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Oscar is a mischievous dog. You thought your young son was a menace enough, but your dog seems to have set a new bar. As soon as you’re sitting in the living room, you can hear him jumping up on the kitchen surfaces in search of food. When you take him out for a walk, he runs off at the first opportunity and refuses to return. All of this has meant you’d like to teach Oscar some obedience. But you know he isn't the best listener, so you want to teach him some easy, fun commands. This is a good way to keep things light-hearted and instill some discipline.
So one of the tricks you’d like to teach your dog is to sneeze. There’s nothing funnier than seeing a dog sneeze. Even the grumpy in-laws will crack a smile when they see your canine pal sneeze on command. It’s also a good way to channel his energy into something productive, ensuring he spends the evenings napping, affording you some much-needed peace and quiet.
Training your dog to sneeze probably isn’t as difficult as you might think. The trick is looking for situations in which he naturally sneezes. Once you have one of those, you just need to use positive reinforcements to cement the behavior. Alternatively, as you will see below, there are some measures you can take to encourage a sneeze. You can then introduce a verbal cue.
If your dog is a puppy, he should quickly get the hang of it. This is because puppies soak up information readily and are eager to please. But if Oscar is older and stubborn, then you may have your work cut out for you. It could be a week or two before he gets the hang of it. Stick with training and you’ll have the perfect party trick to show friends and family. You may also find that teaching him other tricks becomes easier too.
Before training can begin, you need to check that you have a few essentials. Make sure you have a generous supply of mouth-watering treats or break his favorite food into small chunks. You’ll also need a clicker and a toy for one of the techniques. In addition, a feather or a Kleenex will be required.
You’ll need some space to practice in. A quiet room or a yard often does the trick. Set aside around ten minutes each day for training at a time when neither of you will be distracted. Bear in mind, if you have a puppy, you should keep training sessions short or he'll quickly get bored.
The Encouragement Method
Take your dog into a quiet room and capture his attention. Holding up a treat or a toy usually does the trick. Make sure you have a Kleenex or a feather with you. You’re going to gently encourage a sneeze.
The next step is to have Oscar sit in front of you. Give the instruction just once in a playful voice. Continue to hold out the treat to keep his attention. Make sure you’re kneeling or sitting down so you can reach him easily.
Now use the feather or Kleenex to lightly tickle the end of his nose. Don’t be too rough or it won’t induce a sneezing sensation. Be patient as it may take a little while to begin with, but the sneeze will soon come.
Just as he sneezes, introduce a verbal cue. You can use any word or phrase you like for the instruction. Just make sure it’s given in a playful tone. You want your dog to think this is a big game.
Once he has indeed sneezed, you can then reward him. Give him a treat, play around with a toy, and always give him some verbal praise. Now simply practice a few more times and continue to do so over the next few days. Before you know it, Oscar will associate the command with the action and the verbal cue will trigger a sneeze every time.
The Monitor Method
Spend a couple of days playing extra close attention to Oscar. You’re searching for situations which naturally cause him to sneeze. This is often when dogs are lying on their back or they go into a new environment.
Once you’ve found that situation, put him in it. But just before, or as he sneezes, give a verbal cue. Give it only once as you want him to follow your instruction the first time, every time. Note that you can use any word or phrase you like. However, make sure it’s given in a high-pitched voice.
As soon as Oscar does then sneeze, be sure to shower him with love and a tasty treat or two. In fact, the happier he feels afterwards, the more eager he will be to play again. So don’t hold back and make sure he gets his treat quickly!
Now you simply need to practice regularly. Try it in lots of different situations until sneezing when he hears the instruction becomes a habit. But don’t train for too long, as it’s uncomfortable for him to be sneezing for half an hour.
Lose the rewards
Once your dog has got the hang of sneezing and understands the instruction, you can then phase out the rewards. At this point, treats and toys will no longer be required, as simply pleasing his owner will be enough.
The Clicker Method
A clicker is a great tool for dog training. Use it whenever he performs a behavior correctly and it acts as a signal, letting him know that he is on the right track. So start using it with Oscar for all obedience training.
Now you simply need to watch him closely and be ready with the clicker. As soon as he sneezes, you need to click to let him know that this was the right thing to do. This is the most time consuming part, so try not to get too frustrated if it takes him a little while to sneeze.
Once you do catch him in a sneeze and you click, you then need to follow it up with a reward. Give him a treat or play with a toy. Just try to do it within a few seconds of the sneeze so he understands the action is the reason for the reward.
Now introduce a ‘sneeze’ instruction as he sneezes. Dogs can learn hundreds of different commands, so use any word or short phrase. Just make sure it isn’t already being used in connection with another trick.
Phase out the rewards
Now your job is to practice regularly. Spend a few minutes each day training and Oscar will soon be an expert at sneezing on command. At this point, you can then slowly cut out the rewards and just rely on the clicker.
Written by James Barra
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 06/08/2018, edited: 01/08/2021