"Why would I teach my dog tricks?!"
"Tricks are silly, I am more interested in doing serious dog training."
These were common responses I would receive from clients when I would talk about adding trick training to their training program. They soon came to realize that not only are tricks important, they had been training tricks all along and just didn't know it.
We oftentimes think of tricks as some cutesy thing our dog does. They sit pretty, spin or something like that. Throw away behaviors we whip out to impress family and friends, but otherwise not all that useful.
This outlook on tricks is simply incorrect.
Tricks are actually the foundation to most dog training, and yes, that includes dog sport training!
Tricks for Teaching Manners
Let's be honest for a moment. Manners training is not oftentimes seen as a time to have "fun" with your dog. People get super serious: SIT!, DOWN!, STAY! That doesn't sound fun at all!
Now, show them how to teach a dog to spin, and suddenly they loosen up, their tone of voice lightens up and the activity is FUN!
Ask them to have their dog immediately sit afterwards, and it is not quite so harsh.
You can then compare the dog's enthusiasm and willingness to do the spin as opposed to the sit. They toss their body into the spin, eyes sparkling, a grin on their face and tail wagging. When asked to do the sit, it is as though the world came to a crawl. The sparkle is gone, the grin ran away and the tail stops wagging.
That's not good! We want our dogs to be just as enthused to sit as they are to spin!
The solution is two-pronged: 1) use the same training technique and approach to rework your sit that you used to train the spin (nicer tone of voice, relaxed body positioning on your part, smiling, provide verbal praise and food or toy rewards when the dog is successful), and 2) use the spin as a reward.
Did your dog do a wonderful sit? Give them verbal praise, provide their food and/or toy reward and then have them celebrate by doing their favorite trick: spin!
You can use those tricks your dog loves as exclamation points for them nailing the manners behaviors you are working on. Before long, your dog will LOVE doing sits, because they are fun AND they are an opportunity to do their fun spin trick!
Tricks for Dog Sports Training
Did you know that tricks make up most dog sports? It's true!
Agility: Turning left and right.
Competition Obedience: Holding an item.
Disc Dog: Sit pretty.
Treibball: Nose touch
This is just a short list! Tricks are simply individual behaviors that we have taught our dogs, and then reinforced, to make it so that our dogs want to do those behaviors again in the future. We can then chain them together to get a long array of tricks.
Think of Freestyle Dance or Rally-Free routines! They are a huge collection of trick behaviors, done one right after another! Paw, weave in between the handler's legs, circle around handler, back-up, play bow, pretend to limp, bark...all done to music and choreographed with their handler. Way cool!
Tricks for Titles
And yes, you can now even earn titles doing tricks with your dog! Do More With Your Dog was one of the first organizations to start issuing trick dog titles, but AKC has recently gotten in on the game as well as with their Trick Dog Title Program. That means your dog can be a certified trick dog, with letters after their name and everything!
How Can You Get Started?
Well, lucky for you we offer an online course that walks you through how! Taught by Dog Sport University Instructor, Ariane M. Bailey, the Novice Trick Dog: Tricks for Titles course is the best place to start!
So what are you waiting for? Tap into the power and benefits of trick training, and start teaching your dog helpful and fun tricks today!
Dianna L. Santos has been training dogs professionally since 2011. She has done everything from teaching group training classes and private lessons, to specializing in working with fearful, reactive and aggressive dogs, to being a trial official and competition organization staff member.
Following a serious neck and back injury, Dianna was forced to retire from in-person dog training. But she was not ready to give up her passion! So, she created Family Dog University, Dog Sport University, and Scent Work University to provide outstanding online dog training to as many dog handlers, owners and trainers possible…regardless of where they live! Dianna is incredibly grateful to the amazingly talented group of instructors who have joined FDU, DSU and SWU and she looks forward to the continued growth of all these platforms and the increased learning opportunities they can provide.