Training a Dog to Do Tricks

By Laurie Coyne

Make Sure Your Dog Knows Basic Commands

Teach your dog basic obedience commands such as "sit," "down," "come" and "stay" before you teach tricks. Dog tricks are fun, but basic obedience is the foundation of a well-mannered dog. Most dogs want to please their owners, and teaching your dog good manners makes him more attentive to your voice and gestures. Once your dog knows basic obedience, teaching your dog to roll over, beg, speak, shake hands or catch a biscuit placed on his nose enhances the bond you have with your dog.

Determine Your Dog's Talents

Agile dogs including poodles, Jack Russell terriers and Shetland sheepdogs might enjoy active tricks such as begging, dancing, spinning or jumping through a hoop. A sedentary Newfoundland would be happy to roll over and play dead. A sociable Golden Retriever might be good at shaking hands; food-oriented dogs like Labrador Retrievers love to catch biscuits, and a talkative beagle might like to speak. But don't expect your dog to perform a trick that is beyond her physical capabilities. Thinking you can teach your dachshund to walk on her hind legs is unrealistic.

Teach a Little at a Time, Praise and Reward

After you've decided what tricks to teach, let your dog master one trick before moving to another. Work with your dog for a short time (no more than 10 minutes) once or twice a day. Break up the trick into components and teach one component before moving to another. For example, if you want to teach your dog to roll over and play dead, start by having him lie down, say "roll over," gently roll him onto his side, then reward him with a treat. Repeat this in subsequent sessions until he rolls onto his side on command. Then, progress to saying "roll over," gently rolling him all the way over, and rewarding him. After he has mastered a complete rollover, teach him to lie quietly after rolling, then teach him to put his paw over his nose and remain there until you say "OK" or some other command to cue him to get up.
You can also use hand signals to command your dog to do a trick. Dogs are sensitive to visual movement. A gesture that mimics the action of the trick, such as making a rolling motion with your hand for "roll over" or opening and closing your hand for "speak," can be particularly useful.
During training, always reward your dog with praise and a treat. You can gradually phase out the treats after she has mastered the whole trick, but be sure to always praise your dog verbally.

Show Off Your Dog

Dogs are social animals, and most love attention. Let your dog have fun showing off his tricks to your friends. Dog tricks can be very amusing, and letting your dog show off will reinforce your training and allow him to bask in positive attention.
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