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It’s been a while since I’ve done a post on dog tricks, but I have to admit that I really love seeing dogs who know how to do something special. A while back, I taught Janice and Leroy how to fetch beer out of the fridge. You may remember the post where I talked about how I did it, using the Kong in the fridge first until they learned how to bring just that and nothing else. Then I tied the Kong to the beer for the laziest way ever to get a brewski after a long day.
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Lately I’ve been thinking about some other tricks I’ve seen cool dogs do, and what else my two might be good at. It’s not all fun and games, though I admit I love being able to say “Leroy, beer me” and having a cold one just a moment later. But dogs really do thrive on having jobs like this, and practicing obedience training even well into the dog’s adult years is important for keeping your dog good citizens.
So here are nine new tricks that you can teach your dog, and how to start training with each one. As with any type of training, I recommend clicker training and lots of praise over any other type of reinforcement. If you absolutely must use food, just use pieces of your dog’s regular kibble, instead of any kind of store bought treat – or opt for something raw and healthy, like a carrot. And don’t forget that snacks count in your dog’s overall daily caloric intake, if you are trying to get your dog to slim down a bit.
I personally like StarMark Clicker the best for training. It’s easy to use, it works every time, and it’s affordable. There’s really no beating it. Now, on to the tricks:
Sure, your dog can high five, but can they salute? This is a cute and unusual method of greeting that will make your dog stand out. First you need your dog to sit, so be sure that they have that command down. What most people do is place a Post-It Note or a small bit of tape and place it just above the dog’s eye; as the dog raises his paw to remove the irritant, praise him for the movement.
I think that sounds more than a little annoying, and for the most part, I’ve seen plenty of dogs learn this trick through a different method. If your dog knows how to shake or offer his paw, have him do that, and then raise the paw yourself. Right as soon as the paw raises over his eye, praise and/or offer a treat. This will eventually lead to a salute.
As a side note, think about a fun way to command your dog to salute. If you are a military family, you might use “Ooh Rah” or something similar as the command.
Do you have a water-loving dog? If so, have they played fetch in the water before? For some dogs this is instinctual, but not all. You may need to train them how to fetch in the water. Be sure that your dog knows how to swim before you start working on this trick. (If your dog doesn’t know how to swim, consider getting a Dog Life Jacket to protect them while they learn.)
Training this trick is very easy. Simply sit by the water and throw the stick or ball into the very shallow end of the water. Every time the dog brings it back, praise them and/or offer a treat. Each time, throw the object a little bit more into the water, until your dog is chasing the item all the way out. Be sure not to tire your pooch out too much! They need enough energy to swim back.
Obviously, you don’t want your dog escaping the house or letting in any strangers, but having your dog learn to open and close just a certain door in the house can be both fun and useful. All you really need to do is tie a rope toy to the handle of the doors you want Fido to learn to maneuver. Just like I taught Leroy to open the fridge, you may want to teach your dog to open the pantry, to open the laundry door for you when you’ve got an armful, or to open and close the door to the space where their kennel is.
Then encourage your dog to tug the rope any time you want to enter or exit a room. Be sure to praise during the entire trick so that the dog continues to pull at the door until it is fully open or closed. However, if you do intend to use treats, save those for when the trick is done – otherwise you could lose his focus. If this is a trick you want to teach your dog, be sure the rope toy is low enough for him or her to reach. You don’t want scratch marks from a dog jumping up to grab the rope toy!
Simply rolling a ball around with your dog is more than fun, but did you know that some dogs can play soccer, dribbling the ball between their legs and all? I think that’s really cool, and can only imagine how a soccer-loving kid would feel about their family dog knowing how to play with them.
The ball that you choose to train with needs to be bigger than your dog’s mouth so that they can’t just carry it around. Praise your dog any time they move the ball on their own with their nose or paw. If they aren’t moving it around, encourage them by rolling the ball to them. It may take quite a few tries for this one to sink in, but once the dog realizes that you want him to move the ball, you can start kicking the ball away and having them fetch and dribble it back. If you use treats, be sure to give them when they return with the ball.
Want to amuse children and old grannies alike? Teach your dog to say its prayers. This is a simple trick that is usually pretty easy to teach. Start by getting your dog to sit in front of you, and to raise its paws to beg.
Once your dog is in that raised up begging position, there are two steps from here to “praying”. First, teach your dog to extend the legs out in front of them by extending your arm so that they put their begging paws on your forearm. Immediately give lots of praise or treats for this action, and continue doing this until they do the extending movement without your arm.
Next, teach them to bow their head. With their arms outstretched, hold a treat in front of their nose, and start lowering it. They should follow as they try to reach the treat. Lower the treat until the dog’s head is lowered between his or her paws in a prayer position, and then let them have the treat. You’ll have to practice this more than a few times, but eventually you’ll have a very cute trick to share.
Want to teach your dog something athletic that will help them burn off energy and look cool doing it? Slalom is the way to go! Slalom is the name for the competitive obedience activity of weaving through poles at fast speeds. It teaches dogs agility and listening skills, and it’s a great way to have some fun outdoors.
Before you just set up any old obstacle course, consider the safety of your dog. Traditional Slalom poles are made of bendable material that won’t hurt your dog should they bounce back after being run into. It’s a good idea to start with just four poles, no more.
You begin by walking backwards through the poles, holding a treat. As the dog follows your weaving pattern, give them the treat when you reach the end. Don’t allow the dog to step outside of the weaving pattern and skip any poles – if they do that, start over. They need to understand that there’s only one way through this obstacle course.
Once your dog easily goes through four poles, add more one at a time. A challenging Slalom course is about 15 poles. Be sure you are measuring that the obstacles are exactly the same distance apart, as this is a critical part of making sure your dog doesn’t get hurt. When your dog has the hang of walking through lots of poles, you can start encouraging speed by walking faster yourself with the treat.
Eventually, you can even move poles closer together so that the dog is forced to use more agility to get through the course.
We’ve talked before about fun ways to get a dog helping out around the house. I still think that having dogs pick up their own toys is a great trick. Janice and Leroy are responsible for keeping their toys all put away, and it makes my life a lot easier. This trick takes a lot of patience, don’t get me wrong, but it can be done with a fun game.
Sit in the floor with the toy basket and choose a toy. Throw it across the room. Get your dog to fetch the toy and bring it back. Offer him praise or a treat for returning the toy – but don’t give the reward unless he brings the toy all the way back. Keep repeating this game, but start moving yourself away from the toy basket. Eventually, you should be able to point to the basket and the dog will know what you mean.
The “drop it” trick is less a fun trick and more an important safety command, but it’s still worth mentioning here anyway. One reason is that it is often used as part of more complex tricks, like picking up toys and dropping them into a basket. To make those tricks easier, and to avoid your dog eating something bad, you need to work on the drop it trick.
Most owners train their dog to drop it with food. They simply offer the dog food in exchange for dropping whatever they have. This is effective but not always healthy. One way around this method is to trade for something else, like a favorite toy or a synthetic bone chew toy. If you’re going to use the trade method for training, you’ve got to be consistent in every environment. Be sure you always have that treat or toy with you to trade if you think you’ll need to tell your dog to drop something.
The last trick I’m going to mention today is “focus”. There are a lot of reasons this simple command can be such a fun trick. First, there are some important safety reasons for teaching a dog to pause what it’s doing and look at you. If the dog is stressed out or getting aggressive, a “focus” command can get them out of danger. However, consider other things that you can use this command for. Get your dog to instantly pause and look at you for pictures, for example!
Eventually you can add in a hand signal if you want, but the key with this trick is consistency and practice.
What do you think about these tricks? Which one will you try first with your dog?