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A dog can be your best friend. He can be your companion. And he can be taught to do many things, from helping you around the house and serving your needs. He can even be trained to count. Training concepts to your dog can be as simple as shaping or conditioning him to recognize what he is doing and connect that to the rewards he gets.
If you’ve ever wondered if you have a dog who can learn a concept such a counting, you might be surprised to learn just how simple it is to teach him. Turn your pup into a math wizard by teaching him to count with you or recognize counting as a trick. You can train your dog to tell you a number through barks or even recognize a number and communicate that to you.
Conceptual training should be positive reward based learning moments. Training your furry best friend to count will be repetitive shape training. As you teach Fido the concept of counting, you will be rewarding him with high-value treats and giving him time to connect your words, his communications, and the rewards together. Before you decide to train your pup to count, be sure to train him basic obedience commands and the command to speak or bark first. Target training also helps your dog learn to count, so spend some time training your dog how to target specific items before teaching him how to count.
Teching your dog to count occurs by training him to recognize numbers and verbalize those numbers to you, or your pup can recognize a number of items you show him and communicate that number to you verbally or by touching a target.
As you begin training your dog to count, be prepared with items for him to count. These should be the same items for each session to keep training consistent. You’ll need high-value treats to reward your pup for counting. Keep your training sessions short and pay attention to how much of your dog’s attention you have. Your training sessions should also be free of distractions. If you want your pup to communicate a number to you by targeting, you’ll also need number targets. These can be electronic buttons your pup can recognize audibly as well as visually or they can be as simple as a piece of paper with the number written clearly.
The Tell Me Method
Start with some tasty treats for rewards for Fido. Sit with your dog in an area free of distractions.
Train your dog to bark on command by getting him to bark and use the ‘tell me’ command. Do something to get your dog to bark. You can encourage him with a treat or a knock on the floor. Once he barks, say ‘tell me’ and reward him.
Once your dog understands the ‘tell me’ command, start adding a counting command to it. Start with one first by asking your dog to 'tell me' and then add "one" to the command. Though the word "one" will be new to the command, your dog should bark once. After you ask him to bark once and he does so, be sure to give him a treat. You can also hold up one finger during this training to connect hand signals to the command.
Keep practicing this new command with the word "one" added to the 'tell me' command. Have your dog bark several times using this new command before moving on to additional numbers.
Say to your dog, "tell me two." Your dog should bark at the 'tell me' command because he recognizes that. The word "two" is new to him. When he barks once, do not give him a treat. Your pup might think you missed his bark and will bark again. On this second bark, give him the treat. You can also add two fingers for a hand signal.
Continue to repeat this new command using the new command "tell me two" until your dog is barking consistently back to back twice before earning his reward. Go back and practice with one and then add two to the mix so your dog starts to understand the difference between the two. Be sure he has these two commands down before you add more.
Continue to add a new number to your command with a hand signal and practice as your dog barks that exact number of times. Be sure you are practicing what your dog has learned before moving on to the next number. This could take several sessions. Avoid moving on to the next number too early so your dog is not confused.
Always reward your dog as he counts by barking the number of times you have asked him to bark. Do not reward him if he doesn’t hit that number. Though it may be tempting to reward him for barking and participating, rewarding him when he doesn’t make the number will be confusing for him.
The Eyes and Hands Method
Sit in front of your pup with treats on hand ready for training.
Place a treat in your left hand and hold your right hand up ready to signal the number of barks you’d like to hear from your dog. Show your dog the treat in your left hand and hold a number one up with your right hand. Give a command to speak.
While you are giving your dog the command to speak one time, look into his eyes. This communicates to him that you are waiting for him to respond. If he hasn’t learned the command 'speak' yet, you can go back and train that or be patient because he will eventually talk to you if you are holding a treat and looking at him but not doing anything else.
When your dog barks once, give him the treat and break eye contact.
Practice this several times with one bark. Be sure you are consistent in your training. Hold your one finger up, ask your dog to speak, hold eye contact until he barks once, and give him a reward. Try not to move on to two barks until your pup has mastered one bark.
Once your dog has the bark once command down, move on to training him to bark twice. Hold up two fingers to signal a new command. Ask your dog to speak and hold eye contact with him. He may only bark once at first. Hold your eye contact and wait for that second bark. He will get curious and wonder why he’s not getting the treat yet. Once curiosity sinks in, he will bark a second time. When he does, give him the treat and break eye contact.
Keep practicing counting one bark and two barks before moving on to three barks. Continue to use this method to train your dog to count several times by hand signal. Use your eye contact and hand signals to communicate your commands.
The Target Counting Method
Items and targets
Choose the items you will use to train your dog to count. These can be simple toys or even treats. If your dog has no self-control, you may consider using a toy instead of a treat at the beginning of your training. You will also need to choose your targets. You can choose electronic targets that say the number out loud for your dog to hear or you can use a simple piece of paper with the number written clearly on the paper.
Place the target on the floor in front of your dog. Show your dog the toy you are going to use for the number one count. Show it to your dog and then tap it to the target and say "one".
Start asking your dog 'how many' as you repeat the process from the step above. Ask your dog how many, show him the toy, tap the toy to the target and say the number "one". Give your dog a treat every time he looks at the toy and the target acknowledging them both.
You want your dog to acknowledge the target not just look at the target. To acknowledge the target, he is going to have to touch it with a paw or sniff it with his nose. Practice getting your dog to touch the target each time you hold up the toy and touch the target.
After several times targeting the toy to the target that says number one and repeating the word "one" to your dog, begin to ask him how many. Hold up the toy and say 'how many?' Your dog should either look at the target with the number one, touch his paw to the target, or sniff the target. Be sure to reward him when he touches the target.
Add a second item and a target with the number two on it to your training mix. Practice with both targets and only one toy expecting your dog to always choose the target that says number one. Introduce the second toy and touch both toys to the target that says number two.
Repeat the steps above with two items and both targets, one and two. When you show your dog one toy, the expectation should be that he touches the target one. When you show him two toys he should touch the target that reads two. This will take lots of time and practice.
As your dog gets used to target training based on the number of toys you show him and touching his paw or his nose to the appropriate target with the correct number, you can begin to increase the number even more. Start with three and then go to four and so on.
Practice every day over the course of several small sessions without distractions with one toy, then two toys, then three toys, and so on. Be sure to give your dog an opportunity to choose from all of the targets based on the number of toys you show him.
By Stephanie Plummer
Published: 03/07/2018, edited: 01/08/2021
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