How to Train Your Dog to Sort Laundry

Medium
2-3 Weeks
Chores

Introduction

Maria just had a new baby and there is laundry everywhere, no time to play with her little dog Sadie! Maria’s quick-witted, active little Sheltie is starting to misbehave because she is bored. Maria doesn't have time to go for long walks and play with her the way she used to, and Sadie is a little jealous of the baby, who has seriously cramped her style. Because Sadie is from working breed stock, she is always looking for a job to do and is highly motivated to perform tasks, but if she doesn't have an outlet, this energy and direction may manifest in inappropriate behavior, like dismantling the contents of the garbage!  

A solution occurs to Maria: get Sadie to help with some household chores, like sorting laundry! Not only can Sadie learn to help sort laundry into piles before washing, but it will be fun for Sadie to learn, give Maria and Sadie some quality time together, and make Sadie feel like she is doing a job. Although people may not love having chores to do, working dogs actually thrive off of it!  

Defining Tasks

Before washing, some people sort laundry into whites, colors, and darks. The problem with this is that your dog does not perceive color the same way as you do, and it will be hard for him to distinguish between a red shirt and a blue shirt! You will have to either adjust your expectations or come up with a workaround to have your dog help you sort laundry. You can either just separate out light laundry or you can teach your dog to sort laundry by type. Perhaps socks and jeans in one load, sheets and linens in another, towels separate, and shirts all together. Teaching your dog to separate and sort laundry by item can be fairly complex so you will have to spend lots of time working with your dog and helping shape the behavior.  If your dog has the ability to sort laundry, it can be very useful for people who have impaired mobility, or, it can be a fun way to engage kids in chores, working with the dog to create a fun game. 

You will need to first teach your dog to pick up and handle clothing items. Since your dog doesn't have opposable thumbs, he will be using his mouth!  Then you will want to teach your dog to drop the items in separate piles or in baskets. Next, you will need to teach your dog to distinguish between different laundry items, either by color or by type. You may need to provide your dog direction on this, as he can't distinguish items based on color the way you can, but with practice, your dog can learn to separate types of laundry; for example, socks from towels, lights from darks. These skills can then be strung together to get your dog to sort laundry prior to washing, and maybe even afterwards, putting laundry for different members of the household in different baskets. Too bad your dog can’t fold the laundry too!

Getting Started

While training your dog,  use laundry that you are not concerned about your dog handling in his mouth. Towels, socks and work clothes are usually tough enough to endure a dog picking them up and dragging them around in his mouth, your white, lacy silk negligee may not be! Start by using laundry that is significantly different in type or color. Remember, dogs do not have the same color vision as us, although they see some color, they do not perceive all the colors we do. Use whites and darks, or socks versus t-shirts, versus towels, for training purposes. Use different types of laundry baskets too, so your dog can distinguish between them. Remember, colors may not provide a good visual cue, different types of baskets may work better. Have lots of treats present, and patience. If you make this fun for your dog, he will be super cooperative and a motivated dog will learn much faster.

The Dark vs. Light Method

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Step
1
Start with pile of dark and light laundry
Have your dog sit next to a pile of laundry containing light and white shirts and sheets, and dark towels and jeans. If you have a laundry room, or a specific location where you will want him to do this chore, work in that area.
Step
2
Present light items
Pick up a light colored item and hold it out to your dog, say “light”, present the item to your dog. When he takes the item in his mouth praise him.
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3
Direct to light pile
Now lead your dog to an empty basket, preferably white, or a spot on the floor marked with an X of tape on the floor with white masking tape or duct tape. When you get to the sort location, stop and present your dog with a treat when he drops the laundry item in the correct location, provide the treat. Continue practicing with light items and increase distance gradually. Start with providing the article of laundry, only a few feet away from the destination, so your dog doesn't have to carry the item far and risk dropping it
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4
Repeat for dark items
Start introducing dark items, say “dark”, and have an X marked on the floor with black duct tape for your dog to drop darks, or a dark colored laundry bin. Repeat the same process as for light laundry.
Step
5
Reduce direction and treats
Eventually reduce the direction you provide, and just say “darks” and “lights” to direct sorting, Reduce treats given, providing a treat only after all laundry is sorted into light and dark piles.
Recommend training method?

The Sort by Type Method

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Step
1
Determine groups
Have a pile of laundry containing socks, jeans, towels, shirts and underwear. Determine what articles you want in which basket. For example towels, shirts and underwear in one basket, jeans and socks in another, and come up with verbal commands to associate with types of laundry. Your dog does not know English so this can be arbitrary, or just use one named item to represent several, such as towels for the first group and socks for the second.
Step
2
Present first laundry type
Sit your dog on the other side of a laundry bin from you and present a towel, undie or shirt, and say “towel” “take it” over the bin, encourage your dog to take the item in his mouth. When he does, praise him.
Step
3
Teach release item at location
Then say “drop it” and present a treat in your hand. When your dog drops the item in the basket provide the treat. Practice repeatedly with all items in that laundry group using the verbal command for that type of laundry so your dog becomes familiar with what that laundry group consists of.
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4
Make more difficult
Gradually start requiring your dog to pick the item out of the laundry pile and increase the distance your dog has to go to the basket. If your dog makes a mistake and takes the wrong type of laundry, ignore him, say "no" gently, do not reward him, wait for him to make the right choice and then reward.
Step
5
Teach next group
Now introduce the next laundry group, using a separate command, such as “socks” to refer to socks and jeans, and use a different type of laundry basket for your dog to put that type of laundry into. Repeat the process as for the first type of laundry. Practice lots so your dog knows what laundry is in the second grouping.
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6
Mix it up
Now present mixed laundry to your dog and say “sort socks” and then “sort towels”. Let your dog pick items from the pile, and put in either the first, or second laundry basket depending on what items belong to what group. Encourage your dog and reward him at the end of the task.
Recommend training method?

The Click to Sort Method

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Step
1
Prepare laundry and use clicker and treats.
Put a pile of laundry on the floor, and a basket in front of you. Hold a clicker and treat pouch, if your dog is familiar with this training method he will start to investigate, to figure out what will trigger clicking and treating.
Step
2
Reinforce handling laundry
Go over to the laundry pile and start handling laundry, when your dog investigates clothes, click and treat. Next, require your dog to touch the laundry with his nose, click and treat, then require your dog to pick up an item in his mouth before you click and treat. Increase requirements, have your dog hold the laundry item before providing a click and treat.
Step
3
Direct to basket
Once your dog is holding the laundry item in his mouth, lead him over to the laundry basket holding the item. You can provide some guidance by holding your hand with a treat over the basket. When your dog releases the item in, or even on or near the basket, click and treat, gradually require your dog to be more accurate getting the item in the basket.
Step
4
Reinforce sorting
Now provide more than one basket, and start directing your dog to put different types of laundry in different baskets. For example, lights versus darks, or towels versus clothing. Call your dog over to the appropriate basket depending on what type of item he has in his mouth, and click and treat when he drops the correct item in the correct basket.
Step
5
Reduce clicker and treats
Gradually reduce the amount of direction you give your dog, and provide treats only periodically, then, only after the task is completed.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

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