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How to teach your dog to turn on the light

by Anna Pearce July 05, 2019 4 min read

How to teach your dog to turn on the light

Let's face it, dogs that can sit, shake hands and roll over are a dime a dozen nowadays. Wouldn't you love to have a dog that could do something cool when your friends visit?

Why should you train your dog to do jobs?

I have a Miniature Fox Terrier who mastered turning on a light switch at 8months old. Did you know that dogs enjoy doing jobs? That's why farm dog's work and your little city dog loves getting out to check the neighbourhood every day.

The mini foxy is a working breed; selectively bred from the Fox Terrier to be a little more petite for hunting smaller vermin. For his mental wellbeing and my sanity, as we live in an apartment, jobs give his day purpose. And truth be told, he will not settle into bed unless he's turned the lamps off!

I'm going to share with you just how he learned to do it!

How to get started.

First, you need to have a lamp with a stomp-style switch. Mine are IKEA floor lamps.

You will also need treats that you can easily break into small pieces for a little dog. I recommend VitaPet Milky Sticks. They smell like vanilla and are soft, and easy to break.

When training your dog, remember that they are smart; but, they have a limited vocabulary. However, if you build a new trick off of one that your dog already knows, and work in stages, then its pretty simple.

To work with your dog's limited vocabulary, you must use the same word with the same tone of voice. It's also a good idea if the same person does the training then teaches the rest of the family after your pooch has mastered the trick. That way, variation in speech isn't confusing the learning process.

Be mindful that dogs are intelligent and also watch your hand signals, where your body is moving, which hand you have the treat in, and much more. Try and be as consistent as possible.

Dedicate about 10min per day most days for dog training. They'll progress much faster than if you did a full 1hour once a week.

Start with a handshake.

Now, to train a dog to turn on and off a light switch, they need to be able to shake hands first.

If you haven't taught your dog to do this, it's relatively simple. When dogs want a treat, they will naturally put their paw out- so you just need to reward them for this.

Start with your dog sitting. Ask "shake" while you offer one empty hand, palm facing up. Hold the treat in your other hand. Your dog may be upset that you aren't rewarding their well-behaved sit, and will lift their paw to scratch your hand in frustration.

Reward this with a treat. Keep repeating until your dog can do it on command.

Introducing the light switch.

Once you've mastered the handshake, you'll need to hold the lamp switch in your hand, palm facing up. Use a new command for this light-switch training. I used the word "light". Single syllable words are the simplest. 

Your dog may be confused; however, the goal is to get them to touch the switch instead of your hand. Reward them.

Once they are doing this comfortably, you are ready to progress. 

Use some poster adhesive to stick the switch to the floor; this will stop it from moving around when your dog paws at it.

Keeping with the same command, "light", you will ask your dog to touch the switch. You may need to show him the switch by pointing (yes, dogs understand pointing- it's been proven!) or touching the switch.

The light switch "click."

Once they can do this on command, the next step is associating the "click" with a successful touch. This is the hardest step, and you will have to help them.

While you continue with your command word, you'll have to reach down and operate the switch when they touch the lamp. It's best if you do this when their paw is on the switch, and they can feel it move when they hear the noise.

Reward this step.

Also, don't switch the switch fast every time- vary the time so that they understand the treat comes when the click is made. Having to wait a little longer may cause them to scratch at the lamp in frustration, which could result in a positive click.

Reward.

Operating the switch.

This was the hardest stage for my pooch to master. However, having the switch stuck to the floor helped a lot. You'll have to be patient, and your pooch may get frustrated when he doesn't get it quickly. It's ok to take a break and get him to do some dog tricks that he's good at, then come back to the light switch.

This time you will only reward your dog with a successful switch.

Because decent pressure is required to operate the light it's great to ask the command while you are walking towards the switch- your dog will move quickly and will step on the switch rather than pawing at it. Watch the angle they approach- you can always move the switch around to a more natural angle till they get the hang of it.

Stepping back.

So your dog is happy to operate the switch with you close? You're ready to start asking from a distance. Just try moving away 20cm or so each time. Point towards the switch with your non-treat hand and say the command.

Eventually, you will be able to get them to do it from any part of the room.

They'll also know that the day is complete and it's time to go to bed after they've turned all of the lights off!


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