- Teaching paw tricks
- Getting your dog to roll
- Teaching begging tricks
- Encouraging stretches
This chapter highlights the building-block approach: using a simple trick as your foundation and then building on it to produce fancy variations. This approach takes a lot of the mystery out of complex training sequences, breaking down complicated routines into easy-to-master chunks. So in this chapter, not only do you find all the old-school favorites like “Paw,” “Roll over,” and “Beg,” but you also find out how to update and expand on them with crowd-pleasing special effects.
But before you dive into the dog tricks in this chapter, keep the following tips in mind:
– Know when to practice. Some games are designed to burn energy. Play these when your dog is full of beans. Other tricks are just for fun; when your dog catches on, she’ll want to practice as much as you.
– Keep the sessions short and sweet — no more than five to ten minutes. Several short lessons are better than one long one. With a positive attitude and the building-block approach, your dog can master these techniques in no time.
– Try a clicker. In Chapter Prepping for Training — Mentally and Physically, I discuss the use of a clicker. The sharp sound paired with a tasty food reward helps your dog know exactly which behavior you’re after.
– Avoid forcing your dog to do certain tricks. Tricks like rolling over and begging are very entertaining, but don’t force your dog if she’s not into it. If your dog naturally rolls around or easily sits back on her haunches, you have the green light! If rolling on the floor is beneath her standards or physical capabilities, don’t force it.
Playing with the Plain Ol’ Paw
Nothing like starting with a classic: giving a paw. Some dogs are naturally predisposed to giving a paw, so much so that you’re probably wondering how to teach “No paw” — but I get to that later in the sidebar “Getting dogs to keep their paws to themselves.”
After your dog masters “Paw,” you can really start being creative, teaching her to wave, give high fives, and turn out the lights. But everyone’s got to get started somewhere — after you master the basic “Paw,” the sky’s the limit.
Doing the basic “Paw”
To teach the basic “Paw,” first get your dog (on a leash if she’s antsy) and some favorite treats, and go into a quiet room. Then do the following:
1. Kneel or sit in front of your dog.
2. Command “Sit,” position your dog’s hindquarters if necessary, and offer praise.
3. You can try two methods at this point:
• Physical: Using a thumb, press your dog’s shoulder muscle gently until her front leg lifts, as shown in Figure 6-1. Then lay your hand under her foot pad as you say “Paw.”
Figure 6-1: Pressing the shoulder to get your dog to lift a paw.
• Treat-based: Hold a treat in a closed hand a couple of inches in front of your dog’s foot. When she paws it, open your hand to reward her. With each repetition of this step, gradually raise your hand to your dog’s elbow. Now add the “Paw” step. Keep the treat in your other hand, as you extend your closed hand. As she hits your hand, say “Paw” and gently grasp her paw with an opened palm. Treat her the moment your palm connects to her paw.
4. Now signal and command “Paw.”
Is she catching on? If not, help her complete the “Paw” by pressing her shoulder blade gently. Praise her warmly, whether she caught on or needed your help.
The hand signal for “Paw” is to stretch out your hand, as if to shake hands.
Paw variations: Shaking things up
Shaking paws is great, but you can easily teach a few variations that will delight you, your pup, and any onlookers. In this section, you find some new cue words and variations on the basic “Paw.”
“Say thank you”
Hold out your hand as if to shake hands. At first, say “Paw–Thank you.” Fairly soon she’ll respond to both your signal and your new directional cue. Praise your dog for placing her paw in your hand and give her a treat.
Now get a human pal to help you out. As your human pal extends a hand, command “Paw–Say thank you” and encourage your dog to offer her paw to your friend. You’re ready to spread your dog’s good manners everywhere!
The hand signal for “Say thank you” is the same as for the “Paw” trick — extend your hand to the dog with your palm up.
A dog who knows how to wave hello and goodbye — miraculous, you say? Fortunately, it’s not hard to teach at all. Here’s how:
1. Place your dog in a “Sit–Stay” and show her that you have a treat in your left hand.
2. Standing in front of her, say “Paw” and signal with your right hand (as if you were going to shake hands).
3. As she lifts her paw, wave your signal hand and say “Paw–Wave” as you reward her with the treat.
4. Repeat this, slowly weaning off the initial “Paw” signal in place of a wave signal — simply waving to your dog while saying, “Wave hello” or “Wave bye-bye!”
You can use the target disc to teach your dog to wave at distances away from you. Teach your dog to stand on a target disc as described in Chapter Prepping for Training — Mentally and Physically. After your dog has mastered both targeting and the wave, combine the two tricks. First place the target disc next to you. Direct your dog to the disc and tell her to stay. When she’s settled, encourage her to “Wave” and reward her. Gradually move the target disc away from you — now you can ask her to wave to various people or to an audience.
As your dog gets into the “Paw” trick, you may notice that she favors either her left or right paw. To prevent having a one-dimensional dog, teach the cue “Other one.” Here’s how:
1. Say “Paw” and lovingly praise your dog when she raises her paw.
2. Extend your hand to the other paw and say, “Other one,” using the treat-in-your-hand trick or shoulder press to inspire her cooperation.
Hold the treat in a closed hand a couple of inches in front of your dog’s foot until she paws it, or press the shoulder muscle gently with your thumb until she lifts her paw, as I describe earlier in the section “Doing the basic ‘Paw.’”
3. If your dog lifts her favored paw, use a sound such as “Nope” and repeat your original request while you put pressure on the shoulder muscle of the other leg.
When your dog lifts the other paw, praise, treat, and give her a big hug (if your dog likes that sort of thing)!
The hand signal for “Other one” is to stretch out your hand to the specified paw.
“Right paw,” “Left paw”
By using “Other one” to get your dog to pay attention to which hand you extend, you can pull off a trick that makes it seem as if your dog can tell her right paw from her left, the little genius!
While in a quiet room, decide which paw your dog gives most frequently. For this example, say it’s the right paw. Exaggerate the “Paw” hand signal as you hold your right hand to her right side and say, “Right paw.” Praise and offer a treat. Have your dog do this right three times in a row so she gets plenty of positive reinforcement. If by chance your dog swaps and offers a left paw, say “Nope” and wait to reward until she offers the right paw.
Now for the other paw. Exaggerate your hand signal toward the left side and say “Left paw.” Your dog will probably try the right paw. If she does, say “Nope–Other one.” Show her physically if you have to. Practice three lefts, and then stop.
The next time you go to practice, start with “Right paw,” accentuating your signal. Help your dog out if you must. Do three rights, then three lefts, accentuating the left signal. Soon your dog will catch on, and you can mix it up: two rights, two lefts, two rights, one left, one right, and so on. Vary the pattern each time and keep these mind-puzzler sessions short. As your dog catches on to your body language, you can exaggerate the hand signal less.
Celebrating success: “High five” and “Go for ten”
Okay, hot shot, gimme five! Getting your dog to give you five — or ten — is easy to teach, and dogs love it. Afterward, you’ll both have something to celebrate. Here’s how these tricks work:
– “High five”: To teach “High five,” simply hold your hand, palm out, at the same height you normally do when you say “Paw.” If the command “High five” gets a puzzled look, then say “Paw” to request the action and say “High five” as the dog’s paw makes contact with your hand. Drop the “Paw” command when your dog makes the connection. Slowly lift your hand higher to accentuate the “High five.”
When asking for the “High five,” stay within your dog’s height capabilities. If you hold your hand too high, your dog will leap up to try to please you, but you don’t want to encourage jumping. “High five” is a three-paws-on-the-floor trick.
– “Go for ten”: This trick involves two hands and two paws. When saying “Go for ten,” keep your hands at about the level of your dog’s head. Any higher will encourage jumping. At first your dog may only reach up to hit you with one paw . . . after all, that’s what she’s used to. Reaching up will encourage her to stretch up and bring her other paw off the floor — at this point, tuck your free hand under her paw and praise her the moment both paws connect with your hands.
“Hit it!”: Targeting paw tricks with lights, doors, and music
After your dog knows how to “Paw,” you can teach her to target a disc and then use the disc’s placement to help her learn to play music, close doors, and work the light fixtures . . . before you know it, your dog will be saving you a bundle in electric bills!
After your dog knows “Paw” (see the earlier section “Doing the basic ‘Paw’”), create a target disc with a small container lid or a business card. Then do the following to teach your dog to strike it with her paw:
1. Present the target disc in the palm of your hand and command “Paw.”
2. The moment your dog hits the disc, say “Hit it”; give your dog a treat (or click and treat) and offer praise!
3. Phase off holding the disc flat in your hand, holding it at the same level but pinched between your thumb and forefinger.
Repeat this until you’re able to hold the disc out and your dog will paw it when directed with the “Hit it” command.
Your next goal is to place the disc in various locations to encourage your dog to do things like turn out the lights and close doors. This section includes three tricks that do just that.
Closing the door or cabinet
Once your dog learns how to “Hit it,” you can parlay that one behavior into a whole host of cool, helpful, and unique tricks, such as closing the cabinet, turning out the lights, and playing the piano! Though these tricks might sound like magic, it all boils down to the placement of the target disc.
When teaching your dog to close cabinets and doors, she may be initially startled by the sound the door makes as it shuts. Before asking her to tidy up for you, place her in a “Sit–Stay” next to the hinge and give her a treat as you open and shut the door gently. She’ll then get used to the sound.
At first, hold the target disc near a cabinet door at what would be a normal “Paw” level for your dog — about her elbow. Do a couple of “Paws” (see the earlier section “Doing the basic ‘Paw’”), holding your hand near the door.
Next, encourage her to paw the disc by saying “Hit it.” If she has a light touch, encourage her to really whack the disc by egging her on and withholding the reward until she does.
Next, tape the disc to the outside of the opened cabinet door. Kneel close to your dog and point to the disc. Reward each attempt to strike the door with her paw. After two days, withhold the reward until a successful closing.
Over the course of four days, gradually start combining the familiar cue with a new command: “Hit it–Close it.” Phase out the “Hit it” command so “Close it” will mean just that.
Turning the lights on and off
Teaching your dog to turn out the lights requires blending the “Hit it” command with a jumping sequence. If your dog is tall and agile enough to reach the switch, she’ll be more than happy to oblige you. (If your dog doesn’t know the “Up” command, flip to Chapter Jumping and Dancing for Joy
for a quick lesson.)
Getting dogs to keep their paws to themselves
Is your dog too paw-expressive? It happens to the best of them. If your dog constantly paws, you have two options: Ignore her, or use a mild correction. Ignoring is self-explanatory; you may simply walk away. If that doesn’t work, try one of the following corrections:
– Keep a short tab (a very short loop of leash) on your dog and snap it downward while saying, “Not now.” (You can buy a short lead — 8 to 12 inches — at a pet supply store or from my Web site store at www.whendogstalk.com.)
– Say “Nope” or “Wrong” and command “Sit.” (See Chapter Encouraging Self-Control before You Launch into Lessons for more on these commands.)
Remember that dogs usually paw because they want something: a treat, a toy, or attention. Avoid giving in to your dog’s pestering! You’re just teaching her that it works. Wait for more mannerly behavior, such as sitting quietly or lying down, before you give your dog what she wants.
To begin, get a light switch like the ones on your wall. Use your target disc to teach your dog to paw it and to get comfortable with its feel. Tape the disc above the fixture and hold the fixture in your hand initially.
At first, hold the switch at a normal “Paw” level — about your dog’s elbow — and pair the command “Hit it” with “Lights” as you encourage her cooperation with praise and rewards. This will seem awkward at first; your dog isn’t used to things moving when she paws them. Use praise to encourage her and rewards to emphasize the moment her paw connects with the switch.
Separately teach your dog to jump up on the wall by the switch. Pat the wall and teach “Up, up” (see Chapter Jumping and Dancing for Joy
), guiding your dog there with a treat if necessary. At first, all your dog needs to do to earn a reward is jump up and stand against the wall.
Gradually lift your practice switch higher and higher until it’s at the height of the real switch. Each time, prompt your dog with the command “Hit it–Lights!” At first, reward and praise your dog if she touches the switch. After four days of practice, reward her only if she activates the switch. Once she’s got it down pat, phase off the “Hit it” command and emphasize “Lights!”
Now that you’ve connected the dots, try this trick in the real world. Move to other switches in your home, using the pretend switch step if your dog acts confused.
Playing the piano
All you need to teach your dog to play the piano is a keyboard, a target disc, and the command “Paw.” Here’s how it works:
1. Teach your dog to paw a target disc.
I explain how to do this earlier in the intro to the section “‘Hit it!’: Targeting paw tricks with lights, doors, and music.”
2. Place the keyboard on the ground and place your disc on it.
3. Pair the command “Hit it” with “Piano”: “Hit it–Piano!”
4. Move the disc to various spots on the piano.
The hand signal for this trick is to pretend your fingers are tapping an imaginary keyboard.
Going on a Roll
Dogs who are as comfortable on their backs as they are on their paws really groove with these rolling tricks. How will you know whether your dog qualifies? She’ll roll anywhere, anytime, and often of her own volition. She’ll sleep on her back. She’ll scratch her back by rolling on the carpet. She’ll come in with a grass-stained coat from rolling in the yard.
The good news? “Roll over” isn’t just a one-time trick. Once your dog learns to roll, you’ve got lots of trick training in store, from impersonations to pup-in-a-blanket. Pup-in-a-blanket, you ask? Read on!
“Roll over” always brings a smile to my face. Although teaching it requires some patience, it demonstrates the importance of sequencing — breaking the sum of a trick into parts and then linking the parts to perform the trick.
Before you begin, bring your dog into a quiet room and place treats on a nearby table. Find your clicker if you’re using one (see Chapter Prepping for Training — Mentally and Physically
for more on clickers). Here are the three training sequences:
1. First sequence: Call your dog to you and put her in a “Down–Stay.” Kneel next to your dog and scratch her belly until she lies on one side. As she does so, say “Roll”; then reward and praise her. Repeat this sequence 10 to 20 times until your dog responds comfortably to this direction.
2. Second sequence: Repeat the preceding steps. Then take a treat and circle it from under your dog’s chin to just behind her ear (see Figure 6-2). As her head twists to follow the treat, her body will rock to the side. Say “Roll,” offer a treat, and praise her. Repeat this sequence 10 to 20 times until your dog responds quickly.
3. Final sequence: Repeat the preceding steps. Now circle the treat slowly backward over the back of your dog’s head as you say “Roll over.”
When your dog is first learning to roll over, she may need some help. Guide her over by gently pushing her top front leg to the other side as you say the command.
Click (or say “Yes!”) and give your dog a treat whenever she does a full roll, whether you helped your dog or not.
Figure 6-2: Using a treat to lure a dog to roll over.
As soon as your dog gets the full roll sequence, practice a few times, and then quit on a high note.
Rolling over with a hand signal
Once your dog is comfortable rolling over, you can teach a simple hand signal to prompt this trick:
1. Continue to kneel next to her when commanding “Roll over,” but lean backward in the direction you want her to roll.
2. Hold your index finger parallel to the floor, and draw small circles in the air as you give your verbal command.
3. Help your dog initially if she seems confused, praising her as you assist and jumping up with her to end the trick.
4. As soon as she responds to the cue without your help, stand up and give the command and the hand signal, always accentuating your hand signal.
Your end goal is to direct your dog from a standing position. Gradually move up from a kneeling position to a one-kneed bend to eventually standing up, as you over-accentuate your hand signal.
After your dog seems to be able to follow the command, you can teach her to keep on rolling or to jump up after the first roll. Using enthusiastic body language, you can easily communicate when you want your dog to jump up. Toss your arms in the air and jump like a bunny when you’re encouraging your dog to leap up.
If you want your dog to continue rolling, lean in the direction she’s rolling and exaggerate your signal initially.
Pump your clenched fist in an enthusiastic hooray to signal your finishing roll!
Rolling over from a distance
When your dog knows the hand signal — drawing circles in the air with your index finger — you’re ready for control at a distance. Here’s how to cue your dog to roll from farther away:
1. Place your dog in a “Down–Stay” and stand back 3 feet.
2. Use your hand signal, leaning your body in the direction you’re sending your dog, as you command “Roll over.”
If your dog looks confused, go to her calmly and help out, getting back into your starting position as she finishes the trick.
When she performs on her own, give her a jackpot — a whole fistful — of treats and end with a fun game.
3. Back up 2 feet at a time during your subsequent practice sessions, until your dog will roll over at a reasonable distance from you.
Visualization helps you teach a trick, so create a picture in your mind of your dog performing the trick flawlessly. Can dogs read minds? I think so!
“Pup-in-a-Blanket” is a fun trick that bridges two trick sequences into one cool trick. For this one, you need a large blanket (twice the size of your dog). You also need the commands “Roll over,” “Take it,” and “Hold it” (the latter two are taught in Chapter Go Fetch! Finding and Retrieving Tricks
), and the knowledge of which side your dog generally rolls to. Here’s how to get your pal to roll up inside a blanket:
2. In the same quiet room where you initially practiced “Roll over,” place the blanket so that the majority of it is on the side that your dog generally rolls to.
Adding variety to the roll-over performance
To add some flavor to your dog’s performance, consider setting up the trick in the following fun ways:
– Dolphin imitation: Who hasn’t seen a dolphin do a perfect water roll at an aquarium or a water park? Your dog, though not as fluid in her movements, can still do a pretty fair likeness. Once your dog knows the signal for “Roll over,” you can signal this exercise as you pair it with funny questions like “Who’s the happiest fish in the sea?” or “What does a dolphin do when she’s really happy?” Or you can do impersonations and ask your audience to guess . . . or better still, buy a costume and dress her up!
– Dizzy dog: When performing, it’s fun to ask silly questions or riddles and have your dog’s answer come in the form of a cleverly choreographed trick, prompted by a subtle hand signal. You can say something as simple as “Heard you stayed out a little late last night. How are you feeling today?”; then pair “Roll over” with the spinning trick from Chapter Jumping and Dancing for Joy — you’ll give the impression of a really dizzy dog and leave your audience in stitches!
– Rolling down the hill: If your dog belongs to kids, there’s no better fun than to climb a hill and have everyone roll down it. When first teaching your dog to roll in the open grass, work on a level surface; then move up to low-grade hills. Graduate up to the type of hills that everyone — whether they have two paws or four — can accelerate on!
Remember: As you take this trick on the road, your dog may get performance anxiety. If this happens, just backtrack to the beginning stages of the “Roll over” trick to help jar her memory: She’ll ground herself and be wowing the crowds before you know it!
3. Encourage your dog to “Take” the blanket and “Hold it” in her mouth.
Praise and reward this sequence 10 times or until your dog seems eager and comfortable with this step.
4. Next, signal and guide (if necessary) your dog to roll over while she’s still holding onto the blanket.
Sitting Up: Ain’t Too Proud to Beg
“Beg,” “Ask nicely,” “Put up your paws” — take your pick of a verbal command — they all mean the same thing! Getting your dog to sit up on her back legs (also called haunches) is a real charmer. Some dogs come by this trick fairly easily. Others aren’t as coordinated and need help up. Either way, this section explains how to teach your dog to beg.
The naturals: Teaching the art of begging
Some dogs are born beggars. Your dog may have even discovered the begging trick by herself during one of her more-successful ploys to get attention. If your dog is a natural beggar, praise her each time she offers you the begging behavior. Soon you’ll have a smart aleck on your hands who sits up at every opportunity, and you’ll have no trouble getting her to beg on cue.
Here’s how to teach the begging trick:
1. Instruct “Sit” and make sure the dog is sitting squarely (not leaning to either side).
If your dog is relatively coordinated but often gets a little too excited about food rewards — she’s jumping, turning inside out, and basically unable to sit still — make her part of the “Corner Crew”: Start the dog out in a corner of the room to help her feel more secure. Tuck her back end toward the wall. The walls on either side help limit and guide her movements. If she’s super-excited, practice when her energy is lower, such as late in the evening or after a good romp.
2. Take a treat and hold it an inch above her nose.
3. As she stretches to sniff the treat, bring it back slowly between her ears as you command, “Ask nicely.”
The dog should rise up to follow the path of the treat.
4. Click (or say “Yes!”) and reward the dog’s split-second attempt to sit up.
After she catches on, hold out on rewarding treats for performances that are more balanced.
The hand signal for this trick is to move your palm upward, facing the sky. Start your hand at your hip and move it to your chest level.
Bowser bracers: Begging for a little help
If your dog is less than coordinated, you need to be a more active participant in the learning phase of begging. Try this approach:
1. Sit your dog squarely (not leaning to either side) and instruct “Stay.”
Stand directly behind her tail with your heels together and your toes out to either side of her spine.
2. Hold a treat above her nose and bring it upward and back toward her ear (see Figure 6-3a).
3. Give the command “Ask nicely,” and as your dog begins to rise, brace her back with your legs for support (see Figure 6-3b).
Figure 6-3: Help your dog learn to beg for a treat by letting her use you for support at first.
4. Click (or say “Yes!”) and reward the slightest lift.
Gradually, hold out for routines that are more balanced (though still supported).
5. When you see that she can balance well with your help, try supporting the dog with just your knees.
Eventually, she’ll perfect a steady balance while supported by your knees.
6. Withdraw your support in increments until you’re just standing there cheering your pal on.
Fairly soon, you can begin to step away. See how she shines!
Expanding Your Repertoire with Stretching Tricks
Stretching is a simple trick to teach because you can reinforce it simply by catching your dog in the act. Of course, you can build on the simple stretch technique that I explain in this section and get your dog to even take a bow after she’s done performing.
Certain tricks don’t involve more than catching your dog acting normally and attaching a cue word to the behavior. The stretch trick is no exception. To teach your dog the “Stretch” command, just follow these easy steps:
1. Watch your dog as she wakes up, is excited in play, or is preparing to rest.
2. Use the command word “Stretch” as she stretches forward.
3. Praise and reward her enthusiastically.
Taking a bow
Of course, no performance would be complete without a bow. To teach your dog to bow, utilize all three of the following approaches. Soon all of them will meld together and your dog will be dazzling her audience to the very end of the act!
– Caught in the act: Whenever you catch your dog stretching her front paws with her bum in the air, command “Bow” as you flip twirl your arm out for a signal. Praise enthusiastically.
Or if your dog’s feeling spunky and playful and crouches on her front legs with her bottom in the air, take a bow as you command “Bow.” Praise enthusiastically and reward her with her favorite game.
– Jury-rigged: Take your dog aside into a quiet room with some favorite treats and a clicker if you have one. Hold her belly up as you hold the treat to the ground, just in front of her paws, and command “Bow.” Slowly fade off the belly hold, simply using the cue word “Bow.”
– Smush face: In a quiet room, take a treat and hold it against your dog’s nose. Press the treat gently back and downward, thus encouraging your dog to bend forward on her elbows to get the reward. As she does, say “Bow” and reward her!
Other cue words besides “Bow” fit the stretching behavior just as well. Your dog can learn multiple words for the same behavior. Just make sure you start with one command cue before adding others, and always use the same hand signal.
by Sarah Hodgson