The intelligence, perception, and agility of most dogs has meant that they have been used in a number of roles as well as performing animals for thousands of years. Tricks have been used to amuse their human companions, as a way to earn money, and as a way to protect dogs from harm. Dogs who can dance, play cards, handle equipment, and perform acrobatic stunts are still entertaining people today as they were in Elizabethan England. However, not all tricks are about fun and games.
Teaching your dog or puppy tricks can be a fun way for you to spend some time together. No dog is ever too old to learn new things, so the expression, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” should be relegated to the nearest trash can. And, another bit of advice that you shouldn’t start any kind of training until a puppy is 6 months old is also useless. You can start teaching a puppy as young as 2 months of age; their minds are very receptive at this point. However, regardless of the age of the dog you are going to teach, there are several things that you must observe faithfully if you want the project to work out:
• Patience. Your pup or dog will simply take multiple repetitions to understand what you want; getting angry will serve no purpose. Ignore mistakes completely.
• Praise. Your canine friend wants your approval, so when he or she learns a new trick, be sure to praise extravagantly. Positive reinforcement works.
• Treats. Dogs love to eat, and besides praise, nothing reinforces a job well done than a nice little tidbit. Keep a pocketful handy to treat every little step in the right direction.
These learning experiences will also be a way for you to bond more closely with your puppy or dog. Simply spending time with your companion will help to cement the relationship more strongly. Your dog will also become more confident and it’s a great way to siphon off some of a puppy’s energy constructively. There are numerous, positive ways to train your dog to do tricks, just choose one that you and your dog feel comfortable with to achieve the best chances of success (clickers, target sticks, etc.).
Important And Necessary ‘Tricks’
While some might not look on basic obedience training as being tricks, these tricks can actually serve to save the life of your dog. Dogs run out in the street all the time and are struck by vehicles. Very often you see the owner frantically trying to call the dog back, but because the dog has not learned these survival tricks, the dog can be hit. You can start these obedience tricks when your dog is very young. Most reputable breeders don’t release a pup until it’s 12 weeks old, and you should begin right away as soon as the pup has settled into your home.
• Sit. This trick teaches your companion to sit down on command. You can either wait until the dog sits and then say ‘Sit’ and give a treat, or you can gently push the dog’s hindquarters down while repeating the word and treating. This is often followed up with the command to stay.
• Stay. A dog that has been properly trained for this trick will stop what he or she is doing upon hearing the command. This is important when you and your dog are in a city or town where issues might arise with vehicles, people, or other pets.
• Come. Your puppy or dog shouldn’t have too much difficulty learning this, especially if there’s a treat waiting in your hand. As training goes on, you can cut back on the treats and rely more on praise and attention.
These simple obedience tricks will help to lay the groundwork for more involved tricks that you may want to teach your puppy or dog. Always remember that even smart breeds can have some individuals who are a bit slower than others. Never push your pup or dog, and break off the training as soon as it becomes boring or frustrating for either of you.
Fun Tricks For You And Your Dog
While obedience tricks may well be necessary, it’s always nice to teach your dog tricks just for fun. The attention you provide (as well as the treats) will help to make this a great experience for both of you.
• Leap. Start this trick with a stick on the ground. As you call your dog to you, as soon as he steps over the stick, use the word ‘Leap’ and treat. Gradually raise the height of the stick as the dog progresses.
• Shake hands. With your dog in the sitting position, either wait for your dog to raise his or her paw or take it in your hands, using ‘Shake’ as the key word. Dogs have a natural instinct to raise a paw to those they like (ours do it all the time) so this should be an easy trick for most of them.
• Doors. Dogs can easily be taught to open doors, although you can make it a good deal simpler for them if you tie a cloth around the handle first – it’s something they can get their teeth into. A word of caution; dogs who know how to open the refrigerator may help themselves without permission. Closing the door might be a bit more difficult and take a bit more work. Use a target stick or your hand to bring the dog’s nose close to the door and treat and praise when the dog presses on the door. A bit of practice will soon have the dog pushing the door shut upon command.
• Catch. Active dogs especially love to play catch with their owners. Start out by using a treat for the dog to catch, and once the dog has learned how to catch these reliably, you can use a ball or Frisbee instead. This trick is good for dogs who have a high energy level that needs to be burned off daily.
• Roll over. Start your dog off lying down. Hold a treat close to the floor near the dog’s nose and move it so that the dog rolls over onto his or her side. Keeping moving the treat until the dog rolls over onto his back and then completes the roll onto his other side. You will probably have to start with just getting the dog to go over onto one side and progress from there. Be sure to praise and treat at each positive step.
Teaching your dog or puppy tricks can really be a great way to spend some time together and have fun. Highly trainable dogs like Border Collies, German Shepherds, and Poodles of all sizes will be the easiest, while stubborn dogs like French and English Bulldogs might resist training altogether. And, if your dog can’t or won’t learn tricks, just appreciate him or her as they are.