Get Your Kids Involved in Training Your Pets

2. Teach Your Pet a Base Behavior

One of the easiest ways to teach an animal — and a child — clicker training is by clicking for something the pet naturally does. Spend a couple of minutes with your child before she starts training just watching your pet to see what he already does naturally. Dogs might go into a sit or a down position; cats may jump or put a paw in the air. After observing your pet, decide with your child what behavior she would like to see repeated in the future. Next, help your child pick out the reward she will give your pet, such as a handful of treats (to be doled out one by one) for a dog or a bite of canned tuna on the end of a spoon for a cat.

Now you're ready to start your training session. The moment the pet does the behavior your child is looking for, have her mark this moment with a click or a verbal response ("good") and immediately follow up with a reward — just like she did when she was training you. Remember that timing is important: If your child is teaching her dog to sit, she needs to click the moment the animal’s bottom hits the floor.

Show your child how to offer treats safely. The best way for a child to give a dog a treat is to toss it on the ground or to hold it on her flat palm to prevent the dog from grabbing her fingers by mistake. If she is offering a cat food off a spoon, she only needs to give the cat one or two licks each time. If she's using a cat toy for a reward, only a few moments of play are needed. Once her pet is doing the behavior she was clicking for many times in a row, she can add in a verbal command to encourage the behavior, such as saying “sit” just as the dog is about to put his bottom on the floor.

Before you know it, your child will have taught her pet a new trick!

3. Teach Your Pet to Target

Once your child has mastered the basics of clicker training, you can work with her on teaching her pet to touch a target with his nose. The target can be a specially made target stick for pets, or it can be something simple like a wooden spoon. Targets are a building block for training because they can be used to teach your pet various tricks, including come when called, heel, spin, high five and jumping through a hoop.

Once again, your child will need to start small, such as clicking first for looking at a stationary target stick. Once her pet masters that, she can build up to having her pet follow a moving target stick. She may want to put peanut butter or canned food on the end of the stick to make her pet more likely to move toward it.

To get the training started, have your child stand with the target stick behind her back. While your pet is looking at your child, have her gently move the previously concealed target stick out from behind her back; as soon as the pet looks at the stick, she should click and reward, and then move the target stick out of view again. Have her wait a moment before she presents the target again.


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