Whether you have a playful puppy or a sedentary senior, dogs of all ages and breeds can learn new tricks. Everyday commands like “sit” and “stay” are important when teaching basic manners — and for keeping your pooch out of trouble — but your canine companion is capable of all sorts of other crowd-pleasing feats. And dog tricks aren’t just a fun way to entertain houseguests; experts say both dogs and their humans benefit greatly from the trick-training process. We turned to the pros to get some tips and, er, tricks for how to teach a dog tricks.
“Tricks are like puzzles for dogs; teaching your dog new tricks not only challenges his mind, but enhances his focus and intelligence,” explains Kyra Sundance, California-based stunt dog show performer and trainer and New York Times bestselling author of 101 Dog Tricks. “The process of challenging your dog to achieve a goal — and then working toward that goal together — is a bonding experience for both of you.”
But whether you want to teach Rover to retrieve your newspaper from the end of the driveway — or to simply come when called — there are definitely some tricks to the trade. “Try to follow the mantra: ‘cue, action, reward’… and remember that timing is everything, because that reward must be given at the exact moment your dog delivers the action you’re looking for,” explains Chrissy Joy, a trainer at BFF Pet Services in Maryland whose dog, Beasley, is the 2018 National Stunt Dog Champion.
Along with keeping training sessions short and minimizing distractions as much as possible, Joy notes that your four-legged friend is going to need a ton of positive reinforcement during the learning process. That means plenty of verbal praise (“good girl!”), head scratches and, of course, yummy treats.
“One of the most common mistakes people make is trying to use dog kibble or being too stingy with treats, but in the learning phase, you want to use the good stuff — chicken, cheese, ham — or anything your dog would really enjoy will keep him motivated to learn,” Sundance adds.
Want to know how to teach a dog tricks? Here are some fun tricks to teach your dog at home:
According to Joy, a dog’s drive to hunt makes spinning in circles a trick that any dog can learn. “You can use your dog’s natural inclination to rely on his nose to find prey into luring him to move in all sorts of ways,” she explains.
Don’t worry, you don’t actually need a tunnel for this trick — a row of chairs works just fine. “It’s a really fun trick but also a great canine conditioning exercise,” Sundance says.
Is there anything more adorable than a handshake (or a high-five) from your best pal? This trick requires that your dog already knows “sit”.
When your dog can follow the cue for “down,” you can advance to the “roll over” command. Just try to keep your hands off your pooch when teaching this one. “We instinctively want to teach our dogs by physically manipulating them, but when a dog gives up his initiative, it actually slows down the learning process,” Sundance explains. “Instead, always use treats, toys or other rewards to lure your dog into the correct body positions on his own.”
“One of Beasley’s more unique and entertaining tricks is acting shy by covering his eyes … it’s definitely a crowd-pleaser,” Joy says.
While this is definitely a more advanced trick, the use of an especially tasty treat and a lot of patience and repetition can make it happen. Your dog should already know the commands for “fetch” and “drop,” and you may want to first use those commands to teach your dog to play fetch with an empty can of soda.
Thumbnail: Photography ©Bill Chizek | iStock / Getty Images Plus.
Tell us: What are your tips for how to teach a dog tricks?