There are the basic commands that all dog owners must teach their pups to ensure they are well-behaved—sit, stay, heel, don’t chew my shoes. But the training doesn’t have to stop there. Trick training your dog is a great way to further develop your relationship and a unique form of play. “It’s fun for the dogs and it’s fun for the owners,” says Kathy Benner, founder of The Animals’ House in Sterling and a certified dog trainer with 20 years of experience.
Benner remembers how as a child she “used to train my dogs to do tricks, and just seeing how fun it was and how much people enjoyed seeing it, it just started to become something that I was really interested in.” The Animals’ House offers a five-week trick-training class that can teach your dog to sit-up and beg, crawl, roll over and even bow. But there are ways to start trick training your dog at home. We caught up with Benner and got her to share her best trick training tips. Note: you’ll need dog treats on hand!
Take a treat in either your left or right hand, whichever direction you want to teach your dog first. With your hand, make a big, wide circle at your dog’s eye level so that they turn to follow the treat a complete 360-degrees. After completing the spin, tell them ‘good job’ and give them a treat. As the dog more consistently turns following your hand, you can then add a voice command. As the dog improves, decrease the size of your hand motions until you can do just a small circle with your hand. Repeat with other hand.
Take a small piece of a treat in between your fingers and hold out your hand so the dog comes to sniff your hand. When their nose touches your hand, tell them ‘good job’ and reward them with a treat from your other hand. Remove the piece of treat from your fingers, but continue rewarding the dog with a treat when they touch your hand. Begin moving farther away or putting your hand at different levels for the dog to touch. Once consistent, add a voice command. To associate an object with the trick, add an object to your hand and repeat the process, gradually removing your hand.
Create a distinct place for the dog to go—create a spot using blue painter’s tape by their bed, a towel or another easy spot. Lead the dog to the spot, have them sit or lie down and stay there for a few seconds, then release them and reward with a treat. It helps to introduce a release command right away. Repeat the process until the dog is easily led to the spot, then add a command to go to the spot by themselves. Gradually stand farther away from the place as you give them the command.
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