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You run a tight ship at home. Things are neat and tidy and everyone has been brought up with good manners. When it comes to dinner time, everyone sits down for meals together. Rather than simply digging in, everyone knows to bow their heads for a quick moment of quiet and words of thanks.
So why should the newest addition to your household, your puppy, behave any differently? Teaching your puppy to stop and "say grace" before a meal will not only force him to stop and consider his food before chowing down, but will also show your friends and family what an angel he really is!
Of course, your puppy might not understand the true meaning of grace or prayer, but that doesn't mean you can't teach him to go through the motions. Saying "grace" can be as simple as asking your puppy to pause in front of their dinner, or can be as complicated (and as cute!) as asking your pup to "bow his head" on a chair.
Because these training methods involve meals, remember to be patient with your pup. Asking him to wait and "pray" before digging in is a pretty big task! As always, training is best achieved when practiced in a quiet, calm environment with minimal distractions.
You will need:
- A clicker (if your puppy has been trained to respond to clicker training)
- Your dog's dinner
- A chair
The Sitting Grace Method
Rely on what you know
This training method is best taught when your pup already has a good knowledge of the basics, in this case, how to 'sit' and how to 'stay' when asked.
Decide on a release word
Previously when teaching your pup to stay, you might have "released" him from his stay with a simple phrase like "OK" or "that'll do" or "come here." For this behavior, try teaching your pup a new release word related to the idea of saying grace: "Amen." Have your dog sit, ask him to stay, and practice "releasing" him from his stay with the word "Amen." Praise and treat him every time he releases his stay in response to "Amen".
This is a new word and a new skill, so be sure to practice, practice, practice before moving on, to make sure your dog has "got it".
Add your dog's meal to the mix
When your pup is successfully staying until you say "Amen," enter his dinner into the equation instead of treats. Ask him to sit and stay, then set his food down in front of him. At first say "Amen" immediately and let him eat, but gradually add more time before releasing him to eat. Only praise and reward him with his food when he stays put until you say "Amen." If he rushes for his food dish, take his bowl away and try again.
Put it all together
Once your pup has mastered his 'sit', 'stay' and the idea of only releasing his stay when you say "Amen," try adding an actual prayer into the mix! Ask him to sit and stay, set his dinner in front of him, and try saying a quick prayer before releasing him to eat with your "Amen" command. Then you can practice this skill, adding length to your prayer, until your dog can sit and stay during your family's grace, and dig in with the rest of you!
The Prayer Hands Method
Teach your dog to put his paws together
Ask your dog to sit. Hold out your hands to him, with your palms up. What you are looking for is for your dog to place both of his paws in your open hands. If you've already taught him to 'shake hands', this should be easy. There might be some trial and error involved until he figures out what you're asking of him, but the key is to only treat him (or click your clicker if he's used to it) when he successfully places both paws in your palms.
This method also relies on your dog understanding the 'stay' skill. If your dog has not yet learned how to stay, stop and concentrate on teaching that behavior before continuing. You want your dog to be able to stay while you set his food down in front of him, and only approach it when you release him from his 'stay'.
Teach your dog his "release" word
Instead of a release phrase like "OK" or "go for it," teach your dog to hold his stay until you say "Amen." Start with a short stay until you say "Amen," and once he comes to associate that word with the signal to break his stay and start eating, you can wait a bit longer between asking him to stay and "releasing" him.
Combine your dog's skills
The next step is to put what your dog has learned thus far together. Ask your dog to sit, ask him for his paws, and then give his 'stay' command. Now he should be staying with his paws in your hands until you say "Amen." Again, start with a short stay duration, and then practice asking your dog to stay for longer before releasing him.
Add your prayer
Once your dog is staying well, add your grace while he is staying with his paws together, and then release him with your "Amen".
Just add food!
Training with treats as rewards and without your dog's meal to distract him is probably easiest, but once he is staying well with his paws up until you say "Amen," try the behavior with his food bowl on the ground. Practice, practice, practice until he is only digging into his dinner after grace, and after hearing you say "Amen".
The Head Bowed Method
Teach paws up...
Your pup should already know how to sit before starting this training method. Ask him to sit as you start your training session. You can then sit on a chair in front of him. The goal here is for him to put both of his paws up on your thighs while you sit. This behavior might take some trial and error to hit just right; just be sure to only praise and give your dog reward treats when he figures out what you want, and when he repeats the behavior successfully.
...and head down
Once your pup has mastered putting both paws on your thigh, teach him to then bow his head. You can help communicate what you want by tapping the chair, drawing his attention and his head down, and immediately treating him for hitting that mark. Practice, rewarding him each time he bows his head with his paws up on your thighs.
Hopefully your dog already knows how to stay. If not, you'll want to teach him this skill before proceeding. Assuming he understands the concept of a "stay" already, ask him to stay once his paws are up and his head is down.
Teach your dog "Amen"
Next, teach your puppy that in this case the "release" word from his stay is not "OK" or "that's good," but "Amen." Start with a short stay before giving the release word, and then add more time between "stay" and "Amen".
Add your prayer
Once your dog is able to stay with his paws together and head bowed for a good amount of time before saying "Amen," add your grace between asking him to stay and releasing him.
This skill is best taught without distractions such as your dog's dinner bowl, but once he has it down, try the behavior with his bowl on the ground. Make sure he stays in position until you say "Amen," and then he can reward himself by digging in!
By Michelle Anne Olsen
Published: 01/22/2018, edited: 01/08/2021