Teaching your dog tricks can be a really cute way to show off at a party, but there are many benefits that can help with everyday life.
Most owners love when their dogs sit in front of them and give them eye contact. Focus is a wonderful skill to have, but when you have an independent thinker (or a dog that thinks outside of the box), the possibilities of what you can train your dog are endless. An independent thinker can problem solve faster and not get as frustrated. Many of these tricks can be very helpful. Some examples are picking up object, going to an object, putting an object away, or even going around or understand something.
Body awareness can be very helpful when training for dog sports. Teaching tricks can be a very easy way to introduce them to more complex concepts. Backing up is not something a dog needs naturally, but it can be very helpful to make a dog more agile and aware of the environment around them. Suddenly, the world is not just forward moving, but there is (literally) an entire word behind them. Body awareness tricks can also help build balance. Something like a sit pretty or standing on a pedestal can not only help with awareness, but will also help with balance work.
In the zoo world, keeper/trainers have a list of behaviors that they call husbandry behaviors. These are any behavior that can help with medical procedures. Some examples are presenting a body part for a blood draw, touching an object for a long duration for an exam, or going to a mark or station to move to a safer area. These behaviors can all be started as tricks and used in health related aspects.
Going to a station could be getting your dog to go to and stand on a scale in the vet office. Giving you their paw for a shake can transition to presenting their paw for a blood draw. Touching their body (like their chin) to a certain target can be a way to teach your dog to be more aware about what’s going on during an exam.
Tricks can also be a great way to exercise your dog, mentally and physically. They can help build up muscles needed for certain sports and also help warm up the dog before they do something more strenuous. Tricks can also tire out your dog mentally. Figuring out a trick takes a lot of brain power. It only takes a few minutes of a great training session to work their brain.
Tricks can be really helpful with everyday life, too. Teaching a fun trick can help when your dog won’t do anything else out in public. If they have a history of doing a trick, they might be more comfortable to offer that in a stressful place to calm them down and get them to the point that they’ll offer something else that you’d like.
Tricks can also help build foundation behaviors. When training is fun, it will be more rewarding for the dog (and you) and enable them to offer more behaviors. If you’re having trouble teaching a certain behavior, work on training something like a trick. This will help with problem solving and create a little bit of a break for you and your dog.
Give trick training a chance. You might be really surprised how helpful it could help you with something you never realized!
Michelle is a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner. She competed in the Extreme Mutt Makeover in 2012 (Texas) and made a video, “The Cone Project” for the Canis Film Festival showing that you can train just about anything with a clicker, taking 3rd place in both competitons. She is a member of Dog Scouts of America and the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and has a BA in Psychology. When she’s not busy helping dog owners, she can be found at her blog, Clickernerd.com