Ready for something different? Is your dog looking bored? How about getting out your clicker, a bowl of yummy treats, and teach him a new trick or two. Once learned, I guarantee that your dog will know it for life and you will enjoy watching his performances with pride!
Why train tricks? Doing so will continue to develop a positive owner/dog bond, and will keep your dog mentally sound. Teaching tricks gives you and your dog a change of pace, and of course it is fun to show family and friends how smart your dog truly is!
Get started by observing your dog’s naturally occurring behaviors. Behaviors like retrieving, pawing, barking, sneezing, licking, stretching, and begging can be captured and made into a trick. Start with the easy ones!
Retrieving: Your dog can bring you things, and not just balls, toys, and training dumbbells. Hobbes is my retrieving dog extraordinaire and he will carry a basket back to me by holding the handle in his mouth. One year around Easter I surprised my puppy class by having him carry a basket that had been filled with plastic eggs!
Pawing: Most dogs begin with the classic “Shake.”
Barking: Teach a “Speak.”
Sneezing: You can ask, “Do you have a cold?” or your own sneeze could be the cue, or use the word “Achoo.” Pair this behavior with the more advanced “Bring me a Kleenex” trick and you have a winner.
Licking: Add the cue, “Give me a kiss.”
Stretching: Catch your dog when he stretches after a nap, and you have “Take a bow.”
Begging: This one speaks for itself, and is perfect for my breed, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel!
To get started, find a distraction free environment. Then do one of two things. Catch the behavior when it occurs naturally, or lure the dog into position. If you have your clicker ready, click the exact moment the dog does what you want. The paw comes up, click/treat. The dog barks, click/treat. He sneezes, click/treat. Or, lure the dog into doing what you want by placing a treat in your hand, hold it close to his nose and move your hand in the proper direction. This works well to start a spin, lay down, lay on your side, or roll over.
Now name the behavior. Be creative, but keep it simple. Use only one or two words. You can also add a hand signal. If you lure your dog during training, that hand movement will become your signal. Make your signal exact and clear, and use the same signal if training multiple dogs.
Repeat many times! Trick work goes faster if you repeat the behavior several times in each session. But don’t over-do. A few short daily sessions of 5 times each will work best. And provide a high rate of reinforcement. Click, praise, and treat for every correct response. Ignore the wrong ones, and make sure the treats you are using are highly motivating ones.
Timing is everything. You get what you click (or reward). If you click late for a raised paw, you may be clicking for placing the paw back down. Click at the exact moment the behavior occurs. Your results will be better if you work on only one trick at a time. Once your dog knows several tricks, you can put them together for the big performance!
Don’t forget to “embellish” the trick. Make up a funny story leading up to it, or add props or even costumes. Even the simplest trick will look better with some window dressing.
So how do we teach a basic trick? Everyone seems to start with a simple “Shake.” Have your dog sitting. You can either physically raise his paw and click/treat or capture the behavior if your dog raises his paw naturally. Repeat 5 times each. When your dog offers the paw raising on his own, then name the behavior with the word “Shake.” Next take this behavior and modify it.
Ask for both paws: Say “Shake” and then say “Other Paw.” Move your hand from the first paw to the second. This causes the dog to raise the paw closest to your hand. Only reinforce for correct responses. Your dog may be confused at first, but be patient and show him what you want.
Wave: Begin raising your “Shake” hand higher in small increments until you reach the position you think looks most like a wave. Stay very close to the dog at first. Once he is bringing the paw up, add the command “Wave” and start waving back. Add distance between you and your dog a few steps at a time.
Give me five: This is another variation, taught like the wave, only you lightly slap your dog’s paw as it comes down and change the command word. These ideas should get you started. Just remember to be creative and most of all have fun!