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Fetch a beer: A trick for advanced students

Teaching “stay” may be lifesaving, but Melissa Arteaga, a trainer at a Chicago PetSmart, has taught her mixed-breed pup, Timmy, to fetch beer.

How to do it: First, have fun. Play tug with a rope toy. Tie the rope to the refrigerator door and have the dog tug to open. Meanwhile, using an empty bottle or can, reward the pup for putting the can in his mouth and eventually carrying it to you. “Like all tricks, take it slow, and one step at a time,” Artega says. Once the dog opens the fridge, hand him the beer, to show what he is to get. Teach him to shut the fridge similarly to how you taught him to open it.

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Working on the set of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, animal trainer Tony Suffredini says, were doves, hamsters, rabbits — and a puppy. He says Steve Carell really connected to the pup. (But then how can you not connect with a puppy?)

Even the youngest can be trained. “The moment you bring a puppy home, that dog is learning,” says legendary dog trainer Ian Dunbar of Berkeley, Calif. “You might as well have the puppy learn what you want.”

In fact, Dunbar helped popularize puppy classes in the early 1980s. Until he pushed for dogs as young as 4 months to attend “school,” many veterinarians suggested waiting a year. Now, puppy classes are widely accepted.

No matter what you’re teaching your dog to do — nor whether it’s a puppy or an old dog — the best method is positive reinforcement, Suffredini says: “It’s the most humane and most effective way.”

Victoria Stilwell, host of Animal Planet’s It’s Me or the Dog, passionately agrees. “Intimidation compromises learning ability and doesn’t teach the dog what to do. Intimidating methods may teach your dog to fear you. That’s not the relationship we want with our best friends.”

These experts differ on which behavior is most important for any dog to learn. Their top tips:

Lesson: "Stay"

Suffredini says learning to “stay” is the priority. On a movie set, it can make or break a canine actor. At home, it means the dog isn’t running into a street.

How to do it: Tell your dog “stay” while holding up your hand, palm facing to the dog like a stop sign. At first, stand in front of the dog. After the dog can stay with you right there for two seconds, back up a tad. Gradually, extend the time to five to 10 seconds, to 30 seconds. Each time, back up a few inches. Eventually, you’ll be able to tell your dog “stay” from another room — at least that is the goal. And the next time you and your pup are on a movie set, you’ll have a star who can hit his mark.

Lesson: "Sit"

Dunbar has a different version of “stay,” and it’s simply to have the dog sit. “If a dog is sitting, 90% of problems are resolved,” he says. “Think of all the things your dog can’t do if he’s sitting.”

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How to do it: With a hand signal, say, “Rover sit.” Use a liver treat or toy (something the dog wants) as a lure, and raise it slowly upwards over the dog’s nose, toward the ears — not too high or the dog will jump. To get the toy or treat, the dog’s head will go up and the rear-end will go down. Like magic, the dog sits. Give your dog the treat or toy and praise saying, “Good sit!” For reinforcement, “integrate ‘sit’ into daily life, so before the dog goes outside, ask him to sit, or before he’s allowed on the couch,” Dunbar says. “There’s no better reward than real life, getting to go out or sit beside us on the couch.”

Lesson: "Potty"

Stilwell says house training is what all dogs must know, because dogs not reliably house-trained can land in a shelter. “Keep a potty schedule, so you know for sure when the dog has done business and when and what the dog has eaten.”

How to do it: Always accompany the dog outside, but don’t expect that, at first, a puppy will have any idea what to do out there. Patience is key. And with a young dog, always be ready with a toy or treat every time you’re outside. Be sure to say “Good potty!” so your dog associates the words with the action — and you can teach your dog to “go” on cue.

Steve Dale is a certified dog and cat behavior consultant. Read more of his advice at pets.usaweekend.com Steve Dale is a certified dog and cat behavior consultant. Read more of his advice at pets.usaweekend.com

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Contributing editor Steve Dale is a certified dog and cat behavior consultant. He writes a twice-weekly syndicated newspaper column and is the host of two syndicated radio shows. Most recently he is the author of two e-books that answer common (and some not-so-common) pet-behavior problems, Good Dog! and Good Cat! (available wherever e-books are sold).