Jump to section
Training your dog to pick up laundry gives your dog a job that they can do to help with household chores. Not only will it save you time and effort, it will give him a sense of accomplishment and a fun job that provides mental and physical stimulation.
This can be especially beneficial for herding and working dog breeds who can become neurotic if they do not have a sense of purpose. However, any breed of dog can learn this valuable trick given enough time and patience.
Another benefit of this trick is to curb unwanted behaviors such as chewing or stashing socks, a habit many dogs pick up as puppies. Giving him an appropriate alternative behavior that is rewarded will eventually extinguish the unwanted old behavior.
Doing laundry is a bit of an advanced trick because it has multiple steps and requires the use of several training techniques. The good news is that if you choose to tackle this training work, you and your dog will pick up valuable skills that will translate to teaching many other tricks.
Before you get started, think about what method will be most convenient for you. Do you want her to put the clothes in a basket, the laundry room, or sort it into piles? We have provided three different guides so you can train any of these options.
Expect to take several training sessions to train this complex behavior. The more experienced you and your canine are at training together, the faster the process will go. Remember to keep training sessions short enough that she stays engaged and excited. Ignore unwanted behavior when training, focusing instead on rewarding behavior that is getting closer to your ultimate goals.
Here are a few pointers to make the most of your training sessions:
Treats: If you have a very food motivated dog, you can often get away with using their regular portion of kibble, mixed with a few special tasty treats such as tiny pieces of hot dog, cheese or chicken. A higher ratio of the special treats is recommended during the early stages of teaching a new behavior to keep your dog highly motivated.
Clicker: The methods we are using assume you have a clicker for training. However, if you do not, then just use a word that is only used for training and always gets a reward. An example would be “Yes!” said in a tone specific to training contexts.
Fading food rewards: When training new behavior, you will want a high reward rate to encourage your dog to confidently try to give you the behavior you are looking for. Once you have the trick where you want it, you can start to choose only the best examples of the behavior to reward, and start substituting non-food rewards, such as praise.
The Into the Basket Method
Start by sitting near a pile of dirty laundry and your empty laundry basket with your clicker (if you have one) and bag of treats in hand. Put the laundry basket right in front of you so that it is between you and your dog. Pick up a piece of clothing, hold it over the basket and encourage him to take it.
Lure the drop
Once the clothing is in his mouth, offer a treat near his face to encourage him to drop the item. If he drops it in the basket, click/reward. If he does not, pick up another piece and try again. Repeat this step until you have 5 consecutive repetitions of the baited drop into the basket.
Fade the lure
Immediately start to abbreviate the luring motion that you use to get your dog to drop the item. Instead of taking the treat right to his face, start only going a foot from his face, then two feet, then just holding your hand in the treat bag, then with your hand at your side. During this process, continue to click/treat for every successful drop in the basket. Once you have him dropping in the basket without the lure at all, repeat 15-20 times to really reinforce the drop in the basket.
Raise the bar
It is now time to fade handing your dog the item of clothing. Start picking up a piece of clothing, but just hold it over the pile, near the basket. Click/reward every time he successfully grabs the item and drop it in the basket. Repeat 20 times, trying to hold the item closer to the pile and farther from the basket as you go. Eventually you will no longer be picking up the item, rather just holding your hand over the pile and waiting for the dog to pick up a piece on his own.
Fade hand signals
Start to fade your hand motion until your dog is picking up a piece on their own and putting it in the basket. At this point you can add the command if your dog is reliably doing the trick on his own. Say “Basket!” as he picks up the piece, and click/reward every time he successfully drop in the basket. Repeat 15-20 times.
It is time to start putting some distance between the pile and the basket, as well as between you and your dog as he complete the task. Continue to click/treat every successful attempt, and make sure you are setting the bar low enough that your dog is successful at least 80% of the time so that you have a rapid reward rate.
Practice makes perfect
Spread the laundry out on the floor and continue the process of extending distance, including moving laundry to other rooms. Continue to also extend your distance from the basket. Eventually you will be able to have an item of clothing in another room with your dog putting the clothing in the basket reliably.
The Laundry Room Method
Start with laundry spread on the floor near the place in the laundry room where you want your dog to pile the laundry with your clicker and treats in hand.
Lure the drop
Pick up a piece of laundry that is near the pile location, hold it over the pile, and encourage her to take it. As soon as she takes it, offer her a treat to drop it in the pile. Click/treat. Repeat 5-10 times.
Fade the lure
Fade the lure as quickly as you can so that she starts to get closer and closer to picking up a piece of laundry and dropping it on the pile on her own. Click/reward every successful pick up and drop, ignoring any unwanted behavior.
Start to add distance between the laundry on the floor and the pile, as well as your distance from both. Make sure you are progressing slowly enough that she is successful at least 80% of the time and you are rewarding at a rate of once every 5-10 seconds. Remember, it is your job to set criteria so she has lots of success!
Add the cue
Once you are a few feet away, and she is reliably picking up laundry and dropping it on the pile, you can add the cue “Laundry” (or whatever you want to use) right as she goes to pick up the piece of clothing.
Practice makes perfect
Continue to gradually add distance until this trick is perfected from every room in the house, without you needing to guide her.
The Sort Into Piles Method
Decide what piles you normally sort your laundry into. Make sure that you keep in mind that your dog is color blind, so do not expect him to distinguish between colors. They can, however, tell the difference between lights and darks, or tell the difference between clothes and towels. Decide on the commands you will use for each pile, and make sure they sound very different. Decide on the location of the three piles, marking them with a sticky note or tape so you stay consistent. For the sake of this guide, we will assume you are using the categories “Lights,” “Darks,” and “Towels.”
Start with guidance
With your clicker and treats in hand, start with laundry spread out on the floor within a few feet of your pile locations. Pick up a dark piece, encourage your dog to take it in her mouth, and then guide her with your finger towards the right pile. As soon as she gets close to the right pile, offer a treat so she will drop the item while saying “Darks.” Click/treat when she drops it in or near the right pile.
Fade hand signals
Continue this process, keeping the bar low enough that she is successful often. This will keep the rate of reward high, which gives your dog confidence and increases the speed that she will learn. As you repeat, make sure you are trying to fade any lures or direction that you are giving as quickly as your dog is ready. Do not correct any mistakes, just ignore them and try again.
With enough repetition close by, over the course of several training sessions, she will be doing the trick without you giving hand cues or lures. Once you are at this stage, and she clearly understands the different items/piles, you can start putting distance between the laundry and the piles. Guide as necessary, but remember to fade your signals as quickly as she is ready.
Practice makes perfect
You can now start spreading the pile and putting distance between you and your dog. Over the course of many training sessions, you will find that she can pick up a piece of laundry in one room and drop it in the right pile without you even being in the room. Continue to practice daily.
By Sharon Elber
Published: 01/19/2018, edited: 01/08/2021