Ten (or So) Tricks for Fun and Gains

Love Dog

In This Chapter

  • Understanding the secret to teaching tricks
  • Trying amusing and useful tricks

Teaching your dog tricks that amaze and astound

Every well-trained dog knows a trick or two that can impress friends and family alike. Tricks you can teach your dog can be simple or complex, depending on your dog’s drives and your interest.
One of the more astonishing tricks, at least until you know how it works, requires a reliable retrieve on command. Others require no more than a simple “Stay,” but to the uninitiated, they’re equally astonishing. This chapter offers just a few to get you started.
For this chapter, we’re indebted to Mary Ann Rombold Zeigenfuse, one of the lead instructors at our annual training camps and the trainer of President George H. W. and Barbara Bush’s dog Millie. She wrote Dog Tricks: Step by Step (Howell Book House, Inc.), thereby keeping alive the tradition of anyone who has ever had anything to do with the White House, no matter how remote, becoming an author.

The Trick to Successful Tricks

The trick to teaching tricks is sequencing. Sequencing means breaking down what you want to teach your dog into components small enough for the dog to master, which lead up to the final product. For example, if you want to teach your dog to shake hands, also known as High Five, start by taking Buddy’s paw in your hand with the command you want to use and then praise and reward him. Next, offer your palm, and so on.
When you decide on the kind of tricks to teach Buddy, keep in mind his Personality Profile (see Chapter Understanding Your Dog’s Mind). Tricks like High Five or Roll Over are easiest with dogs low in fight behaviors and not so easy with those high in fight behaviors. A dog high in fight behaviors wouldn’t stoop so low — it’s beneath his dignity.
Tricks learned quickly by dogs low in fight behaviors include
  • High Five
  • Roll Over
  • Play Dead
Tricks learned quickly by dogs high in prey behaviors are
  • Find Mine, such as keys, wallet, or whatever (dog must know how to retrieve)
  • Jump through Arms or Hoop

Tricks learned quickly by dogs high in pack behaviors include

  • Don’t Cross This Line or Stay until I Tell You
  • You Have Food on Your Nose

Success Story

When you see Buddy do something that could turn into a trick, such as Sit Up and Beg, reward it and work on getting him to do it on command.

High Five

The object is to teach Buddy to raise one front paw as high as he can on command. This exercise has four sequences.
Your goal for Sequence 1 is to introduce your dog to the concept of the exercise: Shake hands.
1. Sit your dog in front of you.
2. Reduce your body posture by kneeling or squatting in front of your dog so that you’re not leaning or hovering over him.
3. Offer him your palm at mid-chest level and say, “Shake” or “Gimme Five,” or whatever command you want to use.
4. Take the elbow of his dominant front leg and lift it off the ground about two inches.

(If you don’t know your dog’s dominant side, he’ll quickly show you.)

5. Slide your hand down to the paw and gently shake.
6. Praise enthusiastically as you’re shaking his paw.
7. Reward with a treat and release him with “OK.”
8. Repeat this sequence five times over the course of three sessions to get your dog used to this exercise and to hearing the command.

Remember

When teaching your dog to shake and when you offer him your palm, reduce your body posture by either kneeling or squatting so that you don’t lean or hover over him.

Your goal for Sequence 2 is for your dog to lift his paw.
1. Sit your dog in front of you and reduce your body posture.
2. Offer your palm with the command “Shake.”

Pause. You’re looking for some sort of response. If nothing happens, touch his elbow and offer your palm again. Give him the chance to lift his paw.

3. When he lifts the paw on his own, take the paw, enthusiastically praise, reward, and release.
4. If nothing happens, take his paw, praise, reward, and release.
You’ll find that as soon as you offer your palm, your dog will put his paw in it without waiting for the command. When this starts to happen, teach him to give you the other paw by saying “The Other One.” (See the next section for more info on “The Other One.”)
Stay with this sequence until your dog is lifting his paw off the ground on command so that you can shake it.
Your goal for Sequence 3 is to put his paw into your palm.
1. Sit your dog in front of you and reduce your body posture.
2. Offer your palm at mid-chest level and say “Shake.”

At this point, he should put his paw on your palm. Praise enthusiastically, reward, and release.

3. If nothing happens, go back to Sequence 2.
Stay with this sequence until your dog readily and without hesitation puts his paw on your palm.
Finally, your goal with Sequence 4 is to raise his paw as high as he can.

1. Sit your dog in front of you and reduce your body posture.

2. Offer your palm at his chin level and say “Shake.”

By now your dog should readily and without hesitation put his paw into your hand. When he does, praise, reward, and release. If not, go back to Sequence 3.

3. Raise your palm, in two-inch increments, until you have reached your dog’s limit. (If you have a Yorkie, you’re done.)

After several repetitions, your dog will stretch his paw as high as he can. Praise, reward, and release. 

The Other One

This trick is an extension of Shake, which is part of the High Five exercise in the preceding section. It follows the same sequences, except you want your dog to give you the other paw. What you’ll see happening is that as soon as you offer your palm, your dog will give you his paw without waiting for the command.
You’re going to use the same sequences as in the High Five exercise except that you’ll point directly at the leg you want the dog to lift, that is, the other  one, and you’ll use a new command, such as “The Other One,” or whatever. Buddy will soon figure out the difference, because he won’t get the treat unless he gives you the correct paw.
You can now impress your friends and neighbors with how clever Buddy is.

Roll Over

Roll Over is always a great favorite. It requires the dog to lie on the floor and completely roll over sideways. As a prerequisite, the dog must know how to lie down on command (see Chapter Mastering Basic Training).

Success Story

Roll Over is always a crowd pleaser. You can easily teach most dogs that know the “Down” command and respond to a treat.

Your goal with Sequence 1, the first of three sequences, is to get your dog to roll over with a little help from you.
1. Place your dog into the Down position, either with a command or a treat.

2. Reduce your body posture by kneeling or squatting in front of your dog so that you’re not leaning or hovering over him.

3. Hold the treat in such a way that your dog has to look over his shoulder while lying on the ground.
4. Say “Roll Over” and slowly make a small circle around his head, keeping the treat close to his nose.
5. With your other hand gently help your dog roll over in the direction you want him to go.

When the dog has completely rolled over, enthusiastically praise, reward, and release.

6. Repeat until your dog is completely relaxed with you helping him roll over.
Your goal for Sequence 2 is for your dog to roll over on his own.
1. Place your dog into the Down position, either with a command or a treat.
2. Reduce your body posture.
3. Say “Roll Over” and get him to follow the treat without any help from you.

When he does it, praise, reward, and release. If not, go back to Sequence 1.

4. Repeat until your dog rolls over with a minimum of guidance on your part.

Your goal in Sequence 3 is to get your dog to roll over on command.

1. You don’t have a treat in your hand, but be prepared to reward immediately when you get the correct response.
2. Say “Down” and then “Roll Over.”

The first few times you do this, you may have to use the same hand motion as though you had a treat in it. Praise, reward, and release when your dog does it.

3. Reduce the hand motion until he does it on command alone.
4. Praise, reward, and release.
After your dog has mastered the trick, he’ll offer this behavior anytime he wants a treat. Unfortunately, you can’t reward him for that — he’s now training you to give him a treat on demand. Instead, go to random rewards when he does the trick on command.

Play Dead

Remember

This trick is an old favorite and a logical extension of Roll Over. You can easily teach it to dogs low in fight behaviors. If your dog is high in fight behaviors, don’t waste your time.

It consists of aiming your index finger and “firing” at your dog with a command such as “Bang,” and your dog falls on his side or back and plays dead.
The goal of Sequence 1 is to get your dog to lie down on his side or back.
1. With a treat in your “gun” hand, down your dog.
2. Lean over your dog and in a deep tone of voice say “Bang” as you point your index finger at him.

If he is high in flight behaviors, he’ll roll on his side or back.

3. Praise and give him a treat while he is in that position and then release him with “OK.”

If he doesn’t roll on his side or back, use the treat as you did for the “Roll Over.” Then praise, reward, and release.

4. Repeat this sequence until your dog responds to the “Bang” command.
Your goal in Sequence 2 is for your dog to play dead from the sitting or standing position.
1. Get your dog’s attention by calling his name.
2. Lean over your dog and in a deep tone of voice say “Bang” as you point your index finger at him.

If he lies down and plays dead, praise, reward, and release. If not, show him what you want by placing him in the “dead” position. Praise, reward, and release.

Practice this sequence until he responds to the “Bang” command from the sitting or standing position.
Sequence 3 is when your dog plays dead at a distance.
1. With your dog about two feet from you, get his attention by using his name and give the “Bang” command as you point your finger at him.

If he responds, praise, go to him, reward him, and then release. If not, show him what you want and start all over.

2. Gradually increase the distance to about six feet.

1. Tell your dog to “Stay” and with him watching you, place the keys in the corner of an armchair or couch.
2. Go back to your dog and send him with the “Find Mine” command.
Praise, reward, and release.
3. Repeat several times, each time changing the location slightly, so Buddy gets used to looking for the keys.
Your goal in Sequence 3 is for Buddy to find your keys by using his nose. This sequence is the heart of the trick and the real fun part.
1. Tell your dog to stay and without him watching, place the keys on the floor, just inside the doorframe of another room.
2. Go back to your dog and send him with the “Find Mine” command.

What you want him to do is to find your keys by retracing your steps and then using his nose to locate the keys.

Tip

Over the course of several sessions, make the Find Mine game increasingly difficult. For example, a fairly advanced search would involve you going into one room, coming out again, and going into another room and putting the keys behind a wastebasket. Anytime he gets stuck, help him by showing him where you placed the keys. Remember to praise and reward correct responses, although you no longer have to do it every time.

The goal in Sequence 4 is for your dog to discriminate between objects (see Chapter The Utility Dog Title).
For many years, this has been our favorite trick. Like any good trick, it’s baffling if you don’t understand how it’s done, yet childishly simple for the dog.
It starts with the knowledge that a dog’s nose is far more powerful than a human’s, and that he’s able to discriminate between different scents. He can certainly tell the difference between you and anybody else. Armed with this knowledge, you’re ready to fleece anyone gullible enough to take on Buddy.
1. Crumple up a dollar bill, place it on the ground and have your dog retrieve it with the “Find Mine” command.
2. Have a helper, such as a family member, also crumple up a dollar bill.
3. Place the bills on the floor about six inches apart and send your dog with the “Find Mine” command.

At this point the odds are better than 50 percent that he’ll bring back your dollar bill. If he does, praise and reward. If he brings back the wrong one, just take it from him and send him again to get the correct one.

4. Repeat until you’re sure he’s using his nose to identify your dollar bill.

5. Have your helper add another bill.
Each time your dog is successful, have your helper add another bill, until there are a total of ten bills from which to choose. While Buddy is learning this trick, he will occasionally make a mistake and bring back a wrong bill. Take it from him and send him again with “Find Mine.” Reward every correct response. You’ll need to replace the wrong bill that the dog brought back — it now has his saliva on it.

Success Story

The fun part comes when you change the denomination and get other people involved. Say you have a half-dozen visitors. During a lull in the conversation you say, “Did you know that our dog can tell a twenty dollar bill from a single?” Of course, nobody is going to believe you. So, you take out a twenty and ask if “anybody has any ones?” Crumple up your twenty and have the others crumple up their singles. Then have Buddy do his number.

A variation is to ask for someone else’s twenty with the understanding that if your dog retrieves it, you get to keep it. Naturally, you can only handle that twenty and the person who gave it to you can’t contribute any singles. Good luck!

Jumping through Arms or Hoop

A hula hoop makes a wonderful prop for this trick, in which you first teach your dog to jump through the hoop and then your arms. Start by getting a hoop commensurate with your dog’s size.
The goal of Sequence 1 is that your dog jumps through the hoop on leash.
1. Lay the hoop on the ground and take your dog over to examine it.
2. Put your dog on leash and walk him over the hoop.
3. Pick up the hoop and let the bottom edge rest on the ground.
4. Thread the leash through the hoop and encourage your dog to jump through with “Jump.”

You can use a treat to get him to walk through the hoop. Repeat until your dog readily goes through the hoop with the “Jump” command. Praise, reward, and release for successful tries.

5. Thread the leash through the hoop and raise it a few inches off the floor.

If necessary, use a treat to get him through and then enthusiastically praise. As your dog gains confidence, begin raising the hoop in two-inch increments until the bottom is eye level in front of him.

The goal of Sequence 2 is to get your dog to jump through hoop off leash.
1. Take the leash off and present the hoop in front of your dog with the bottom no higher than the dog’s knees.
2. Say “Jump” and let the dog jump through.

Praise and reward with a treat. Repeat but change the position of the hoop so that the bottom is level with the dog’s elbows, and then his shoulder. How high you can raise it depends the athletic ability of your dog.

Keep in mind that as soon as you get to about shoulder level (the dog’s, not yours), you need a surface with good traction on which the dog can take off and land. Wet grass and slippery floors aren’t good surfaces for this trick, unless you want your dog featured on a funniest home video show.

3. Teach your dog to jump as you pivot in a circle with the hoop.

Pivot slowly at first and then increase speed, but never so fast that the dog loses interest or can’t keep up.

Finally, Sequence 3’s goal is achieved when your dog jumps through your arms.
1. Review having your dog jump through the hoop at his shoulder level several times and then put the hoop away.
2. Squat down and let your dog see you put a treat at the spot where he is going to land.
3. Make a circle with your arms out to the side.

Keep the upper part of your body upright.

4. Tell your dog to jump and when he does, tell him how clever he is.

Going around you to the treat is considered bad form, and you need to pick up the treat before he gets it. Then try again. It won’t take him long to figure out the only way to the treat is through your arms. Stop after he has been successful.

Keep working on this trick until your dog jumps through your arms every time you make the circle.

Don’t Cross This Line

This trick is an extension of door and stair manners (see Chapter Mastering Basic Training). Its most useful application is to keep the dog out of one or several rooms in the house, either temporarily or permanently.

Because Don’t Cross This Line is a good review of door and stair manners, remember that you have to release your dog to go through doors or up and down stairs. If you get lax about it, your dog will start releasing himself, thereby defeating the object of the training.
The goal of Sequence 1 is to review door manners on leash.
1. Use the “Stay” or “Wait Until I Tell You” command.

Put your dog on leash.

2. Walk toward the front door, say “Stay,” and open it.

Make sure the leash is loose and that you aren’t holding Buddy back. If he starts to cross the threshold, check on the leash to bring him back in.

3. Close the door and start all over.

Because you may have already taught him to sit at the door before you release him, this review on leash will go quickly.

4. Repeat until he begins to hesitate crossing the threshold.
The goal of Sequence 2 is that your dog learns to cross the threshold with your permission.
1. Walk toward the front door, say “Stay,” and open the door.
2. Briefly hesitate and then say, “OK” and cross over the threshold with your dog.
With Sequence 3, your goal is for you to go through the doorway and your dog not.
1. Approach the door and open it.
2. Say “Stay” and go through the doorway.

If he tries to follow, pull him back by extending your arm through the door and then close the door on the leash.

3. Open the door, but don’t let him come out yet until you say “OK,” and then praise.
Your goal in Sequence 4 is to review Sequences 1 through 3 coming back into the house.

Remember

You have to release your dog to go through doors or up and down stairs. If you get lax about it, your dog will start releasing himself, thereby defeating the object of the training.
You can now apply the same principle to one or more rooms in the house. As a trick, you can teach it to your dog by drawing a line on the ground and using the line as a threshold. After your dog understands the basic principle, he’ll catch on to anything you don’t want him to cross.

You Have Food on Your Nose

This one is a cute trick. It involves balancing a piece of food on Buddy’s nose until you say “OK.” Some dogs even toss it in the air and catch it on the way down.
Your goal in Sequence 1 is to be able to cup your hand over your dog’s muzzle. If you have taught your dog to retrieve, he already knows this.
1. Sit your dog and pet him for a few seconds.
2. Cup your hand over his muzzle from the top, just as you do for the Retrieve (see Chapter Retrieving).
3. Kneel or squat in front of your dog and keep your upper body straight.

With your other hand hold a treat near your dog’s nose and get him to focus on the treat.

4. Release with “OK” and give him the treat.

You need to be able to hold his muzzle so that you can put a piece of food on his nose.

5. Repeat until you can cup his muzzle and he focuses on the treat.
The goal in Sequence 2 is to put the treat on his nose.
1. Gently hold his muzzle and put the treat on the dog’s nose in front of your thumb.
2. Tell him to “Stay” or “Wait,” and then release him.

The treat will either fall off or get bounced into the air.

Sequence 3’s goal is to increase the time he balances the treat.
1. Start by holding his muzzle and placing the treat on his nose.
2. Say, “Stay” and have your dog balance the treat for ten seconds, and then release him.
3. Repeat and increase the time to 20 seconds.

With Sequence 4, your dog should balance the treat without help from you.
1. Put the treat on his muzzle and then slowly let go of his muzzle, reminding him to “Stay.”
2. Get him to focus on your index finger by holding it in front of his nose.
3. Wait a few seconds and release your dog.

You can now gradually increase the time he holds the treat before you release your dog, as well as gradually increase the distance of your finger from the dog’s nose.

Tip

What if he drops or tosses the treat before you said “OK”? Well, if you can’t get to the treat before he does, reduce the time and distance until he is reliable again and then you can increase them.

Take a Bow

Performers customarily take a bow after a performance to accept the applause of the audience. This trick teaches your dog to take a bow after he has performed the tricks you’ve taught him.
For this trick your dog has to know the “Down” and the “Stand” commands. (Review the progressions for teaching the “Down” command in Chapter Mastering Basic Training, and the progressions for teaching the “Stand” command in Chapter The Companion Dog Title.)
The goal of Sequence 1 is to show Buddy what you want him to do.
1. Stand your dog at Heel position.

With a small dog, you can teach this trick on a table. (Check out Chapter Canine Cruise Control: Walking, Coming When Called, and Leaving Stuff Alone for more info).

2. Place your left hand, palm facing down, under your dog’s belly with a little backwards pressure against his hind legs.
3. Place your right hand through the collar under his chin.
4. Say, “Take a bow” and apply a little downward pressure on the collar.
You want Buddy to lower the front end and remain standing with the rear end. If he can’t grasp the concept, use a treat to get him to lower his front end, keeping your left hand in place to keep the rear end standing. When you’re successful, praise and release.
Practice until he lowers his front end on command with minimal downward pressure on his collar. Praise enthusiastically after each successful repetition.
Sequence 2’s goal is for Buddy to lower his front end without your hand through the collar.
1. Stand your dog, keeping your left hand under his belly.
2. Say, “Take a bow” and pat the ground in front of him with your right hand.
When he lowers his front end, praise and release. Practice several times until he responds to the command without you patting the ground.
The goal of Sequence 3 is for Buddy to take a bow on command.
1. Stand your dog, point to the ground in front of him with your left hand, and say, “Take a bow.”

When he does, praise and release. If he tries to lie down, prop up his rear end with your left hand. Practice until you no longer have to prop up his rear.

2. Finally, when he takes a bow on command, say, “Stay” and release him after several seconds.

Be prepared for your audience’s applause.

by Jack and Wendy Volhard

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