Making trick training fun

Teaching a dog new tricks is more than just a pleasant way to pass the time, it helps to mentally challenge your four-legged friend and boost his confidence. We’re going to introduce you to some of the most popular beginner’s tricks, complete with step-by-step instructions, so that you can try them out for yourself.

Trick training is fun and enjoyable. It challenges your dog and you can both be proud of what you have achieved. The nice thing about learning tricks is that you can practise the exercises with any dog, regardless of their size or age. As long as you practise in a relaxed environment, your faithful companion is sure to pick up the tricks you teach him.

Using a clicker to encourage beginners
Using a clicker will speed up the rate at which your dog learns new tricks. This clicker allows you to acknowledge positive steps as they occur and promises your dog a reward. The exercise is quite straight forward. Press the clicker and give your dog a treat immediately afterwards. Once you have done this around 20 times, your dog will have learned to associate the sound with a treat. To him, the click now means a reward. To make sure that he has absorbed this exercise, repeat it several times at different times and in different places. This will ensure that your dog associates the prospect of a reward exclusively with the clicker. Later down the line, a click is all that it will take for your dog to perform a trick successfully.

The clicker is a particularly good training aid for four-legged beginners as it always sounds the same, unlike the human voice. Depending on the tone of your voice, you might send your dog a different message to the one you intended. This device also allows you to react quickly: in reality, you only have a few seconds in which to praise your dog and show your approval, otherwise he will no longer link your positive reaction with the desired action. The clicker provides a quicker reaction than your voice or a treat.

Beginner’s tricks made easy
A clicker is not absolutely essential for the tricks we have selected for you. They are also suitable for beginners and can be easily practised at home. Important: Do not practise for longer than 5-10 minutes at a time and always finish on a high so that your dog will be keen to “play” again next time. Happy training!

Playing dead
It’s very amusing to watch your dog play dead on command. And it’s easier to achieve than you may think. What’s more, it’s a particularly effective obedience exercise for very agile dogs who love to race around and find it hard to stay still.

Step 1: Get your dog to lie down. Hold a treat in your hand and encourage your dog to move onto his side. You can do this by holding the treat directly in front of your dog’s nose and then pulling it very slowly towards his shoulder. To reach the treat, your dog has to roll over onto his side. If your dog turns his whole body to get the treat, your movement was too quick.

Step 2: You’re sure to succeed after a few attempts. At this point, your dog is now lying on his side. However, he will probably still lift his head. You now need to make him lie flat. Whatever you do, don’t try and force his head down. He would find this behaviour threatening and the exercise would no longer be fun for either of you. The trick is to encourage him to do this voluntarily, but this is not as difficult as it may sound. Hold a treat close to the floor so that he has to lie down fully to reach it. Once he has done this, say “Dead” or “Bang!” and give him the treat immediately (first the click, then the reward). Once you have performed the exercise successfully several times, your four-legged friend will recognise the word “Dead” or “Bang” (or another word of your choice) as his command to perform the trick.

A very active dog will naturally find it harder to play dead than a more docile dog. You will simply need more patience. If your dog refuses to lie down, this may have something to do with the ground. Perhaps the floor is too hard or the grass is too wet. Try this exercise again on a dog blanket.

The roll
This trick involves your dog rolling over once. It is lovely to watch and relatively easy to learn. Nevertheless, you should exercise caution with large breeds that are susceptible to bloat. As a general rule, you should never get your dog to roll over immediately after a meal! Wait at least an hour before training, or better still, train before mealtimes so that your dog has an appetite and will be easily motivated by the edible rewards on offer.

Step 1: Ideally, your dog should already be able to “play dead” (see trick 1) as the basis for this trick is the same. Get your dog to lie down. Hold a treat in front of his nose and then pull the treat from the tip of his nose towards his shoulder. Continue to pull the treat around his shoulder towards his hind legs. Your dog will have to move onto his side to follow the treat with his eyes. Give him the treat once he is lying on his side.

Step 2: Once your dog has mastered the art of lying on his side, only reward him again once he has rolled all the way over. Continue pulling the treat around both shoulders so that he has to roll all the way over to follow it. Once he has done this, say “Roll!” and give him the treat. Now all you need to do is perform the trick quicker to gain a little more momentum – and the roll is complete. If this doesn’t work, the ground may be a factor. Many dogs don’t like to do this trick on a hard floor or have problems completing it correctly. If this is the case, find a patch of grass or use a blanket to soften the ground. If your dog keeps jumping up, you will need to split the exercise into smaller sections and use a clicker or a treat for each individual step. You will still reach your goal; it will simply take a little longer.

Weave
The weave is a great exercise for your dog to learn. It can be used in dog dancing or frisbee, or can simply be practised every now and then and used as a nice warm-up or stretching exercise. What’s more, it is easy to learn.

Step 1: Let your dog start on your preferred side. If this is your left side, slide your right foot back a little so that your dog can pass through your legs. If this is your right side, then move your left foot back. Turn your upper body towards your dog to see whether the trick works and so you can give him the treat.

Step 2: Now take a treat in your right hand (if your dog is on your left) or your left hand (if your dog is on your right) and encourage him to pass through your legs. If he does this, give him the treat immediately. Now place your other leg in front and allow your dog to go through once more. When your dog passes through your legs, say “Weave!” Once you have mastered the initial weave action, you can extend the exercise to include multiple successive steps before rewarding your dog. You can then increase the speed.

If this doesn’t work, don’t lose heart. Some dogs can feel threatened when a person towers over them. If this happens, turn your upper body away from your dog and stand up straight. This is often all it takes for your four-legged friend to overcome his fear. Alternatively, take a particularly nice treat or a favourite toy and throw it between your outstretched legs so that your dog runs after it. Your dog will quickly realise that this exercise is nothing to be frightened of but is in fact great fun.

With all of these tricks, remember that practice makes perfect! Keep your training sessions short but regular to ensure that they remain fun for both of you. And be creative: there are many other tricks that you can teach your dog. You will both find that learning is fun – especially with the audience’s applause!

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