Askeland, MSc, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

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