Teaching your dog tricks might sound like it serves no purpose other than fun, but nothing could be further from the truth. Teaching tricks will help your dog learn to focus, concentrate, problem solve, and have special time with his pet parent. Anything that you teach your dog is vitally important to increase their brain power, willingness, and confidence. And yes, it is much fun!
I have recently enrolled my six-month old Border Collie mix, Rue, in a tricks class. I knew this would be right up his alley. Rue is a party animal in every sense. This boy’s tail constantly wags, even when he has been naughty and is being scolded! This afternoon, I tried to get a picture of Rue to send to his foster Mom, and it was like trying to photograph a whirling dervish! Rue is in perpetual motion, and there is no keeping this boy down.
Some of the challenges
Today in the tricks class, we introduced the dog putting two paws up on a slightly higher surface (i.e., an overturned bowl). Speak on command (he does this). Race around a post and quickly return to me. Place all four feet on a raised surface (dogs are hesitant to place their paws on unfamiliar surfaces). Touch a wobble board (unsteady board) with the goal of banging it to the ground (Rue got this one quickly). Of course, in the beginning of the class we worked on attention, getting the dog to focus. You must have the dog’s attention in order to teach any behavior. Each dog in the class had a different personality, but each one had an exercise that they enjoyed and excelled in. Which exercise was Rue’s favorite? Absolutely everything! But I must say that “speaking” on command takes Rue to an even higher level of joy. He has much to say!
Earn a title
You can earn a Novice Trick Dog Title through “Do More With Your Dog.” My Cairn Terrier Smudge easily earned this title as he had several learned behaviors already. There is quite an extensive list of behaviors that will qualify you for this title, and you must execute 15 of them successfully. In Novice, the dog need not be perfect. Manipulation is not permitted and you can use treats, but only in 50 percent of the tricks that you perform. Tricks must be taught through positive reinforcement methods. This, of course will result in a happy working dog.
Some of the behaviors required in Novice are: back up in a chute, balance a cookie on nose, crawl, fetch, hand signals, and catch a toy in mid-air.
But there are also behaviors that your dog may already know such as: sit, down, come, leave it, and stay.
The sky’s the limit
Many, many years ago when I began doing dog performance, there were only two primary sports in AKC: obedience and conformation. Today the world has opened up to a huge choice of activities available to you and your dog. In addition to instinct tests such as herding, earth dog, and lure coursing, there is also Rally Obedience, and Canine Musical Freestyle. Indeed, there is something for everybody.
To earn an A.K.C. Trick Dog Title you must successfully complete 10 tricks on the list. However, if you have achieved a Canine Good Citizen Title, it counts as five tricks! So it is only necessary for you to perform five on the list to obtain this goal. Some exercises required are: High Five, Hold, Jump, Kennel Up and Kiss, just to name a few. In the A.K.C. Novice Test, treats are permitted, and you may also use a clicker as a training tool.
When I was participating in the tricks test with Smudge, one of the exercises I chose to do was “hide and seek.” Your dog is taken aside, out of your view, and you find a hiding place. You may call your dog once, and then he must actively search until he locates you.
I was hiding on a porch behind furniture while Smudge had been led to a place in the yard. I shouted “Smudge, come!” I heard this little panting body and pounding feet running across the yard and up the porch steps. As he dashed past me he spotted me and slid across the porch like a baseball player sliding into home plate! Needless to say, Smudge passed this exercise with flying colors! I still laugh when I think about it. It’s a great memory.
Tricks put to good use
Teaching your dog to retrieve a ball is great fun. But teaching him to retrieve other items can be a valuable tool for pet parents who are physically limited. My friend’s first Sheltie was so clever, he could pick up a dime off the floor and drop it in your hand! Service dogs are taught to perform such duties as to pull clothes out of the dryer, open the refrigerator, and turn on light switches in order to help their owners with daily life skills. This allows the human to maintain independent living safely. Therefore, the fun game of fetch can also become an integral and all-important part of every day living.
My former Cairn Terrier Toby had alerted me on the third floor of our residence when my mother had become stuck in the hospital bed on the first floor. Toby had not been taught to do this. But he had earned several obedience titles. This had increased Toby’s abilities, problem-solving, and communication skills with me. And the end result was Toby performing this heroic act.
Find your niche
There are local qualified dog trainers who teach trick classes. I encourage any dog owner to participate in an activity that can be enjoyed by both them and their canine partner. I competed in canine musical freestyle with my Cairn Terrier Toby, and I did many routines with Whitney at nursing homes and community events. Toby and I won a first place award at a national freestyle competition, recognized for the most comical routine. Whitney marched to the beat of her own drum, always. Obedience was not in her vocabulary. But Whitney loved to be the center of attention, and dancing brought much pleasure to her and the audience. Canine musical freestyle is actually a string of “tricks” that are chained together, and as the pet parent dances the dog will perform behaviors such as jumps, leg weaving, circles, spins, and kicks. The end result is poetry in motion.
I had the pleasure to take a workshop with famous freestyler Carolyn Scott when I was at a training conference in Texas. Carolyn and her dance partner, Golden Retriever Rookie, danced to “You’re The One That I Want” from Grease. It was spectacular. If you Google this, you can see the video and their unforgettable performance. Rookie has since passed away, but he was a legend. His back up across the ring will literally take your breath away. It does mine, every time.
So sign your dog up for a tricks class. You won’t regret it!
Judy Endo is the author of Paws-itive Pet Tales. A lifelong resident of the Wilkes-Barre area, she has been a professional dog trainer/competitor as well as a lifetime animal lover and strong supporter of animal rescue. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org