In This Chapter
- Taking age into account
- Considering breed characteristics
- Paying attention to body type
- Choosing tricks that fit your dog’s personality
- Appealing to your dog’s likes and talents
Take a look at your dog. What do you have? Big or small? Active or mellow? Clueless puppy, mischievous adolescent, or full-grown set-in-his-ways dog? Before you introduce your dog to trick training, put yourself in his paws and think through the kind of activities that will get his tail wagging. Dogs are like snowflakes, thumbprints, and children — they’re all unique. Each one has likes and dislikes.
Making Your Lessons Age-Appropriate
Beware of the aggressive reaction at any age. Some dogs have lofty impressions of themselves. If your dog growls at you as you explore any of these training routines, stop what you’re doing and call a professional. Your first trick will be to smooth the communication between you and your dog (for tips on canine communication, see Chapter Prepping for Training — Mentally and Physically).
Puppy head start (under 6 months)
Though seemingly open to learning about new things, a puppy can get overwhelmed by human expectations. In the earliest days of your life together, keep your “trick” routines to basic manners like where to potty and to sit before petting and rewards. You won’t end up on Letterman with these tricks, but you and I know that they’re truly remarkable.
– Teach as you go. Structured lessons are too much for a young puppy. Instead, practice the teach-as-you-go method, giving direction as you walk your puppy through everyday routines. Choose your command; then say it each time you walk your puppy through the activity. Say “Outside” or “Papers” as you lead your pup to his potty area. Say “Sit” as you help him assume the dinnertime pose.
– Avoid staring and repeating directions. To a puppy, being stared down or repeatedly ordered feels scary. Imagine it: a giant 400-pound gorilla staring at you, giving you unintelligible orders. Would you understand him any faster if he repeated the order again and again? Say your directions clearly as you gently guide your puppy’s body through the trick, or show him what you’re envisioning by doing it yourself!
– Be creative. If your puppy isn’t catching on, don’t get frustrated — that only scares your puppy. Instead, ask what you can do differently. Your puppy can’t read your mind, and although some pups grasp routines quickly, others need a more creative approach. For example, giving treats to puppies after they potty works for some but not for others. If your puppy is treat-obsessed, he may think that peeing anywhere is treat-worthy. As you’ll discover down the road, getting a dog to perform tricks and complex routines can be a most creative process.
Your first routines should highlight puppies’ natural behavior, like saying “Happy Puppy!” while they wag their tails. Young puppies, while impressionable, have short attention spans and cannot follow complex sequences.
Teenagers (about 6 to 14 months old)
– Choose tricks that lean toward his passions. If your dog likes to grab things, work on retrieving and carrying skills. If he’s athletic or jumpy, work on tricks or agility routines that highlight those inclinations. Got a noisy or nosy companion or one who likes to bark, dig, or investigate? Find activities to encourage those skills. See the later section “Rolling with Your Dog’s Natural Gifts” for details.
– Break a trick into mini lessons to build the success rate. Adolescent dogs get discouraged easily. Shy dogs shut down; more-energetic dogs lose interest. For instance, if your goal is to teach your dog to roll over, break the lesson into six mini lessons. Yes, six! Here they are:
1. Lie down.
2. Lie down on his side.
3. Lie down on his side and then arch his head over his neck.
4. Lie down on his side, arch his head over his neck, and then roll backward.
5. Lie down on his side, arch his head over his neck, and roll over.
6. Lie down on his side, arch his head over his neck, roll over, and stand up!
– Keep the lesson short and sweet. Young dogs get bored and distracted easily. Keep each lesson focused, upbeat, and short: five to ten minutes maximum. Master one skill before moving on to the next, and highlight a successful routine at the beginning and end of each practice session.
Mature dogs (about 1 year and older)
– Give lessons before meals. Older dogs get set in their routines and can predict meal times with uncanny accuracy. Use this ability to your trick-training advantage. An ideal time for lessons is right before a meal: hungry and alert, your dog will be eager to learn new activities — especially those that earn food rewards!
– Factor in your dog’s attention span. Mature dogs have better concentration and will enjoy having your complete attention. Depending on your dog’s personality type (which I discuss later in “Tagging Your Dog’s Personality”), vary lessons from two to five minutes.
– Account for aging. Dogs age much too quickly. Although a 3-year-old dog can perform dazzling jumping feats or course an agility field ten times over, at some point he’ll slow down. His knees will ache. He’ll lose his youthful spark and drive. He’ll need longer rest and recovery periods. Don’t despair — we’re all growing old. Work with your dog and pace his routines to his comfort and enthusiasm levels.
Sorting by Breed Characteristics
In the United States, the AKC recognizes more than 150 breeds (www.akc.org/breeds). The AKC is in charge of assigning a number to and counting every single purebred puppy born in America. What a job! When I try to make sense of it, I think it’s a lot like a school: You have seven different classes and one principal’s office — the AKC — that keeps everything organized.
- Finding the keys (Chapter Go Fetch! Finding and Retrieving Tricks)
- Balancing acts (Chapter Adding Drama with Clever Tricks)
- Frisbee and flyball (Chapter Sharing Favorite Sports and Backyard Games), hunting trials (Chapter Participating in More Hobbies and Breed-Specific Events), and agility (Part IV)
- Howling and barking on cue (Chapter Barking, Counting, and Singing on Cue)
- Fetching a ball (Chapter Go Fetch! Finding and Retrieving Tricks)
- Breed-specific adventures like hound trailing and coursing (Chapter Participating in More Hobbies and Breed-Specific Events)
A leash or enclosure is required when Hounds are outside.
- Sniffing and finding (Chapter Go Fetch! Finding and Retrieving Tricks)
- Bang, Bang! Playing dead (Chapter Adding Drama with Clever Tricks)
- Sledding and carting (Chapter Harness Sports: Bringing Pulling Dogs to the Starting Line), Schutzhund or German police dog tests (Chapter Participating in More Hobbies and Breed-Specific Events), or agility (Part IV)
An untrained Working dog is lost. Unemployment leaves them bored, nervous, and in some cases, territorial and aggressive.
- “Chase your tail!” (Chapter Adding Drama with Clever Tricks)
- Combat crawling (Chapter Adding Drama with Clever Tricks)
- Flyball (Chapter Sharing Favorite Sports and Backyard Games), agility (Part IV), and earthdog trials (Chapter Participating in More Hobbies and Breed-Specific Events)
Untrained or isolated, Terriers can become chronic barkers, destructive chewers, or urine markers, and they may develop aggression over objects, over food, and with other animals.
- Jumping into your arms (Chapter Jumping and Dancing for Joy)
- Saying his prayers (Chapters Adding Drama with Clever Tricks)
- Freestyle (Chapter Sharing Favorite Sports and Backyard Games), obedience trials (Chapter Participating in More Hobbies and Breed-Specific Events), and agility (Part IV)
It’s easy to neglect any type of training with Toy dogs, but owner beware! Without direction, they can become quite tyrannical, ruling the house with constant barking and snapping. To get the most from these little guys, train them to do some useful tricks, endearing them to one and all.
- Dancing (Chapter Jumping and Dancing for Joy)
- Rolling over (Chapter Engaging Favorites)
- Agility (Part IV), catching and retrieving sports (Chapter Sharing Favorite Sports and Backyard Games), and obedience trials (Chapter Participating in More Hobbies and Breed-Specific Events)
- The name game (Chapter Minding Manners and Trying Out Some Tricks)
- “Hide and Seek” (Chapter Minding Manners and Trying Out Some Tricks)
- Agility (Part IV), herding trials (Chapter Participating in More Hobbies and Breed-Specific Events), and flyball (Chapter Sharing Favorite Sports and Backyard Games)
Isolated or ignored, dogs in the Herding group may develop timidity, barking, or pacing habits.
Hybrid vigor is a theory that states that mixed-breed dogs, due to their larger and more diverse gene pools, are superior in health and temperament to purebred dogs. Do I agree with this theory? A qualified partly. You see a lot of inherited health problems, such as hip dysplasia, in certain breeds, that may or may not show up in a mixed breed dog. There are no guarantees. Regarding temperament, much depends on environment, upbringing, and training. I’ve loved just as many purebreds as mixes. The choice is up to you.
Considering Body Type
– Balanced proportions: Dogs who have balanced proportions, such as English Springer Spaniels, Airedales, and Bichon Frises, are generally comfortable moving into various poses and thus can excel at trick-training and sporting activities. These dogs are controlled by their breed drives, age, and personality, so read the earlier sections in this chapter for guidance on where to get started.
– Leggy and light: Slender, long-legged dogs such as Whippets, Vizslas, and Border Collies, often excel in fast-moving activities and tricks that utilize their agile frames. They’re not built for contemplation and stillness, so save tricks that demand these skills until after you have them hooked on performing.
– Short-legged, big-boned: Dogs with this body type, such as Bulldogs or Basset Hounds, may be high on enthusiasm, but due to their frames, they’re low on flexibility skills. Although your dog may not be bred for tricks or activities that demand speed and agility, you dog can excel at plenty of clever tricks such as fetching a ball (Chapter Go Fetch! Finding and Retrieving Tricks) and combat crawling (Chapter Adding Drama with Clever Tricks) that will most definitely wow the crowds!
– Stocky and solid: Dogs who have solid builds, such as Rotweillers and Mastiffs, are less agile and more inclined to process their motions rather than act impulsively. Choose tricks and activities that highlight their problem-solving capacities, such as playing the role of pet detective (see Chapter Adding Drama with Clever Tricks) and participating in the breed-specific/mixed-breed hobbies in Chapter Participating in More Hobbies and Breed-Specific Events.
– Handicapped dogs: If you’re the owner of a handicapped dog, either by accident or birth defect, I commend you for picking up this book. It says that you accept your dog’s physical limitations, that you recognize that he’s mentally competent and eager to learn — like every other dog in the world — and that you love him with abandon. Set your sights on tricks and other activities that your dog can easily master and perform in front of visitors or a crowd. Having your three-legged dog sit back on his haunches and wave will certainly shift others’ expressions from sadness to delight!
Tagging Your Dog’s Personality
– Eager Beaver: As trick dogs, these creatures will do whatever it takes to make you happy, although they can be difficult and manic if you ignore them. Presented with new material, it’s almost as if they’re racing the clock to figure out what you want.
You’ll notice they excel in tricks that approximate what their particular breed was designed to do. With this dog, all you have to do is decide what’s next, and it’s done. Though enthusiasm and staying power are a must, harsh techniques will crush their spirit.
– Joe Cool: These fellows are laid back and relaxed, and they’re not terribly interested in organized activities. Obedience puts them to sleep, and when it comes to tricks, you may get a teenager-style eye roll when you request “Paw.”
But every dog — even the coolest of the cool — has a soft spot for something. Maybe it’s cheese; maybe it’s dried liver. But after you discover it, you’ll be amazed at how quickly your mellow fellow will come to life. Lessons must be kept short and your enthusiasm high to keep these guys awake and interested.
– Comedian: These guys are the Jerry Seinfelds of the dog world. They live for a laugh. These wonder dogs will figure out a routine before you’ve had a chance to learn it yourself. Quick-minded perfectionists, comedians will get into a lot of trouble if they’re not directed.
– Bully: These dogs take themselves far too seriously. In a group of dogs, they’d be destined to lead, and your home is no different. Unless you’re an experienced trainer, dogs with this nature can be difficult to work with.
Obedience training is a must, and although bullies are often turned off by lighthearted tricks, they excel in organized activities such as tracking or agility. If your bully dog threatens you, seek the advice of a professional trainer, and don’t delay.
– Sweetie Pie: Docile and mild, these dogs like to observe situations rather than control them. Whereas obedience training makes them feel more secure about situations, tricks and organized activities help build their confidence. They adore the people they love and train best under a soft, patient hand. Yelling or hitting frightens them terribly, even when it’s not directed at them.
– Nervous Nellie: These dogs like to view their world from behind your legs. Be patient and forgiving when teaching new maneuvers, and you’ll notice how eager your dog is to please you. Training is essential to help these dogs feel more secure and to build their confidence.
Rolling with Your Dog’s Natural Gifts
All dogs have natural talents: activities they live for and things they love to do. Whether you appreciate them, well, that’s another story. Fortunately, trick and adventure training can channel your dog’s passions into skills that put a smile on your face. Sound too good to be true? It’s not. Read through this section to get a quick gauge on what sort of tricks to start with, depending on your dog’s strengths.
Carrying: The Retrieving Rover
All dogs love treat cups. To make your own, get a few disposable plastic cups or deli containers (cut a hole in the lid of the container for easy access). Fill the cups halfway with small treats or a light breakfast cereal such as Cheerios. Each time you pass a treat cup, shake it and call out your dog’s name. Soon he’ll pay attention every time you call him, treat cup or not.
Entertaining: The Enthusiastic Acrobat
Problem-solving: The A+ Academic
Moving: The Agile Athlete
If you have a young dog, make sure your jumps are no higher than your dog’s elbows. Jumping too high can damage growing muscles and joints.