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Lucy came into your life and nothing has been the same since. For example, it is no longer possible to clean every room entirely, because there is always some dog hair hiding somewhere. You also can’t watch TV on the sofa on your own anymore, as your little puppy always wants to be cuddled up with you watching the Kardashians too. In addition, you never throw food away anymore. You have your very own portable food recycling bin. Apart from the above benefits, your puppy is also extremely switched on and has picked up a long list of basic commands.
However, now you would like to up her training to the next level. You want to train your puppy to balance things on her head. The main motivation is that it will look hilarious, making for the perfect Instagram or Snapchat story. But this type of training will also stimulate Lucy and keep her occupied.
Although it may look complex, teaching your puppy to balance things on their head is actually pretty easy. The difficult part is initially showing them what it is you want them to do. Once they understand that, you just need to reinforce training with consistent practice and tasty treats. You will use a simple command to get them to hold still and balance.
If your pup is eager to please then training could take as little as a few days. However, if your puppy is stubborn and more interested in charging around your house than learning, then you may need a while longer. It could be a couple of weeks before you see consistent results. If you get training right you’ll have a fantastic way to keep guests entertained. Not to mention you’ll have a portable bedside table if you need to pop something down for a couple of minutes!
Before you begin training, you will need to check you have everything you need. So stock up on mouth-watering treats or break your puppy's favorite food into small chunks. You will also need toys and a light, flat object, depending on the method you choose.
Set aside just a few minutes each day for training. Just make sure there aren’t noisy children charging around the house. Also, keep other pets out of the room, you don’t want either of you getting distracted.
Once you have all that, just bring patience and an optimistic attitude, then work can begin!
The Leave It Method
The first thing you need to do is train your puppy to leave a treat alone. So hold a treat in your hand in front of them. Keep your hand closed, but make sure they can sniff around it. At the same time, issue a ‘leave it’ command in a playful tone. Note you can use any word or phrase you like. You may want to just use ‘balance’.
Your dog will spend a little while trying to get to the treat. But once they give up and look up at you, say ‘YES’ in a high-pitched tone and then hand over the treat. You can also throw in some more praise to further reinforce that they have done the right thing.
Now place the treat on the floor and issue the command again. Spend a couple of days practicing like this. Keep training until you can instruct the pup to leave whatever it is on the floor for up to thirty seconds.
Up the stakes
Now kneel in front of your puppy. Gently hold the bottom half of their jaw with one hand, then place the treat on top of their head. As you do this, issue the ‘leave it/balance’ command.
Reward & practice
Only leave the treat there for a couple of seconds to begin with. Then hand over the tasty reward. As you practice, slowly stop holding their jaw. You can also start leaving the treat on their head for longer before you release them.
The Handling Method
The first thing to do is get your puppy used to having things touching their head. So gently hold their jaw and touch soft, flat items on their head. Only place it there for a second or so and then give a high-pitched ‘yes’ praise. You can also give them a treat. After a couple of days they will be relaxed and even eager to have things on their head.
Now take out one of their favorite treats. Make sure they can see it and then place it on a table or chair out of their reach. This will let them know that it’s time to concentrate because delicious food is on the cards. Now carefully balance an item on their head.
Stand in front of your puppy as you place the item down. Then move your hand away as you give a ‘balance’ command. Give in a playful tone. Then after a second or so, click if you use a clicker or say ‘yes’ to let release them.
Take the item off their head as you release them and then give them their treat. Hand over the reward and then give them some verbal praise. Remember the happier they feel, the more likely it is they will repeat the behavior again.
Increase the time
Now you just need to practice for a few minutes each day. The trick is to gradually increase the length of time you leave the object on their head for. You can then slowly start backing away too. Once they get the hang of it, gradually phase out the treats. By this point the verbal command alone will be enough to get them balancing.
The Sit & Balance Method
Take your puppy into a quiet room. Then stand before them holding either a treat or a toy. Both will help capture their attention. Then issue a ‘sit’ command. It will be much easier for them to balance an item if they are already sitting down.
Now issue a ‘balance’ command in a playful tone. Keep it light-hearted and up-beat. You can use any word or phrase you like for the instruction. However, make sure you only give it once. Otherwise you are teaching them that they don’t have to respond every time.
As you give the command, slowly move a flat item towards their head. Move it incredibly slowly so they stay still. Once you’ve got it level with Lucy's head, issue a ‘yes’ in a playful tone. You can then release them with a smile and give them a reward. The trick is rewarding them for staying still for a very short span of time to begin with.
Slowly move the item closer to the puppy's head each time. Then eventually touch their head with it gently. Then release them and hand over a treat. If you use a clicker when you train, you can also click instead of giving the ‘yes’ to let them know they’ve behaved correctly.
Increase the time
Once they are comfortable with it touching their head, you simply need to slowly extend the length of time you can leave the item balanced there. Do this over days or weeks. It’s also important to keep training sessions short, to just 10 minutes or so. Once they are fully into the swing of it, you can gradually phase out the treats.
By James Barra
Published: 04/17/2018, edited: 01/08/2021