Most of us would agree that there are never enough hours in a day, but on the 29th February we get to enjoy a bonus 24 hours we wouldn't normally have! Though many of us will be at work this Leap day, don't let that stop you making the most of the extra time by doing something extra special.
Why not teach your dog a new trick or skill? You'd be amazed what your dog can pick up in the short space of a day and how much he benefits from - and enjoys - the mental stimulation. Whether he learns to high five, fetch your slippers, or simply respond to more basic commands, use this extra day to your dog's advantage by teaching him something he can develop during the year.
1) Shake hands - teaching your dog to shake hands with you is a relatively easy trick that will have your friends going 'awww' on receiving such a friendly greeting. Start by asking your dog to sit, say "shake hands," and then take his paw in your hand. Do this every half hour or so until your dog learns to raise his paw on cue. It may take a couple of days to cement the trick so don't despair if he doesn't get it right away. Also, remember to always positively reinforce his behaviour with praise or treats every time your dog follows through.
2) Take a bow - if your dog is quite the performer, this trick is the perfect addition to his catalogue of skills. Not only is it a great trick in itself, but can be taught to follow other tricks for that final round of applause. The easiest way to teach the bow is to catch your dog in the act when he is just waking up or having a stretch. Say "bow" and offer a treat (using a clicker can be really helpful) and repeat. Your dog will eventually grow familiar with the verbal cue and come to associate the clicker sound and treat with something positive he is doing.
3) Retrieve something - dogs love a game of fetch and rarely need convincing to participate. But getting them to bring something back is often a different kettle of fish and requires more patience and training. Teach your dog to retrieve something by first teaching him the name of the item you want i.e. slippers, blanket (it helps to choose a word your dog is already familiar with), and placing it on the floor alongside two lesser-known objects i.e. hairdryer, tea towel. Say the name of the item and point, then use your 'fetch' command to encourage him to bring it back to you. If he's successful, use your clicker and reward him with a treat.
4) Count - if dogs can learn words, they can also learn numbers. You can teach this in many ways but by far the simplest is with subtle eye signals and hand cues. If your dog already knows how to shake hands, say "one" and ask for his paw. Look at your hand and reward him with a treat and praise when he raises his paw. Next time say "two" and request the paw again. Once he's raised it and released it, continue to hold out your hand, not taking your eyes from it, prompting him to raise it again. Continue doing this until your dog can associate the verbal cue you're giving with the number of times he must hold up his paw.
5) Dance - dogs make the perfect dance partners, so long as they're willing to learn! Canine freestyle is easily picked up and doesn't require much instruction. Start by teaching your dog the 'paws up' command just by holding a treat above his head until he stands on his hind legs. Remember to give lots of praise and encouragement to reinforce what your dog is doing and take it from there, bringing in the 'spin' and 'rollover' commands as you go. Stick some music on in the background and see if your dog has a boogie!
6) Leg weave - you might have been wowed by this on tv talent shows but teaching the leg weave is actually quite easy. Ask your dog to sit and then stand with your feet wide apart, holding a treat behind you that is always visible to your dog. Call your dog and encourage him to follow the treat between your feet, taking small steps backwards when he's successful. Have lots of treats on-hand so you can reward him as he weaves through your legs after the tasty morsels!
7) Talk - loud and excessive barking can be quite tiresome, but training your dog to bark on command has its benefits, including helping to correct an existing barking problem, teaching your dog to bark when he needs to go outside, and teaching him to signal when strangers come to the house. Getting your dog to bark on command is also another means of teaching counting, so it can help with other training exercises too. Identify something that makes your dog bark i.e. a particular toy or the doorbell ringing, and give a verbal cue ('yes' or 'good') along with a treat. From then on use the cue 'speak' and only reward the barking when it follows this cue.
If any of these tricks sounds do-able to you, have a further read up on it and go from there. If you have any tips or tricks of your own, please share them with our other readers by commenting below! We'd love to hear your success stories :)
Written by Hannah Dyball