Dog Trick Training

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zoe-picWhy should you bother teaching your dog new tricks?

Teaching your dog tricks is one of the greatest joys of having a canine companion in your life. Dog trick training forges strong bonds and communication between dog and owner. Dogs have a thirst to learn, to be rewarded, and to be the center of attention. Dog trick training is fun for owners and dogs alike! Teaching and performing dog tricks also helps to build happy, confident dogs and is a great outlet for all of their energy.

When most people think of dog trick training, they think of the basic dog training commands – “sit,” “down,” “come,” “stay,” and so on. While those things are important, don’t underestimate the benefits of training a dog to do tricks. Dog tricks are a great way to offer your dog some mental stimulation, and many tricks build from the basic commands. Plus, it’s a lot of fun to train a dog some cool dog tricks and show off to your friends!

Basic obedience training should come first, but once you’ve mastered the essentials, teaching your dog a few tricks can be fun for both of you, and gives you another way of interacting with him. Some dog trick training can also have a practical purpose, whether it’s helping to put someone who is afraid of dogs at ease, or tackling obstacles when out on walks.

Tricks are a great way to help a dog learn the training game. Dog trick training is essentially a game we play with our dogs. The end result of the game is to help them learn to respond to certain cues. Like any game, dog trick training has its own set of rules. Some of those rules are fairly obvious – the dog needs to pay attention; the person needs to keep the dog’s attention; a “click” or “yes” means a treat is coming. And some rules are a little more subtle – like when the handler is “shaping,” the dog gets to try out different things. But when the handler plays the “lure and reward” game, the dog’s nose should follow the treat!

Dog trick training also gives you the opportunity to try different training techniques. Because it’s easier to teach some tricks through “shaping,” and to teach others with the lure of a treat or toy, and still others with gentle prompts, training tricks can help you experiment with a variety of ways to jump-start behaviors.

In the process of learning new tricks you open up a genuine form of two-way communication between you and your dog. As a result, you’ll find that you are more in-tune with each other. Dog trick training helps to build confident dogs who are not afraid to experiment in the training process – which is very important! In addition, there are a number of other advantages to helping your dog learn new tricks.

  • First, in addition to building relationships, certain dog trick training can also help you and your dog feel more comfortable with each other. Tricks where dogs interact with your body, such as “leg weaves,” help them learn to watch for our feet (especially good for smaller dogs), and also learn to tolerate things people might do to invade their “space,” such as stepping over them.
  • Dog tricks can be called on as an "alternate behavior" when your dog is doing something undesirable. For example, if your dog is barking at the door or jumping up on guests you could call on your "play dead" trick to redirect his/her behavior.
  • Tricks can also be an outlet for more energetic dogs. High energy, overly excited dogs are often required to be calm and contain themselves. Tricks, such as “skipping,” “spinning” and “jumping” can give active dogs an energy release and a structured way to be a little wild and expressive, without them getting into trouble.
  • Tricks can help a dog learn to accept things he is not always happy about. Paw tricks like “shake” can help a dog become accustomed to paw handling. This may help a dog learn to accept checking between his toes for burs – or even nail clipping! And some tricks have their own very practical applications. For example, “retrieves” can be channeled into fetching the newspaper in the morning – or bringing your slippers in the evening.
  • Tricks can be used to build important skills. In other words, dog trick training can be the foundation for other behaviors. For example, once your dog knows that hand targeting (bumping his nose into your hand) is fun, and he can earn rewards, you can use that trick to prompt other behaviors such as “return to heel” and to “stand” from a “down” position.
  • But the bottom line is that tricks can signal the dog that it’s time to unwind and just have fun! Dog trick training is enjoyable – and even relaxing. Just the act of doing tricks can shift a dog’s emotional state from tense to being relaxed. You can use the emotions created by tricks in a variety of situations. For example, if you have a dog who is nervous about vet visits, you can practice your dog trick training while you wait in the reception area and exam room as a way to help your dog remain calm and happy.

But remember to keep lessons short and sweet – lots of mini training sessions are much better than one long one. When teaching something new, or asking for a more polished effort, make sure the treat you offer is sufficiently motivational. And if you’re using lots of treats, reduce meal sizes accordingly so that your pet doesn’t become overweight. Some dogs find certain tricks easier than others; so choose those that your dog is mentally and physically best suited to.

Dog trick training offers both you and your dog a lot more than just fun. But of course, the entertainment value alone is enough for tricks – they are really just a great way to spend time, have fun and play with your dog!

But you already know you have the smartest dog in the world! So, teach him how to “high-five,” “fetch,” “jump through a hoop,” “spin” and “twirl.” Then let others see just how clever he is by teaching him how to get a beer, open a door, jump over a bar, wave goodbye, say a prayer, or wipe his feet. And finally, use dog trick training to teach him how to take a well-deserved bow!


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