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Are you looking for a quick, fun way to connect with your dog right now? Try our 3 tricks to teach your dog to see firsthand why practicing tricks is a great way to develop your training style and to bond better with your pups! While new owners tend to focus on formal obedience exercises, there are several benefits to taking the time to try dog trick training.
Table of Contents
4 Benefits of Teaching Dogs Tricks
Benefit #1: Fun Enrichment
Dog tricks provide exciting enrichment for your dog or puppy. BONUS: The more fun the training is, the more eager your dog will be to participate in its next sessions!
Trainer Tip: Remember to RELAX–You’re both there for some fun! Trainers (especially dog training newbies) tend to be more serious when teaching a traditional sit-stay and more relaxed when teaching an easy, cute trick.
Benefit #2: Better Communication
We can learn to be better trainers, communicators, and pet parents by teaching fun tricks!
I experienced this benefit firsthand as a young trainer. I had a Spanish galgo puppy that was doing amazingly well with his obedience training. He was the dog that everyone in class envied. Then he hit adolescence (think doggy teenage stage). I’d give him a cue and he looked at me like I’d asked him to clean his room.
The more frustrated I got during our training sessions, the worse he got with his responses. While it may have appeared that he was choosing to be disobedient, he was simply distracted in his adolescence. My irritation was stressing him out, creating even more of a disconnect.
We took a step back from obedience until I came up with a plan.
In the meantime, I took him to a Canine Musical Freestyle workshop so he could continue to be around other dogs and people. Musical freestyle is a dog sport where dog-handler teams chain together a series of movements and behaviors and put it to music. It is truly dog dancing.
Canine Musical Freestyle Clips
In the workshop, we were teaching our dogs a series of “tricks” that could eventually be used in routines. My canine partner was picking up the exercises with rapid speed. Now, from his perspective was there any difference between a sit-stay and a high kick? No. The difference was that I was relaxed. If he didn’t perfect his high kick, I would just move on to a different behavior.
Through teaching tricks, I learned how to better communicate with my dog in a relaxed state and then applied what I discovered to my obedience training. You can too!
Benefit #3: Maintain Physical Health
There are a ton of active, simple tricks you can try with your dog that will keep them in a healthy state of mind and body. For example, spins stretch the dog’s spine, supporting flexibility. A play bow (another stretch) is a naturally relaxing pose for a dog.
Benefit #4: Earn Dog Titles with Tricks
3 Easy Tricks to Teach Your Dog
Before we get to the tricks, here are a few crucial tips to keep in mind:
Trick #1: How to Teach "Spin"
Level 1 - Follow the Treat
1. Hold a treat in front of your dog’s nose and slowly start pulling the treat to the right or the left. Imagine there’s a string going from the treat to your dog’s nose and you are guiding him in a circle.
2. If your dog refuses to follow the treat the full 360 degrees, break the turn into smaller portions. For instance, mark (with a clicker or a verbal “yes”) your dog for a quarter turn and follow up with a treat.
3. Repeat the quarter turn a few times, then see if he will follow the treat for half a circle.
4. Once he successfully follows a half circle, encourage him to go further until he goes all the way around.
Level 2 - Add Complexity
1. Teach this full-circle behavior going in both directions.
2. After the dog masters the behavior, you can associate a verbal cue with requesting a spin. Use a different cue for each direction (ie: LEFT and RIGHT, or SPIN and CIRCLE).
Trainer Tip: Like people, dogs have a dominant side, so you’ll find that one direction is easier to teach than the other. This is normal.
Trick #2: How to Teach the "Play Bow"
The play bow is a position where the hind legs are up, and the chest is close to the ground. It’s a natural behavior that many dogs will automatically display when playing.
Level 1 - Encouraging More Bows
- If your dog tends to offer the play bow, you can use a concept called Capturing to build it into a trick. Whenever you see your dog bow, immediately mark and treat.
- Some dogs bow more when playing with their families, so keep your eyes peeled. When your dog realizes she will get a reward for bowing, she will display the behavior more!
Level 2 - Teaching Play Bow to a Non-Bowing Dog
What To Do If Your Dog Doesn't Offer the Play Bow
Step 1: Lure With a Smelly Treat
Try luring your dog with a smelly treat, starting at her nose.
Step 2: Mark & Treat When Front Legs Bend
Move the treat slowly toward the ground and mark/give a treat when her front legs bend (but before the hind end follows). You're aiming for the play bow demonstrated here.
Step 3: If Your Dog Still Resists Bowing, Do This
Break the trick into smaller steps:
1. Mark/give a treat the moment you see your dog’s front elbows start to bend.
2. As she presents the elbow bend more often, wait for a deeper bend before you mark/treat.
Step 4: Practice, Practice, Practice
The more often the two of you repeat this trick, the faster your dog will master it!
Trick #3: How to Teach "Find It"
Dogs ADORE using their nose. Naturally, encouraging them to use their nose is wonderful enrichment. Sniffing helps to relax and wear out your dog, making this the perfect trick to try before bedtime.
Level 1 - Intro to "Find It"
Step 1: Hold Dog and Toss Treat
Gently hold your dog. Toss a treat just a few feet away as your dog watches.
Step 2: Say "Find It" & Release Dog
Tell your dog to “find it” and let go.
Step 3: Gradually Toss Treat Further
When your initial game is successful, gradually throw the treat further away. Eventually, toss the treat out of sight.
Level 2 - Hide Treats While Dog is in Crate
Step 1: Put Dog in Crate
The next level requires the dog to be in his crate or someone else to hold the dog.
Step 2: Hide Treats & Release the Hound
Hide treats around the room. The dog should see you hiding treats the first few times. Release the dog and tell him to find it.
Level 3 - 3 Ways to Add Complexity
Hide Treats Better
As your dog gets better at seeking, makes the hides harder.
For the Toy-Motivated Dog
If your dog is toy-motivated, you can play hide-and-seek using your dog's favorite toys.
Ask Dog to Sit-Stay as You Hide Treats
As you advance in training, ask your dog to hold a sit-stay while you hide treats.