Dogs have an amazing ability to learn words. To further the relationship with your dog, why not start to teach him some of the basic language that you deal with every day? Verbs are the easiest to train, as they require an action, or inaction in some cases. Those who train in obedience already know how to train “sit,” “down,” “heel” and “stay.” Why not extend his vocabulary to include other things?
When you give your dog a bath, have fun with it and teach him “bath,” “towel,” and “dryer.” When you want to dry off his feet, how much simpler is it when your dog understands “paw” or “foot?” After a rain storm, or when I wash off my dogs’ muddy feet, they automatically lift up a “foot” for me to dry off. You can teach “teeth,” “ears,” and “eyes” if you do regular grooming of your dog’s face. This way it goes smoother, and the dog is relaxed because he knows what to expect.
For those dogs that like to jump on your bed at night and crowd you out, teach them “off” and “bed.” Provide them with a nice, soft doggy bed beside your own. For “off,” when the dog jumps up on the bed or couch, toss some treats on the floor and tell him “off.” He should pick up on this relatively quickly. For “bed,” sit on the floor several feet away from his bed, toss a treat onto it and tell him “bed.” Praise him when he walks over and picks up the treat. Do this a few times until he starts getting the idea of where his “bed” is. Tell him “wait.” Have him stay there for a few seconds, then release and praise. Continue having him wait for longer time periods until he starts understanding and stays there. If you want him to stay there throughout the night, you will need to put up an exercise pen or other blockade to keep him in. You can do this with a crate also.
Some words can be very useful for his safety or for the safety of people who may interact with him. “Gentle” is good for dogs to know so that they don’t chomp down on the hand that is feeding them a treat, especially little kids who frequently have their hands wrapped around the treat. “Give it” or “drop it” is excellent to use when the dog has something in his mouth that you either don’t want him to chew on, or that could harm him. “Leave it” is similar, but tells the dog to leave something alone that he finds interesting but shouldn’t be touching.
Training these words is fairly easy. With “gentle,” place a treat in palm of your hand and wrap your thumb around it. Offer it to the dog, palm side up. If he tries to grab it, close your hand and wait for him to relax. Offer it to him again, lifting your thumb slightly to expose the treat. Say “gentle” and let him take it from your hand. If he lunges, wrap your hand around it. Continue to work with him until he can gently take the treat from your hand.
“Give it” is taught by asking the dog to give you whatever he has in his mouth. This can be trained in conjunction with “take it”. Using a toy that you can grab easily, encourage him to “take it,” praising him when he begins to hold it in his mouth. Let him play with it for a few minutes, then ask him to “give it.” Swapping a favorite treat for the toy will encourage him to “drop it” or “give it.”
The command “leave it” could be used when encountering a nice delectable, dead critter on the sidewalk, the neighbor’s cat, or the hamburger wrapper blowing across the yard. Starting with the dog on leash, use a toy or treat. With the dog sitting in front of you, hold the item in your hand, with another similar item in your other hand behind your back. When he reaches for it, tell him “leave it”, and when he pulls away, reward him with the one behind your back. Continue working in this way until your dog shows that he understands the command. When taking him for walks, watch him closely, and when he starts to go towards something which you don’t want him to have, tell him “leave it” and reward him with a treat or toy.
This list of words will get you started and can be easily added to. As you go through your day, try to think of other words that can be helpful. Look for instances where you could easily teach your dog new words. As your dog’s vocabulary grows, so too will your relationship with your dog as he begins to better understand what is expected of him and how to work with you.
If you want to teach your dogs more words, check out Teresa Gary’s book English for Dogs.