Trick training is limited only to what you want to teach your dog. Teach it to sit up and beg, maybe even to dance. What would you and your dog enjoy?
Training your dog tends to take a serious tone; after all, much of it involves teaching your dog its place in the family and self-control. Your dog needs to learn that it’s not allowed to jump on the sofa and that it has to keep its nose out of the kitchen trashcan. That can be serious stuff.
However, training also can be fun. Games and tricks can challenge your skills and your dog’s ability to learn. Once you have taught your dog, you can show off its tricks and amuse your friends and family. I use trick training with my therapy dogs. A silly trick can help the person we’re visiting laugh.
Keep training sessions short and upbeat. With some dogs, three minutes may be too much. Other dogs may be able to concentrate for six or seven minutes. You need to know your dog and always stop before it loses interest.
Remember that tricks are mainly meant to give your dog some meaningful activity — this means two things:
Don’t bore your dog with these tricks.
Only do them as long as you both are having fun, and when he has mastered one thing, think of something new instead of just repeating the old routines.
Allow time for your dog to learn.
Some of them may require lots of time to learn. Don’t worry, that’s exactly why they are so useful — to master the trick, your dog needs to concentrate very much and use his brain! Progress in small steps if needed, and don’t forget to reward your dog when he makes progress!
Modify the heel
If your dog already knows how to heel on your left, teach him to heel on your right or walk right behind you. Remember to use a new command for heeling on the ‘wrong side! These may be useful in crowds, narrow corridors, etc., and heeling on the right is also needed in Agility.
Give a paw
Put their toys away
Are you tired of collecting all of your dog’s chew toys, tennis balls, squeaky toys, teddy bears, etc., when your parents-in-law or your non-dog-loving boss is coming for dinner? Teach your dog to do it himself! He can learn to pick up all of his toys and put them into a box on command.
If you live where it rains frequently, you probably already hate the way your dog shakes his coat dry when he is close to you or your clean laundry, etc.? You can teach him to do that on command so that you can ask him to ‘shake!’ or ‘rock’n’roll!’ when he is standing a little bit further away.
Be an alarm clock
Is your duty in the family to wake everybody up in the morning — a routine that often requires lots of time and effort and is never appreciated? Teach your dog to do it for you! “Go wake up Jane!” “Go wake up, Daddy!” and your dog licks their faces or pokes them with his nose until they are awake.
Another version of this: The dog ‘digs’ in the morning: on command, she rips back the covers from around a malingerer and drags them (the covers) back to the foot of the bed, exposing the said body to cold air and (ostensibly) motivating rising.
If you live alone and sometimes fall asleep again after turning off the alarm clock in your sleep, you can teach your dog to start licking and poking you at the sound of your alarm clock.
Fetch the ‘____’
Everybody’s heard of the classical trick where a dog fetches slippers or a newspaper, but what about letting your dog ‘answer the phone’ (lift the receiver for you), put an empty beer bottle back in the box, or carry some other things on command? (It’s possible to teach a dog to identify a vast number of objects by names).
When you go out for a walk, let your dog fetch his own collar and/or leash. Have him get his collar from the shelf when you say “collar!”. Some people also use this in Agility. When they finish their run, the dog gets his leash instead of jumping around the handler, demanding more action.
Find the keys
Teach your dog to ‘finds your keys.’ Also good for accustoming dogs to metal articles in the mouth for utility work. You can also teach your dog to bring the box of Kleenex when you sneeze.
Look both ways
Teach your dog to stop and look before crossing a road. You can first teach your dog the directions (“look right” and “look left”) and then combine the commands to sit and to look left-right-left! Before permitted to cross. Add the command “Any cars coming?” for the entire trick. If you are consistent with your training, you can condition your dog not to start crossing the road as long as he sees cars approaching, making this trick extremely useful.
Teach your dog to “back up.” With this command, you can give him a simple command to “back up,” which gets him out of the way and also earns him some praise — instead of him receiving human “growls” because he’s in the way.
Tricks for Fun
These are not meant to be useful (some of them may be, sometimes), but just fun for you and your dog, or maybe for some neighborhood kids if you want to show them how smart your dog is. I’m sure all dog owners have some special ‘silly tricks’ with their dogs but maybe never show anyone.
Give a kiss or hug
Your dog gives you (or somebody else!) a wet kiss or puts his paws on your shoulder. This is great when you meet someone who thinks that “that dog looks vicious!”
Sit up or Dance
“Sit up” or “dance” are quite common tricks (dog gets up on his hind legs), but you can also teach him a more unusual command for this — for example, ask your dog, “What does a CIRCUS-DOG do??” to make him dance for you!
Take a bow
Position a food treat underneath your standing dog’s chest. As your dog moves its front legs down to get the treat and its rear end rises, click one with a dog flicker and say, “Bow.” Then offer the treat. If your dog tries to grab the treat without bowing, tuck the treat into your closed palm. Repeat these steps five or six-time. If your dog gets the trick quickly, stop praise, and move on to another trick to prevent boredom.
Guaranteed your dog maintains eye contact to follow your commands on a set by saying, “Watch me,” and touching your nose. As soon as your dog looks at your eyes, click a dog clicker and hand over a treat. Cock your head to the side and reward if your dog mimics the movement. Gradually take away the vocal command and the clicker and reward your dog with a treat each.
“Message Dog” is one of the Scandinavian dog sports not practiced elsewhere, but you can do similar exercises for fun. This can even be useful in some situations, especially if you teach your dog to carry something with him. The idea is that the dog runs from person A to person B on command, then back to person B, etc. In the Scandinavian competitions, this always starts, so that person A walks away from person B with the dog, then sends the dog back (at the beginning, the dog sees person B from where he is sent to run, in the more advanced version he does not). When person B sends the dog back to person A, person A may have moved to a new location — then the dog needs to do some tracking to find person A. Depending on how challenging you want it to be, you can easily invent your own variety of this game.
Nodding or shaking head
You can teach your dog to do these. These are more fun if you don’t ask him to ‘nod’ but rather teach him to nod on cue like “I’m so smart and beautiful, don’t you AGREE?”
Teach your dog to push a tennis ball to you with his nose. This is a great ‘living room activity’ for rainy days!
The fun thing about soccer is that each dog will develop a different way of handling the ball to get around because it’s too big to get their jaws around. Dogs learn to use their nose or/and paws to get the ball moving, and you can have several people playing the game with the dog.
If you thought that soccer would be the most advanced ball game you could teach your dog, here’s news for you: you can train your dog to play volleyball with people! Teach him to “play outfield” and take off running until far enough out, then say “swing,” and he turns around and sits — whenever the ball goes in his area, he leaps up and tries to hit it back over. The net!! If it doesn’t make it, teach him to push it over to the other team’s side and then run back to his spot and wait for the next one.
Hide a treat in your hand, hold both hands in front of the dog and request him to point at the treat, either with his nose or foot.
Some dogs “sing” very easily, especially if they hear high tones. In Finland, there is a famous dog call Gizmo who performs with a symphony orchestra. He sits on the owner’s lap and sings along with their music! You can train some dogs to make different kinds of weird noises, especially the more vocal breeds/individuals.
Many dogs can be trained to “speak” on command, and they can even be trained to bark loudly or more quietly. Owners can teach their dogs the following dialogue: “What does a big dog say?” -“WOOF!!!”
Hike and seek
Many owners play with their dog’s games where they hide the dog’s favorite toy etc., under a blanket for the dog to find. Some people hide other family members under blankets or simply their own hands for the “catch the mouse”-game.
Open a box
You can put a treat into a box and let your dog try to get it out. Start with boxes without a lid, and progress to freezer box -type boxes with a lid that your dog can open by pulling on the side. (And be prepared to have tooth marks all over the box, you may even end up with the box in zillion pieces!). This is a good exercise if you are busy doing something (getting ready to go to work etc.) because you don’t actually need to do anything when the dog is working on the task.
Find their way
Go to the other side of a fence etc., so that your dog can’t get to you directly but instead needs to find a way to get to you (without jumping over the fence). (You can also do this inside if there’s a room with two doors). Don’t help your dog find his way to you because then he’ll learn to expect help from you. Naturally, you can’t do this many times in one place.
Open a door
Teach your dog to either push a door that is ajar open with his nose or to use his paws on the handle to open the door. Note: the dog may scratch the door when opening them; after learning this, he may also open doors when you don’t expect it!