Treats, tricks TRAINING
Training your pet provides enjoyment and stimulation for everyone involved, and strengthens your bond, says DR PETER KIRKPATRICK
Teaching pets new tricks and training them in obedience is fun, interactive and one of the best brain stimulations you can give them. (The old saying ‘You can’t teach a dog new tricks’ is not true!) And we’re not just talking about dogs. Our story about Marshmallow the dog-cat (see box) shows how cats can also learn some tricks. Consistent, regular training is one of the best pastimes you can have with your pets, so remember to enjoy their learning experience. Here are the basics.
Consistent training is important at any age, but you need to make sure that you’re not undoing all your good work by continuing to train when your pet’s attention has wandered, or when she’s too tired.
Young animals lose interest quickly, just like children do, so keep your training short and positive. Once her attention has wandered, take a break and try again later. Five-minute sessions are a great achievement. Older animals may get tired quickly, but generally 15–20 minutes or longer of solid training is achievable.
who can do it?
The more people in your household who participate in training, the quicker you’ll see positive results and have a pet who listens to more than one person. Commands, cues and rewards need to be consistent from everyone. Pets easily become confused if different words, hand gestures or tones are used, so it’s a good idea to first decide on methods as a household, then practise together until everyone is training in the same way.
how does it work?
There are a number of different training methods out there, but the method that reliably provides fun and quick results is using treats and voice affirmations as positive reward-based training. Once your pet has mastered her skills, you can slowly stop using treats and simply stick with positive praise.
For effective training, use small but high-value treats that are not part of meals or other everyday feeding. It’s best to limit these treats to training time, so your pet looks forward to this time with you. A cooked chook, liver treats and other smelly or tasty foods that can easily be broken up into small pieces are ideal. If your pet is picky, try a paste such as peanut butter, Vegemite or cream cheese in small amounts.
It is important not to overfeed treats – with their high fat content, this may result in pancreatitis, which is a painful condition. It’s best to use foods that can be broken into smaller pieces. A good measure is to make the treats no bigger than one of your fingernails (little fingernail for small dogs or cats; thumbnail for larger dogs). If your pet isn’t picky, try vegetables such as carrots or peas, or small pieces of apple.