How to Teach Any Dog New Tricks

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So you think your pooch could perform like Wishbone if only you knew the training secrets of the pros? Stop right there, says Soccer's owner and trainer, Jackie Kaptan. There are no secrets, just sure-fire techniques.

"I train dogs with three things: food, praise, and toys," Ms. Kaptan says. "You have to have all three. I call it 'play-drive.' " She gives Soccer 20 minutes of obedience training, then lets him play. "Soccer's work is just a big game to him," she says.

Kaptan says dog-owners can get the basics in any good obedience class. The key to a successful class experience is consistency and repetition. "Most people lose interest in training their dogs if they don't see progress right away," Kaptan says. But if owners did 15 minutes a day, five days a week for the full eight weeks of a course, they'd get the results they want.

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Obedience must be maintained, too. "Some people say, 'Gee, I wish I could just have Soccer, he's so well-trained!' Well, I could give you my dog and if you didn't keep up his training, you'd be giving him right back to me in a few days saying you couldn't do anything with him!"

Children are often the best animal trainers in a family because they have the patience, gentleness, and persistence that training requires. "If you've ever seen a little girl with her kitten in a doll buggy, you know what I mean," Kaptan says, and laughs. "She'll put that kitten back into the buggy over and over, with more patience and persistence than any adult."

And what about those nifty tricks Wishbone can do, such as the backward flip that won Soccer the lead role on "Wishbone"? Kaptan says the key to tricks or complicated actions is to break them down into parts, small steps a dog can understand and eventually put together.

Is there such a thing as an untrainable dog? Any dog can learn basic obedience, Kaptan says, but not all dogs can become performing pros. "I get my dogs from everywhere - the pound, breeders, whatever." She can tell within six months if a dog can become a performer.

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