How to Train Your Dog to Answer The Phone

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Although a requirement for Hearing Service Dogs, it's also handy to have a dog who can help with the phone. BTW: This does not mean that the dog will actually speak on the phone, just bring it to you when it rings.

Things You'll Need

  • Two phones with separate phone numbers. One of the phones must be cordless and located in the same place all the time.
  • Lots of treats
  • Lots of patience

Set the cordless (target) phone on the floor near the dog and get ready with the treats.

Call the target phone from the other phone and let it ring.

When the phone on the floor rings, wait for the dog to look at it. If after a few rings the dog doesn't look at it, direct the dog to it. When the dog does look at the phone, give your positive signal (say "good" or click your clicker) and give the dog a treat. Then answer the target phone excitedly and say what a good girl/boy your dog is. Hang up.

Repeat steps 1-3 several times until the dog looks at the phone each time it rings. Do not reward the dog for looking at the phone if it is not ringing. Direct his/her attention back to you. You may want to intersperse a few other commands (sit, down, etc.) in between rings to distract the dog from the phone and treats.

After the dog regularly looks at the ringing phone, pretend not to notice the dog looking at the phone (withold your praise/reward). This will encourage the dog to be more explicit with his/her behavior (helloooo!!!! see??? This is me looking at the phone - right here - are you watching!?!?!?) After a more demonstrated look (or maybe even a touch) reward the dog as in step 3 above.

Each subsequent step will be modifying the learned behavior (looking at the phone when it rings) to touching the phone when it rings, picking up the phone when it rings, finding the phone when it rings and picking it up, finding the phone when it rings, picking it up, and bringing it to you, wherever you happen to be.

Tips & Warnings

  • You will need to re-inforce this behavior regularly with practice sessions
  • This behavior will most likely not be learned entirely in a single session
  • If slobbering is a problem, attach a "handle" to the target phone (perhaps a few zip-strips and a washcloth. Teach the dog to pick up the handle rather than the phone.
  • A brief side affect of this is that, often the dog will bring you the phone when it is not ringing, just to get a treat. Do not discourage this behavior. Answer the phone as if it had been ringing, and then look disappointedly at the dog and say something like "oops - nobody there" and put the phone back with no reward.
  • Also, since the phone is being traded for a treat, few dogs will take the phone and play with it or chew on it (though they might, and this ought to be discouraged). Trade the phone for a treat promptly.
  • Spouses can be a problem - When my spouse is home, he and the dog look at each other and say "the phone's ringing", and nobody answers it!

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