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Gone are the days where your dog leapt up from his bed to say 'hello' as soon as you walked through the door. But that doesn’t mean you love him any less. In fact, you appreciate his calm nature a lot of the time. He’s become low-maintenance and he’s remained relatively well behaved. However, it would be handy if you could entertain guests with a party trick that gets people giggling. It would also be a good way for the kids to bond with him.
He may be greying, but that doesn’t mean he’s not up to the task. Training an older dog to walk between your legs is a fantastic way to keep his brain stimulated and interested in learning. Not to mention, if you master the figure of eight, it’s a decent bit of exercise.
Training an older dog to walk between your legs does come with its challenges. Firstly, he won’t be quite the fast and eager learner he was when he was a puppy. He’s also probably lacking on the energy side. This is all the more reason to find the right motivator. Fortunately, although dogs get older, their love for food doesn’t diminish. So, appeal to his belly and you’ll swiftly have him dancing to your tune.
If he’s still relatively sprightly and receptive you could see results in a matter of days. If he’s become stuck in his ways and not so interested in playing anymore, you may have an uphill battle. Training could take a couple of weeks. Succeed though, and you’ll have the perfect icebreaker for when guests walk through the door.
Before you start training you will need to collect a few bits. Stock up on treats or break his favorite food into small chunks. For one of the methods, you will also need a much-loved toy and a clicker.
Set aside 5-10 minutes each day for training. Try and find a time where you both won’t be distracted. Plus, train in a room where he isn’t likely to break anything valuable, such as a TV.
Once you have all of the above, just bring patience and a can-do attitude, then work can begin!
The Treat Lure Method
Have him sit
Take your dog to a quiet room or head outside, then have him sit in front of you. Now take out a treat and hold it in front of his face. Keep a firm grip of it, but make sure he knows what is in your hand. At the same time, open your legs so he has enough space to walk through.
Use your treat hand to guide him slowly under your legs. The trick is to move gradually, that way his face and body will follow. You can use words of encouragement and point with your other hand to help him along. When the treat is directly under your legs, use your other hand to reach around, take the treat and guide him the rest of the way through.
As soon as he has made his way through your legs, hand over a tasty treat. Also shower him in verbal praise. The happier he feels afterwards, the more eager he will be to do it again.
Spend a few minutes each day practicing this technique. As he gets the hang of it, you can move your guiding hand much quicker. Keep practicing until you no longer have to guide him at all. Simply place the treat on the floor behind you, open your legs and he will know what to do. If he doesn’t, spend a couple more days practicing with the lead.
Lose the treats
Once he has mastered the walk through and doesn’t hesitate or get confused, you can slowly phase out the treats. By this point he knows what is expected of him and he won’t need a tasty reward at the end.
The Barrier Method
Spend a few minutes each day playing with a particular toy. You can play fetch and tug of war, just get him really worked up. You want him to jump up at the mere sight of the toy.
Now head for a quiet space with the toy in hand. Stand with your legs open in a spot where there are barriers on either side of you. These could be sofas, chairs, a doorway, or anything else large. Ensure the only way through is under your legs.
Now hold the toy behind you and underneath your legs. He will quickly realize the only way to get hold of the toy is to walk through your legs. Make sure you hold the toy further back enough that he can’t just snatch it with his mouth. He needs to walk all the way through.
As soon as he heads for the toy, give the ‘tunnel’ command. You can use any word or phrase you like. Even older dogs can learn numerous new commands. Give it in a high-pitched voice; you want him to think this is all just a big game.
Reward & practice
As soon as he walks through, hand over the toy and play around for a minute. Now practice this several times a day. Once he gets the hang of it, start practicing when there aren’t barriers on either side. Once he’s mastered that, you can cut out the toy and just use the verbal command. He knows what is expected of him now.
The Figure of Eight Method
Head for a quiet space with your dog in tow and a pocket full of treats. You will also need a clicker for this method. You’re going to teach him to walk and weave in between your legs.
Hold a treat down by your right ankle. Encourage him to sniff around so he knows there is something tasty in your hand. Once you have his attention, move the treat around your ankle and between your legs. You may have to reach behind with the other hand and carry the treat the rest of the way.
As soon as he has walked through your legs, give the clicker a click. This will signal to him that he has performed the behavior correctly. Then hand over a tasty treat and give him some verbal praise.
Up the stakes
Once you have practiced this a few times, it’s time to make it harder. This time, once you have led him through your legs, continue leading him back around your ankle and then through your legs again. Alternate ankles so he does a figure of eight. Once he has completed it, give him another treat.
Reduce the gesture
After several days of practicing, he will soon know exactly what you want him to do and he will skip through and around your legs. At this point, you can stop guiding him with your hand. Instead, open your legs and use a reduced hand motion to give him the message. Once he responds consistently to that, you can slowly cut out the treats.
By James Barra
Published: 01/10/2018, edited: 01/08/2021