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How to get your Dog or Puppy to perform Tricks

Dogs learn awfully fast if they are motivated, i.e. if they really
want to learn. In order to teach your dog to perform some
tricks, it's a good idea to choose a trick that you at least think
your dog might enjoy doing.

This often means that if your dog has never carried anything
in his mouth, you should not start by trying to teach him to
retrieve or carry things. It will be possible to teach almost
any dog to retrieve, but maybe you should start with
something easier or completely different, like 'shake hands',
play hide and seek, etc.

In order to learn the desired trick, the dog needs to know
when he is doing the right things. If you toss a tennis ball from
your hand and say 'retrieve!', many dogs run after the ball
as desired, but it's unfair to expect the dog to know that
you want the ball brought back to you, unless you can
clearly 'tell' him that.

In order to 'tell' him when he is doing right, you should praise
him the exact moment when he is starting to do the right thing.
For example, when the dog grabs the tennis ball into his
mouth and takes a step towards you, you say 'good boy!!'.

If he drops the ball or runs away from you, you give the
command again. And again, when he takes even one step
towards you, you praise him. This way the dog gradually
realizes what you want him to do, and when he has
realized that, you can also demand more.

Use the kind of reward that your dog appreciates. Some
dogs love treats, some dogs don't care about food that much
but may prefer to play with their favorite toy for a while
as a reward.

However, always use your voice as a reward: use your
happiest voice to tell your dog how smart and good he is
when he is doing the right thing. This way you will not have
to use treats/toys every time you train your dog -- he will
soon understand that the vocal praise (and sometimes
pats and hugs) mean that he has done what was expected of him.

In the beginning it's unnecessary to tell your dog that he has
not done what you expected of him, if you are consistent in
praising him when he does the right thing. Besides, teaching
tricks should be fun for both of you, and I can't imagine either
of you enjoying very much if you end up screaming 'NO!'
all the time. Of course there are some exceptions --
If your dog starts to chase a rabbit in the middle of your
training session, you naturally shout 'NO!' to him and get him back.

If the trick is relatively complicated (like teaching your dog
to bring his own toys into a box, or similar) you have to split
the trick into several substeps that you teach one at a time
and then try to combine them.

For example, if you try to teach the fore mentioned trick,
first teach your dog to carry his toy, then to put it into a box,
then to find the toy and bring it into the box, and then to
do this with all of his toys. It is very important that you
realize when a trick is too complicated to learn in only
one step. It's better to proceed too slowly than too fast.

Don't practice too much at any one time; practice often
(you can practice as often as 1-3 times a day if you wish)
but only for short times. The dog learns best when you quit
each session when he still would like to go on -- this way
he will be motivated to continue the next time. If your
dog seems to be bored by the trick, take a break from
training, or teach him something else that he might enjoy more.


Decide what you would like to teach. Start with simpler tricks
(shake hands, dance, retrieve something, etc.) and proceed
to more difficult ones if your dog learns fast. It's a good
idea to start with only one trick at a time, but later you
can work on a few different new tricks parallel, if you wish.

When you have decided what you want your dog to learn,
think of a command to use for that particular trick. The
command can be anything you wish, as long as you will
be consistent with the use (eg. not use the same command
for something else) and as long as the command doesn't
too much resemble some other command that your dog already knows.
It's usually a good idea to choose relatively short words.

Use nouns as commands instead of verbs, because there are
always more nouns to choose from, and also because it's
often much more confusing to use verbs. For example,
you can teach your dog to retrieve a thrown object by
using the command 'retrieve', but if you want him to
bring you a desired object that you have hidden (or lost),
there's no point in saying 'retrieve ball!', 'retrieve keys!',
when simply 'ball!' or 'keys!' would be enough.

Some Tricks

Here are some examples of tricks to teach to your dog.

Sit and shake hands
This is one of the easiest tricks to teach to a dog. First you
must teach your dog to sit on command. Probably the
easiest way to teach a dog to sit on command is to have
a treat (dog biscuit, piece of cheese, etc.) on your hand,
lift it up above the dog's nose and say 'sit!'. If the dog
is standing and tries to grab the treat, don't let him get it,
but repeat the same maneuver again. When he sits,
immediately give him the treat and praise him.
Repeat the trick a few times.

Another way to teach a dog to sit on command is very
simple but takes a little more time: each time you see that
your dog is going to sit, tell him to 'sit!' and praise him
when he does that (+ give a treat). It doesn't take very
many repetitions for the dog to realize what the command
is for, but this still takes longer than the above mentioned method.

Some people suggest you to teach a dog to sit on command
by pressing his butt on the ground while saying 'sit!'. I suggest
you first try the other two methods though, just to see how
easy it is to teach a dog even without using force. Later,
once he has clearly understood the meaning of the command
'sit!' you can use this method if he doesn't obey you. Try
to be gentle though, there's no point in causing the dog
pain when teaching him tricks.

Once your dog has learned to sit on command, you can
proceed to 'shaking hands'. Give him the command
('say hello!' or whatever), and gently hold his paw with your
hand and give him a treat with another hand. Repeat this
a couple of times -- most dogs learn this very fast, if your
timing (the command + the praise and treat) is right.

This trick is easiest to teach to a dog that jumps against
people. The advantage of teaching this trick is that once the
dog 'dances' on command, he doesn't put as much weight
(maybe none at all) on people as when jumping against them,
thus it is a very good replacement behavior for a dog
who jumps too easily.

When the dog is excited and jumping around you, tell
him to 'dance!' and gently hold his front legs and lift them
up so that he stands on his hind legs. Then praise him and
give him a treat and gently put him back on the ground.

Once he knows how to do this, you can see if he can do
it without your help. Small dogs seem to be able to
balance themselves better than large dogs.

Find/retrieve something
This is easiest to teach if your dog already enjoys carrying
things in his mouth, but you can also try to teach a dog
to bring his toys to you even if he doesn't like to retrieve
a ball/stick thrown by you. It would be easiest to teach
this trick if your dog already can sit on command and
stays that way until you give him the permission to go --
this way you can hide a toy etc. while he sits and waits.

Bring your dog's toy a few steps away from where he
is sitting, so that he can see it, and ask him to find it.
(Here you can use the command 'find!', or the name of
the toy, or just 'toy!' etc. for any object that you hide and
want him to bring to you).

Once he goes to the toy, praise him immediately, even
if he doesn't touch it. Repeat this each time he is close
to the toy and thus try to encourage him to take it into
his mouth. The first time he takes the toy into his mouth,
praise him and give him a treat, and give him back the toy
and play with him for a while. (This is important,
otherwise he will think that you always take the toy
away from him and thus he won't want to bring it to you).

When he has learned to take the desired object into his
mouth, try to make your dog bring it all the way to you.
First praise him when he comes running with his toy in his
mouth, then praise him only when he brings it to your hand
(you can trade the toy for a treat). When he has learnt all
this, you can start hiding the toy to more difficult places
(in another room, or behind a tree on a walk, etc..).

There are two versions of the advanced object search game,
and it's possible to teach your dog both versions if you wish.
In the first version you hide an object (toy or whatever)
somewhere outside (where there are not many other
objects to be found), and your dog doesn't need to
know what the object is.

You just tell him to 'find!' or look for a 'toy!', and he is
supposed to bring to you any object that he can find with
some human smell on it. This can be really useful if you e.g.
drop your glove, car keys, etc. (Practice a lot with
various objects, but start with some easy ones, like his
favorite toys.)

In the other version of the game the dog has to know the
name of the desired object and bring it to you, so you
must teach him one object at a time (for example, 'ball',
'kong', 'bone', etc.). You can play this game in your house,
and the better your dog can distinguish the various objects
by their names, the more you can try to confuse him by
also hiding some other objects.

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One great way to reward your dog for good behavior is
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