Dog Tricks are fun for both you and your dog
There's nothing better than learning a few dog tricks to brighten up your dog's life. Dogs love being asked to do things, and as you teach your dog you'll see his eyes light up with excitement and expectation, sparkling with intelligence.
To begin with you can encourage your dog with treats, but once he knows his tricks he'll do them again and again just for the pure pleasure.
There are two ways to develop dog tricks. One is taking a cute behaviour your dog already offers and "put it on cue" as the clicker trainers say - that is to say, teach him to repeat it when you give him a signal or word. This could be spinning round when you get his lead out for a walk, "washing his face" with his paws, or barking, for instance.
The other way is to build it up from scratch. To do this you reward every movement - to begin with every hint of a movement - in the right direction.
So if you want him to bring you his toy, you can start by holding his toy - maybe waggling it a little to encourage him - and rewarding him the moment he looks at it. You can gradually shape him to nose-touch the toy, pick it up, and bring it to you. Here's how ...
Train Dog Tricks with the Clicker
The clicker is ideal for training dog tricks. As explained in Clicker Training you can use the clicker as a marker to indicate that your dog is right. Unlike the voice, the clicker carries no emotion, no anxiety, no pressure, and so your training is not delayed by misunderstandings and unwanted reactions.
So your dog looks at his toy - click and treat. Remember to make the treat tiny, so he swallows it instantly and is ready for more. If you have to wait 10 seconds or more while he munches his treat, he'll have forgotten what you were doing and you'll have to start all over again!
Now you can wait till he looks at the toy again ... click and treat. Once the penny drops, your dog will keep looking towards his toy. At some stage you can fail to respond - you're upping the ante.
Now he'll look purposefully at the toy, even staring at it. While you continue not reacting, he'll sooner or later nudge or poke his toy with his nose - click! treat! Do you see how you can develop this, just a tiny step at a time?
Dog tricks are simply a series of actions strung together, so teach each little step, gradually extending them into your series of steps.
Chain of Events
For some dog tricks you'll need to string a lot of actions together. You may want your dog to go to the cupboard, open it (with a rope of some kind on the handle), take out a can and bring it to you. In this case you start with the teaching your dog to hold the can, then give you the can, then have him collect it from in front of the cupboard, from inside the open cupboard, and so on. This is called "backchaining". Eventually you'll have the whole sequence.
But this is advanced stuff, and you'll need further reading to help you. I suggest two excellent books - one is Karen Pryor's classic Don't Shoot The Dog, the other Clicker Fun by Deborah Jones. I can't tell you how much fun we've had with Clicker Fun!
More Dog Tricks = More Fun
Once you've taught one dog trick to your dog, you'll be amazed at how quickly and easily you can teach him more. Before you know it you'll have a whole repertoire of dog tricks and useful behaviours.
You see, apart from spinning, rolling over, barking on cue and so on, you can teach him really useful dog tricks such as closing the door, taking out the rubbish bag, picking up anything you drop, fetching the car keys, etc. All these dog tricks can help life run more smoothly, and are the basis of training for Assistance Dogs. Imagine - life is a ball for them!
I walked back from the field after a training session to find my dog trotting along behind me carrying my scarf without me realising I had even lost it. A very useful dog trick!
You can really amaze people by getting your dog to perform a few dog tricks for them. They will think that your dog is a genius, you are a genius, and they'll be delighted to see how much your dog enjoys his act.
I met an old man once out walking one of my dogs. At the time that dog was a star at Obedience competition and competed internationally. The dog greeted the old man enthusiastically and in reply the old man reached down with his hand and said "Shake Hands". My dog gazed blankly at him. "Not a very bright dog," said the man and walked on. So I went home and spent a few minutes teaching him to "Shake Hands". My dog wasn't going to get caught out again!
A nice way to round off your display is to "Take a Bow". Both you and your dog bow low - your friends will love it! Teaching "Take a Bow"? It's just half a down - the front half!
I know a little terrier who finishes her display of dog tricks with a big "Hoorah!" from her handler - she sits up and waves both paws high above her head - very cute!
Let's start you off with a simple trick. Here's how to teach your dog to spin.
Always choose a time and place with few distractions for your training session. Have your dog stand in front of you and hold a tasty morsel in front of his nose. As he "locks on", click and treat. Offer a new treat, and lead his nose slightly away from you. Click, treat. Now stop luring and have him follow your empty hand and feed from the other.
You gradually turn his head more and more with each click till he moves his shoulders too. Soon enough the whole dog will move in the direction of the treat. As you speed this up, you can circle your hand over your dog's head as he spins. Ask for more spins per treat. Finally your hand signal can be a small circling movement with your finger just in front of you.
The speed you progress will depend on you and your dog. Keep him happy at all costs! You may perfect this dog trick in one session (yes, really!) or it may take many. Who cares? The secret is in the timing of your clicks.