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Have you ever wished that your pet would help you out around the house? After all, he lives there too! For many families that share a home with a dog, that dog is frequently seen as a member of the family, and as such, maybe he should have a job to do just as everyone in the home does. Your dog might not be able to start the washing machine or vacuum the living room, but that doesn’t mean he has to sit around and do nothing either!
Dogs have been assisting people in the home for many years now, whether it’s by fetching slippers, warding away strangers, or any number of other tasks. In fact, service dogs are often trained for many things to make life easier for their handlers, some of which may be seen as mundane or simple. However, these tasks can be invaluable for a handler who truly needs help. Even something as small as being able to turn on the lights can be a huge help.
Your dog doesn’t need to be a service dog to learn small things like turning on the lights for you when you enter a room. In fact, maybe you just want to teach him as a cool trick to impress guests when they come over! Either way, teaching your dog this small task can be fun and rewarding for both of you.
This task is best suited for larger dogs that can safely reach the light switch on your wall without having to resort to climbing up on anything dangerous or unstable. Big dogs do well with light switches, as their noses are larger and are better for flicking the switch on. This can also be done with a medium sized dog, as long as you provide an appropriate and safe step stool for them to use. It can be tricky, at first, to get your dog to understand what you’d like him to do, but this task gets easier with repetition. After a week or two of practice, your dog will be able to flick the lights on with ease whenever you enter a room.
Before you start training, ensure that your dog can safely reach your light switch without hurting himself or standing up on anything dangerous. This task is best done with light switches rather than lamps with pull strings, as those can be knocked over easily and may break.
Find a tool that works best for your dog to guide him up to the switch. It can be something like a laser pointer, a stick, or your hand. Have some treats on hand for frequent rewards, as this task can be a little confusing. Rewarding for each positive step in the right direction is crucial to really nail the behavior.
The Pointer Method
Familiarize your dog with the laser pointer
Laser pointers are often great fun for both cats and dogs. These tools can help your dog maintain focus on what you want him to, but be sure he’s actually interested in it. Remember to never shine the laser into your dog’s eyes, as it should only be used to point at things on the floor or wall.
Reward for laser focus
Start with pointing the laser at an area on the floor. As soon as your dog stops to focus on it, reward him.
Use a verbal command
Something like ‘focus’ or ‘point’ may work well. This will be used whenever you hold the pointer on a certain object and don’t move it. Remember to reward for your dog’s focus on the pointer.
Move it to the wall
Have the pointer stop on the lower part of the wall where your dog can still reach without leaping up. Reward for his focus.
Move gradually higher
Encourage your dog to start standing up on his hind legs by moving the pointer higher and higher. Go slowly on this step, as it may take your dog some time to understand what you want.
Focus on the light switch plate
Without having him nudge the switch just yet, reward your dog if he can focus on the light switch plate itself for a short amount of time.
Place the pointer right on the switch
Reward your dog if he nudges the switch with his nose at all, even if he doesn’t manage to turn it on.
Catch the moment
If he’s nudging around the light switch, reward the second he manages to turn on the light. If you have to go up and help him out at this stage, consider doing that as well. Flick on the light right when his nose is nudging the switch and that may help him attribute the act to the reward.
Using your previously established verbal command to ‘focus’, add a new one like ‘turn it on’ or another similar phrase when you’d like him to turn the lights on. Reward often until he can repeat the behavior without needing help.
The Guide Method
Take your dog to the wall
Using a treat as a lure, entice your dog over to the wall underneath the light switch.
Encourage your dog to put paws up
Continue to use the treat to encourage your dog to jump up and put both of her front paws on the wall. Reward when she manages to do so.
Lure the nose
Once your dog can reliably get up onto the wall, encourage her to use her nose to sniff out the treat in your hand. Reward her for doing so.
Guide to the light switch
Using your hand and the treat as a lure once again, guide your dog so that she can sniff at the switch. Use a word to identify the object like ‘light’ or ‘switch’ that she can use later for the task itself.
Place the treat just above the switch
With the treat just above the switch, have your dog sniff and nudge against the switch itself. If she flicks it on, reward enthusiastically.
Repeat until it’s familiar
Continue this process until your dog is familiar with the act of turning the switch on.
The Target Method
Teach your dog to target
Use your hand or another item like a plastic lid. Place it up to your dog’s nose and if he sniffs it, reward him. Use the word ‘target’ to associate the act of pressing his nose against the object as the task you want him to perform.
Have your dog target different objects
Use the lid or your hand to teach your dog to target different things like a spot on the wall, the side of a table, or other similar objects. Reward for proper targeting.
Target something high up
Before moving to the switch, have your dog begin to target taller items that require the use of his hind legs. Reward very often for these objects especially, as you want him to get a positive association to leaping up against the wall to reach something.
Target the switch
This may require some adjusting, but have your dog target the switch so that his nose nudges against it. Repeat this until he flicks on the light, whether on purpose or by accident. Reward either way and be very enthusiastic about it.
Give the light a name or a command
Use ‘turn it on’ or ‘light switch’ to associate your dog to the act of turning the lights on. Practice this command often with frequent rewards until he can perform reliably when you enter a room.
By TJ Trevino
Published: 01/12/2018, edited: 01/08/2021