There is something magical when a dog performs a trick. I love how it can captivate a small or large crowd with guaranteed smiles, or laughter like the Super Dogs at our Royal Winter Fair here in Toronto. In a mere moment a dog can bring out the inner child in all of us as we cheer on his skills in delight.
When I was growing up our family dogs did the usual tricks: sit, stay, down, fetch and shake a paw etc. I started showing more of an interest in teaching some new tricks with our first chocolate lab – a dog we named Chip.
He, being a lab, was pretty food motivated so training was easy. This certainly helps with teaching any new tricks. He would leap with excitement prior to his food bowl being set down so I saw a window of opportunity. By simply showing him a dog treat and whipping him up by my voice he would bark shortly thereafter. I added the word “speak” and opened and shut my hand as a signal for him to bark. It was a fast learning curve and I taught him and our present lab Abby this trick either by the command verbally or my hand signal.
It does help to know what motivation your dog goes for with training, either food or a squeaky toy as a reward, or simply wonderful praise. Many people use a clicker followed by a dog treat to motivate and gain the dog’s attention.
I have always sensed what might be of interest when teaching a new trick. For example Abby was giving me clues that she wanted to carry her poop bag years ago. I had never thought she would be interested. One day while out walking as I was tying the bag after pooping and scooping she kept looking up at me. At one point she tried jumping up! I literally said to her, “You want to carry this?” I made sure there was a thick knot in the end of the bag and gently gave her the bag placing the knot part in her mouth.
Years later this is still something she wants to do! She also enjoys carrying the newspaper that she walks with my husband to get from the paper box. It helps that she is a retriever; they have “soft mouths” and love to carry things, plus they have a tendency to want to please their owners! If I could have a dollar for the countless number of strangers pointing and smiling at her carrying her poop bag I would have accumulated hundreds of dollars over the years. I am often asked how I taught her this trick; people always tell me that they wish their dogs could, too, do this trick.
If your dog has a predictable behaviour put a command to it when they do it and it can become a trick. Abby has a bunch of stuffed animals she carries around, sucks on or sleeps with. We have trained her to “Go get your baby” and she runs to find one.
Keep your training sessions short for a higher success rate; a suggested time could be five minutes. End on a high note when making some progress and not when getting discouraged or your next attempt will be less enthusiastic on both sides – two and four legged.
My sister’s dog Tilly – a Havanese – quickly learned to ring a little bell that hangs by their back door when she needs to go out to do her business. When she was younger she would test us at their cottage by ringing it all the time to see if we were trained! At that point this trick had to be allowed less frequently as she was using it as a game, quite a smart little cookie! She also drops to the floor after the command “bang” as if being shot. She could easily be in movies or a commercial.
We taught our labs to find hidden newspapers as a trick. My method was my own and very simple. Just roll up a section of newspaper – either tape it or put a rubber band around it to get it in a tube shape. Play tug with the dog gently or have the dog fetch a few times so that the paper gets a bit wet from the dogs slobber, providing a scent on it.
Then, with the dog looking, put the paper somewhere obvious that they can see and at their level. Have the dog remain seated then say “Find It” with much enthusiasm. Generally they go for the paper right away as it was played with previously. Praise big time when they get close and then closer! Huge praise when they pick it up. Gradually play the game again keeping it easy at first, and then progressively making the hiding places harder. After consistent success have the dog wait in the next room or in a hall and hide the paper again. Use the same technique starting with “Find It.” A favorite toy could be used instead too.
I think humans love pet tricks because we see a version of ourselves on four legs doing a task we can accomplish and it bonds the two species. We adore our dogs and love to share the joy they can bring others by a simple trick.
I found a neat website called http://doggiebuddy.com. It is a free online resource with fifty two tricks that you can teach your dog. Their methods are simple and easily laid out. Have fun adding some new ones to your dog’s repertoire! I would love to hear of any unique dog tricks your dog can do or a dog that amazed you with one.
Dogstwentyfourseven has a Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/#!/dogstwentyfourseven. Interesting articles and links are posted every week. Please click on “Like” if you are enjoying my posts and page.
If you would like to receive my blog posts by email as soon as they are published, click on “Follow” on my main page. You will automatically receive them immediately after publication. Thank you for your support! Becky White