“Sit! Good Dog!” Teaching your dog new tricks
A dog of any age can learn new tricks. Your dog should be familiar with the basics - sit, lie down, and stay, as these are excellent building blocks of new tricks.
To teach “sit,“ have a yummy treat in your fingers and place your hand near your dog’s nose. Say, “sit,” and move the treat over your dog’s head toward his tail. As he follows the treat, he should sit naturally. When he successfully completes this behavior, immediately give him the treat as well as verbal praise in an excited voice, saying something such as “good dog!” When you are first teaching this behavior, always give the food treat and the verbal praise. When your dog seems to be associating the word sit with this behavior, gradually wean him off the treats. You may want to train your dog to a release command such as “okay!“ so he knows when he can discontinue each behavior. As with all training, you should teach “sit” in short (10 minutes or less) sessions followed by free play.
To teach “lie down,” first get your dog in the sitting position. Hold a yummy treat in your fingers and place your hand near your dog’s nose. Say, “lie down,“ and bring the treat straight down to the floor. As your dog follows the treat, he should naturally place himself in the down position. As soon as he gets in the proper position, reward him with the treat and verbal praise. If you are using a release command such as “okay!“ you can now use it to let your dog know it is okay to stop lying down. As with all commands, as he begins to associate the behavior with the verbal command, begin to wean him from the food reward.
To teach “stay,” place your dog in either the sitting or down position. Grab a yummy treat in one hand and ask your dog to stay while placing your other hand with the palm open in front of his nose. When your dog stays for one or two seconds, give him the treat and verbal praise, and use your release command. You will want to gradually increase the length of the stay.
Once your dog has these building blocks firmly under his belt, you can begin to teach him new and exciting tricks. One of the most popular tricks to teach is “play dead.” To do this, ask your dog to lie down. Teach him to roll on his back by holding a yummy treat in your hand in front of his nose and moving it in a small circle while giving the command “play dead.” As his nose follows the treat, his body should follow until he is on his back. Reward him with the treat and verbal praise. With practice, your dog will be able to associate the command with the behavior and you can wean him off the food reward.
Another popular trick is “shake.” To teach your dog to shake, first get him into the sitting position. Have a treat ready and say, “shake.” Gently grab right behind his paw and lift it into the shake position. Give him the treat. You will need to repeat this step several times until he learns that he will get the treat by lifting his paw by himself. While he is learning “shake,” reward even the smallest attempts at getting into position by himself with food and praise. Eventually he will associate the command “shake” and lifting his paw with positive rewards.
Another fun trick is “bow.” This is a very natural position for a dog to be in. To teach this behavior, get your dog in the sitting position. Have a treat in your fingers, hold it in front of his nose and say, “bow.” Push the treat straight toward your dog’s chest. As his nose is following the treat, he should naturally get himself into the bow position. When he does, reward him with the treat and verbal praise. As with all tricks, eventually wean him from the treat.
Tricks are fun to teach your dog and it gives him mental stimulation while enhancing the time you spend with him. There are many books available on teaching new tricks to your dog and many dog trainers offer tricks and games classes. Keep training sessions short and fun, and always use positive reinforcement. In no time, your dog will be entertaining your friends and family.