Dogs are great friends. Author Dean Koontz wrote, “No matter how close we are to another person, few human relationships are as free from strife, disagreement, and frustration as is the relationship you have with a good dog. Few human beings give of themselves to another as a dog gives of itself.” Perhaps this is the basis of the great camaraderie between human and dog. There are many things that go into the relationship and help you and your dog enjoy one another. One thing you can do to build the rapport between you and your canine companion is to teach him tricks. Tricks, and the time spent teaching them, are great ways to bond with your fur buddy. It’s also fun to be able to show off his skills.
Many tricks will begin with your dog either sitting or lying down, so it’s a great idea to teach these simple commands first. Adding a stay to both of them will further expand what you’re able to do. Food rewards make learning tricks exciting for your dog, so start your training session with a pocketful of something tasty.
There are several methods you can use to teach your dog tricks. The first is to find something your dog already does and put it on cue. Many small dogs will naturally sit up in a “begging” position. Decide what you want to call the trick, and when your dog does it naturally, say the command name and then reward him. Make sure you don’t reward it if he’s doing it while you’re eating your supper though, or you’ll teach your dog that begging at the table works! If your dog naturally uses his front feet to paw at you, you can morph this behavior into shaking hands, giving you a high five (or ten!) or waving. Dogs that like to stand on their hind feet can be taught to walk or to dance. Vocal dogs can be taught to sing or to speak, and when the basics are mastered the behavior can be expanded to get your dog to shout or even whisper. I once had a Lab that would drop into a play bow when he wanted to romp. By naming and rewarding this tendency, I was able to teach him to bow on command.
Another way you can teach your dog tricks is to expand on basic obedience behaviors. The “Sit/Stay” command allowed me to teach Gemma to hold a treat on her nose until given permission to flip it off, and to ignore tasty tidbits tossed at her or placed on the floor in front of her; even if I left the room. Your friends will be very impressed with a dog that stares longingly at a piece of steak placed in front of him while you stroll out the door!
Luring is another way to teach dogs tricks. Luring occurs when you get your dog to follow a treat. If you put your dog into a down and place a treat in front of his nose and then move it just a few inches, your dog will often scoot after it. This behavior can morph into crawling. With your dog in a standing position, you can put the treat just in front of his nose and by moving it slowly around, encourage him to turn in a circle. It’s very entertaining to do this teaching your dog to move one direction only when you tell him to “spin,” or “twirl,” and then in the opposite direction when you say “unwind.”
Part of the fun of tricks is in the name or cue you use for the behavior. Years ago I worked with a Doberman with a deep, classic bark. Rather than asking him to speak, I taught him the cue, “Samson, what’s on top of the house.” He would respond with a deep, resounding, “Roooof!” Instead of teaching a dog owned by a serviceman to crawl, we would ask, “What does daddy do in the Army?” There’s also the ever popular, “Would you rather be an Alabama fan or a dead dog?” followed by the pooch crashing onto the floor on his back.
Keep trick training sessions short, and make sure you lavish your dog with lots of praise. Trick training should always be fun, so that your dog is anxious to work for you and looks forward to sessions. Before you know it, you’ll have a whole repertoire with which to amaze family and friends. Happy training!
Karlene Turkington, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, is a lifelong animal lover who has been training dogs for over 20 years. Readers are welcome to send their questions to: info@TrainMyK-9.com. Information provided here is a basic overview of issues. Specific health or behavioral concerns should be discussed with your veterinarian or qualified animal trainer or behaviorist.