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My Pet World: Reward tricks with treats to help dogs learn new behaviors

By Cathy M. Rosenthal, Tribune Content Agency on

Dear Cathy,

My neighbors moved away and could not take their dog with them. We took Buster in with us. He is a five- or six-year-old lab mix. Buster took to his new surroundings very well. He is housebroken, very gentle and obedient. All in all, he's a very nice dog and we are happy with him, except when it's supper time; he is at the table just waiting for table scraps. No matter where he is in the house, if we open the fridge door, he shows up. We assume he did this with his previous owners. Can we teach this old dog new tricks? -- Dave, Lynbrook, NY

Dear Dave,

You bet you can. No matter what age, dogs love to learn, and Buster sounds like a ready student. Even if you never hand him another table scrap, Buster's mental map won't let him forget someone once gave him a tasty treat from the table or fridge.

The trick is to replace the old behavior with an entirely new behavior and his love of treats will come in handy here. For example, when he shows up at the table during meal time, stand up, point your right arm and finger over his body and in the direction that you want him to go, and say the word "out." You may have to take a few steps toward him to move him in the right direction.

Once he complies and is where you want him, ask Buster to "sit," "down," and "stay" where he can still see you. Then give him a dog treat for complying. Initially, you may have to do this several times during a meal for several weeks until he completely understands what you want. He should eventually take his position just outside the dining room when meal time occurs because he knows that is where he will get his treat. Give him a treat after dinner too when he learns to not beg anymore.

 

The same technique can be done to keep him out of the kitchen too. Just always remember to mark the behavior with a marker word, like "bingo," or a "click" from a clicker, and then give him a treat. Be consistent over the next few weeks and I promise he will learn what you expect from him.

Dear Cathy,

Last year, I adopted two male cats who were not previously paired. Fred is about 10 years old, is mellow and sleeps all day. Casanova is two years old, sweet and affectionate cat, but also a stinker toward Fred. When Fred is sleeping, Casanova suddenly pounces on him. Currently, Fred is missing some fur on his side. I don't know how to stop this behavior. There are separate areas for food as well as two litter boxes. Any help would be appreciated. -- Leslie, Chicago, IL

Dear Leslie,

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