10 tricks to give your dog the X-factor
With a little time and patience, all pet dogs can learn tricks to give them a little ‘X-factor sparkle’. Teaching tricks can also improve the bond between you, reduce boredom, and decrease the risk of injury as your dog becomes more flexible and develops body awareness.
Here are 10 easy tricks to teach. As with any new activity, if your dog is not 100 per cent fit and healthy it is worth checking with your vet to ensure your dog is physically able to do these tricks before you start.
A few tips…
- Keep training sessions short. You really can teach a lot in the time it takes for a kettle to boil! Always end sessions on a good note with lots of play and verbal praise.
- Dog training should be kind and positively reinforced. Rewards can be small pieces of high-value food, such as sausages, cheese, chicken, or liver cake.
- Toy orientated dogs may prefer playing with a tuggy, ball, or squeaky toy, kept specially for your training sessions.
Tip from the top
Lucy Heath, head animal trainer at the Company of Animals and winner of the ITV Show ‘That dog can dance’ with her collie Indie, said: “When you have done quite a few repetitions of these tricks with your dog, remember to slowly work on removing the need for a lure or hand signal so the dog can perform the tricks on just a vocal cue. This will give him the real wow factor!”
- Clicker training encourages dogs to think, as they associate a click with a reward.
- The sound of a clicker is always more consistent than your voice, but some people use a clicker word, such as ‘Yes!’, which can be very useful if you don’t happen to have a clicker with you.
- There are lots of good books about clicker work such as ‘Superdog’ by Mary Ray and Andrea McHugh. You can also research training tutorials on YouTube, or ask friends to recommend a good trainer.
Trick 1: Twist and twirl
Teach your dog to spin around on command in either direction. Once he can do this you can try variations, such as spinning together as you walk! Begin with your dog in front of you and bend forwards slightly, holding a treat next to his nose. Slowly lure his head round towards his tail. You can click and treat if he moves his front feet just a single step. Keep practising until you can lure him in a full, tight circle. Click and reward when he is back in the starting position.
Eventually he will do this in one movement. Add the word ‘Twist’ for one direction and ‘Spin’ for the other. Soon you will be able to do this standing up and without hand signals.
Trick 2: Dressage trot
If your dog can walk nicely to heel, try to get him to lift his head and do a fancy high trot to really show off his paces. Teach this by holding a toy or a tasty treat next to the dog’s nose then walk with him in the heelwork position. Walk quite quickly so that he picks up the pace and gradually hold the treat or toy higher so that his head comes up. Click and reward for even the slightest high step and then gradually build up the distance. Eventually you should be able to dispense with the treat and your dog will lift his head to follow your hand.
Trick 3: Round and round
With the help of some tasty treats or a toy in each hand you can lure your dog to walk around you. Start with him standing at heel on your left side and with the reward and clicker in your right hand slowly lure him around to your right side. As he gets to the back of you swap the reward to your other hand and when he arrives back at the heel position, click and reward. Practise several times and gradually build in the word ‘Round’ and fade out the toy or treat.
Trick 4: Shake on it
Teaching your dog to give a paw can form the basis of many tricks. Begin with the dog in a sit and kneel down in front of him. Hold a treat in your closed hand so the dog can smell it. Now move your hand slightly to the side of the dog’s body so he shifts his weight a little. He will usually lift a paw to touch your hand and try to get the treat. Click and reward for this. Practise on both sides, using a different command, such as ‘Touch’ and ‘Tap’. If your dog doesn’t offer a paw, lift it gently and click and give him the treat. He should get the idea and begin to offer a paw on his own. Soon you will be able to simply show him your open hand and he will lift a paw to try and touch it.
Trick 5: In reverse
Asking your dog to walk backwards can look impressive, and you can then add on some other tricks, such as sit or roll over! There are several ways of teaching this, but one method is to hold a treat in front of the dog’s nose and then take a step towards him. Click and reward as soon as he moves back.
Keep practising and gradually increase the number of steps, building in the command ‘Walk back’. Eventually you will be able to ask him to walk back and throw the reward towards him.
Trick 6: Pole dancing
Try sticking a pole in a cone or an umbrella in a stand and teaching your dog to circle round it. Begin by keeping your dog on your right and hold a toy or treat out to lure him around the pole. Click just before he completes the circle and then reward. Practise in both directions, adding in a different command for each way, such as ‘Pole’ or ‘Circle’.
Eventually you will be able to reduce your hand movements so that they are hardly visible. Ultimately you can impress your friends by asking your dog to circle around them on command.
Trick 7: In the doghouse
A dog that will go to his mat or crate on command is a joy to be around. Begin by throwing some treats on the mat or in the crate and encourage your dog to find them. Give the word ‘Mat’ or ‘Crate’ as you do so. Eventually you can say the word and your dog will go to the mat or crate and wait for you to throw him his reward. You can gradually build up distance and your dog should happily run to his mat in anticipation of a reward.
Trick 8: Wicked weaves
Just as you lured your dog to walk around you in a circle you can also lure him to weave through your legs. Begin with your dog on the left and lure him with a treat through your legs in a figure of eight movement. Click and reward when he gets back to the starting position. Gradually stand up straighter and reduce the food rewards until he just follows your hand signals and build in the command ‘Weave’. Most dogs get the hang of this quite quickly and can build up a lot of speed.
Trick 9: Jump to it
If your dog is over 12 months old you can teach him to jump over obstacles such as a hoop or through your arms. Once you have taught your dog to go round you, he can even circle you and then jump through your arms. Hold a child’s hoop at ground level then lure your dog to walk through it. Click when he’s halfway through and reward when he’s all the way through. Gradually raise the height of the hoop and use the command ‘Through’. When he is confi dent you can put him in a ‘Sit and wait’ and throw the treat or toy through the hoop and encourage him to get it. Soon your dog should jump through hoops without any verbal encouragement.
Trick 10: Fancy footwork
This clever trick involves your dog standing between your legs and balancing his paws on your feet as you walk together. Lure him to stand between your legs, teaching him the ‘Middle’ position and clicking and rewarding as he stands there. Once he understands ‘Middle’, stand pigeon-toed and lure him until he puts both paws on your feet. Click and reward for even the hint of a paw on your foot. When he is confident about balancing on your feet, make a tiny movement with your foot and click and reward him for staying in position.
Ultimately you will be able to stand up and walk along together, using a command of your choice such as ‘Feet’ or ‘Shoes’. Very cute!
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