Most training should be “structured pla,y” which is perfect for teaching your dog tricks. Dogs enjoy learning tricks, and the more they learn, the more they learn how to learn, so they will become generally more obedient.
Many dogs love to work. Your dog does not differentiate between learning cute tricks and formal obedience.
With a little imagination you can teach your dog all sorts of easy tricks. Sometimes the trick itself isn't that fancy, but if you are creative with the command you can make it really cute. Here's an easy one for a dog who barks: teach your dog to count. If you know your dog is about to bark, perhaps at a squirrel or at the door, get his attention and say "Fido, what is zero plus ONE?" The instant he barks, praise and give him a treat. The command word here is ONE and if you do this enough, he will start going woof when you say ONE. Think of different calculations ending in the word ONE. If he tends to let out a volley of barks instead of one woof, change the command to something like "tell us a STORY."
The trick here is to pair a command word with something your dog is doing naturally. It's very easy and just takes repetition and reward the instant he obeys.
Another trick is to teach your dog to spin around. With the dog in front of you, lure her in a circle with a treat, rewarding once she's done a complete turn. This won't take her long to learn. Once she understands, use the treat intermittently, but always give both a verbal command and the spin hand signal so she follows your finger.
You can have her spin right on “spin” and left on “nips” (spin backwards!) Or use “left and “right.” With a little practice, she'll be able to do this trick on your hand signal alone.
Teach your dog to roll over. Start with your dog lying down. You need a really yummy treat for this. Tell him “roll over” or “toes up” or “bang” or whatever you choose, while moving the treat in front of his nose so he has to roll over onto his back to get it. The instant he's on his back, give him the treat and rub his belly.
If your dog is old or may have back or joint problems, don't force this trick if he seems unwilling or slow.
You can teach your dog to walk through your legs with a toy or treat. Stand with your legs apart and lure your dog through with a treat or toy. Sometimes it helps to throw it, but try not to let her cheat and run around you. Once she's got the hang of this, you can have her go back and forth weaving around your legs. This one is particularly cute with small dogs! Combine it with “spin” and you have a pretty fancy move. You can also line up several people and have her go through. Always use the same command word, like THROUGH or tell her to go "under the bridge."
Teach your dog to wave bye-bye. If he already knows how to offer his paw and shake, start with very little distance between you and your dog. Ask for his paw but don't take it in your hand. Reward him for raising his paw. Gradually increase distance until he will raise his paw from several feet away. Now you can have your dog wave a cute “bye bye” to departing guests!
If your dog knows SIT and DOWN, you can do "puppy pushups." Using a treat or toy, tell her to lie down, then sit. Repeat this until she can go up and down very quickly. Reward often! Another version is jumping UP and OFF furniture, or a low table, or your deck. Encourage her to jump UP, then OFF. Repeat and reward. These really reinforce obedience commands and make it fun for the dog too.
If your dog likes to play tug, you can teach the DROP command. Start playing tug with him, then freeze and tell him in a low growly voice to DROP it. If he doesn't drop it right away, gently take it out of his mouth and praise him when he lets go. Then offer the tug toy again and tell him GRAB or TAKE IT. Always praise him for letting go. If he enjoys chasing and fetching, incorporate that into the game too.