If you share your life with an overly enthusiastic dog, you know what it feels like: A few minutes of cute doggy zoomies here and there can easily transform into a pup that’s bouncing off the walls all day long and driving everybody in the household a little bit insane.
The truth is that while some dogs are perfectly content being couch potatoes, others need something to do. Some dogs don’t do well unless they have a job: herd sheep, protect your property, go out to look for mice in the forest. And if a dog bred to have a job gets bored … well, he’ll go create his own job, whether that turns out to be digging in your garden, eating the corner of your sofa, or chewing your favorite shoes.
This is where “household jobs” come in. “Teaching our dogs to help out around the house is not only helpful for us, but also provides our dogs with mental stimulation that helps to fulfill their needs,” says Tasha Shaw-Verbic, owner and trainer at Fearless Tails. “When we ensure our dogs’ physical and mental needs are met, dog guardians often find that their dog’s behavior also improves!”
Finding the Right Job For Your Dog
While some breeds might have obvious tendencies (like retrieving, sniffing, etc), Shaw-Verbic says it’s more important to know your individual dog’s preferences and what he or she enjoys. “For example, if your dog doesn’t often pick up things in his mouth, he might not enjoy retrieving,” Shaw-Verbic points out. “If you have a dog that uses her paws or nose a lot, she may be more successful and enjoy closing cupboards more than one that doesn’t.”
Being able to figure out what your dog enjoys doing is the best way to then assign him a job. Shaw-Verbic says household jobs can be a great to provide mental stimulation while including your dog in activities like tidying up or getting his leash. “Plus, this creates opportunities for more engagement with you, which results in a stronger relationship between you and your dog,” she adds.
Some things our dogs can learn to do around the house include:
‘Work’ for Food
Once upon a time, dogs had to forage for their food. While your pup is probably perfectly happy to now get his food in a bowl, it doesn’t mean his instincts for foraging have disappeared. Making your dog work for his food is great mental exercise and provides an outlet for a very natural behavior, according to Shaw-Verbic.
If your dog is new to puzzles or treat dispensing toys, she adds you should ensure you make it easy enough for him to be able to enjoy it, then gradually increase the difficulty. “For example, you might stuff a Kong or West Paw Toppl with some wet food to start, but then eventually layer on other things like treats or dog-safe veggies and fruit, and maybe even partially freeze it to make the experience more challenging,” she explains.
Open and Close Cupboards or Doors
Getting your dog to close cupboards or doors can be a handy job to have — and not a hard one to teach, according to Shaw-Verbic, who adds you can teach “close the door” by first teaching your dog to target a lid or piece of paper with her paw or nose, and then transferring it (taping the lid or paper) to the cupboard door to push it closed.
“Opening doors can be taught with a rope and games like tug,” she says. “Be cautious of which cupboards you teach your dogs to open and close, if you don’t want them snuffling through things they shouldn’t be”
Ring a Bell to Go Outside
Teaching your dog to ring a bell can also be taught using a nose or paw target. Once your dog is touching the bell, place it near the door where you normally take him out. Once he rings the bell, you open the door. Most dogs will quickly make the association between ringing the bell and going out.
“Don’t be surprised, however, if your dog also learns that ringing the bell gets your attention,” Shaw-Verbic says. “Some dogs will start to ring the bell to request you get up for something else, or just to go outside, even if they don’t need to potty.”
Put Toys Away
What could be better that having your pooch organize his own toys at the end of the day? To teach this, you’ll have to start with a “drop or give” situation. Basically, when your dog has a toy in his mouth, you ask him to give it to you (or drop it), Shaw-Verbic explains.
“Make sure your dog gets have a treat immediately after dropping/giving and then he gets to have the toy back right away, so it’s a fun experience,” she adds. Gradually, put your hand over the toy box so that he gets used to dropping it in your hand there, and eventually remove your hand so the toy goes straight into the box.
You will also need to choose a word that’s connected to what you’re teaching and repeat it during training. For example, if you say, “put away” and not use this command for anything else, your dog will eventually associate the words with putting the toys in the box.
Tips for Make Training Fun
No matter what you’re teaching your dog, here are some tips Shaw-Verbic shares to keep things light and fun.
Keep the sessions short and positive. Each session should be no more than 3 minutes. It’s better to train for a few short fun minutes once or twice a day than to try for 15 minutes and overwhelm your dog, especially when he’s learning something new.
Break down the behavior into small, individual steps. Touch cupboard door with nose is one step. Push the cupboard door is a second step.
Always go at your dog’s pace. If after three tries your dog isn’t catching on, stop the training and think about what you can do to make the step easier for them.
Never punish your dog for making a mistake or “not getting it.” This includes physical corrections, but also getting frustrated, making faces, chastising your dog or suddenly walking away. If your dog experiences learning with you as an unpleasant, stressful, or frustrating experience, they will be less likely to want to continue trying in the future.
Use tasty food or treats your dog enjoys. Alternate one or two attempts of the new behavior and then ask for something your dog knows well. For example, ring bell, then ask for a “sit” – and don’t forget to reward every time.
In the end, remember that the key is always to keep things fun!