Learn to teach an old dog new tricks
Veteran dog trainer Babette Haggerty unleashes her trade secrets for training onscreen pooches in her new book, 'The Best Dog Tricks on the Planet.' She maintains that any pup, from the family pet to movie stars can in fact learn new tricks.
| Los Angeles
If it seems like your dog knows every trick in the book, try changing books.
Babette Haggerty, veteran dog trainer to the stars, has packed 106 teach-them-yourself stunts into her new book, "The Best Dog Tricks on the Planet." Pets that master the basic sit, stay and heel commands can learn to help around the house and even appear to read, pirouette or do the "Hokey Pokey," she says, picking up party tricks to dazzle guests or special talents for TV and movie work.
Teaching canines of the rich and famous is a trait she picked up from her legendary father.
Ms. Haggerty, 45, of Oakland, N.J., figures she has trained 1,000 dogs over the years, many at her school, Babette Haggerty's School for Dogs. She's got a ways to go to catch dad Arthur "Captain" Haggerty, who died in 2006 at age 74. He trained an estimated 100,000 dogs.
The elder Haggerty handled dogs or appeared as an extra in more than 150 films and about 450 commercials. He also pioneered "Stupid Pet Tricks" on David Letterman's late-night show and appeared on it 26 times. His 1977 book "Dog Tricks" is still selling well, and many credit him with turning dog training into an honorable profession.
Her dad's best advice: "The dogs come first. Do whatever is best for the dogs," she said.
Haggerty, who dedicated her book to her father, worked with him on the soap operas "Guiding Light" and "All My Children."
Her father always encouraged her creativity. So, she didn't just teach Jimmy Buffett's Maltese to dance, but taught him to dance to "Margaritaville." She didn't just teach Jack Nicklaus' golden retriever to bark on command, but taught it to bark six times when you asked, "Cali, how many times has daddy won the Masters?"
The book might come in handy for pet owners who need an extra paw around the house. Your dog can learn to fetch your keys, its food dish, a newspaper, or the mail, she said. It can hold the dust pan, sort laundry or serve as your wakeup call. Or maybe you prefer the more difficult tricks: playing a toy-size piano, pushing a skateboard, or hitting a baseball off a small tee.
One satisfied customer is Candice Ball of New York City. She was tired of wasting money on training classes that didn't work for her or her 6-year-old shih tzu, Toshi.
"I failed the classes," she said. "He wasn't treat-motivated. We sat and stared at each other. Then someone recommended Babette."
There were no treats – just praise – and it was effortless, Ball said. A well-trained Toshi has since appeared on "Law and Order: SVU," the final episode of "30 Rock" and in a New York Yankees commercial for MasterCard. He can also be seen appearing to read on page 154 of Haggerty's book, released in October by Page Street Publishing and co-authored by Barbara Call.
What Haggerty promised in her book is true, Ball said. She and Toshi are having lots more fun now that they are doing so much together.
In the book, each trick comes with photos, a hand signal, the tools needed (clicker, praise, or treats), the average time it takes to learn it, difficulty (beginner, intermediate, and advanced), advice from the expert and problem solving.
A lot of the tricks take time and repetition, Ball said, from "dig on command" (beginner) to "get your leash" (intermediate) to "climb a ladder" (advanced).
Some dogs are not as eager to please as others, and Haggerty said she has to get around that. "But I have met owners who were harder to train than the most difficult dogs."
The standard poodle is probably the easiest dog to teach, Haggerty said, and female dogs might be a little more compliant than males.
To answer the question about old dogs and new tricks, Haggerty said she just took in a 9-year-old pooch she will train for the next month while its family adjusts to a new baby at home. The dog has never had training.
As with most things, the basics will make everything after that easier, she said.
"They have a better chance of success, and it opens the door to so many more tricks. If your dog doesn't have a good solid 'stay,' getting them to 'dead-dog' is going to be a lot more difficult," she said of the trick in which a dog rolls over on its back and plays dead.
"A few tricks make it easier for everyday families to have once-in-a-lifetime dogs," she added.