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Training Talk With Leslie Hayes: Teaching Your Dog Tricks

Leslie Hayes is a member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, the co-owner of Pup Life, Inc. and the author of many Positive Reinforcement Dog Training articles. Submit your dog training questions to Training Talk via our Contact Us form. Due to the high volume of questions we receive, we cannot respond to everyone.

Question
I’d like to teach my dog something fun. Can you recommend some dog tricks? – Amy via email

Answer
Great question! Teaching tricks is a wonderful way to enhance the bond with your dog as well as refining his skills and keeping his mind active. Dogs love to learn and enjoy the chance to problem solve. Moreover, many people find that teaching their dog to “Shake” or “Sit Up” is more fun and upbeat than teaching basic manners like “Sit Stay” or “Drop It”. This takes the pressure off both you and your dog and makes for a lively training session that feels more like a game than a lesson.

Dog

One trick everybody loves is “Play Dead”. Just like Cops and Robbers when you were a kid, use your hand to create a fake gun and the cue “Bang!” and watch your dog drop to the floor and roll on his side. Begin with your dog in the down position. If he doesn’t know the verbal cue for down yet, use a dog treat to lure him to the floor. Once there, use gentle pressure to roll your dog on to his side. Say “Bang!” and give lots of dog treats. Release your dog with “Ok” (remember you always want to give your dog on and off switches when teaching any behavior) and repeat. Gradually extend the amount of time your dog is on his side until he can maintain the behavior for 20 or 30 seconds.

Now that Fido is beginning to understand that “Bang!” means drop to the floor and roll over on your side, try cueing him in different locations like outside in the grass or in the dining room. Dogs are contextual so if you teach your dog new skills in the living room and then ask him to perform that behavior in a different location it can be confusing. By changing location, you are expanding your dog’s understanding of the cue.

Dog Learns Shake Trick
Another favorite trick is, of course, “Shake”. You can add a twist to this old standby when you teach your dog the difference between left and right. Trust me, your friends will be amazed! Start by picking up your dog’s paw and giving him a treat. Once he’s comfortable he’ll most likely start offering his paw to you. At this point, add your verbal cue “Shake”, “Paw” or even better “Shake Left” or “Shake Right” and pick up the appropriate paw and give a treat. Help ensure your dog’s success by focusing on paw at a time. When Fido has a solid understanding of “Shake Left” then you can teach him “Shake Right”. Initially, you may find the your dog has difficult time make the transition (remember, dogs are contextual). Don’t get discouraged, just start from the beginning and Fido will catch on quickly.

Teaching tricks is a fun, lighthearted way to interact with your dog. You’ll learn new ways to communicate with your pooch while stimulating his mind and keeping him active and alert. Plus, you’ll have a great way to entertain your friends and family when you’re through!