Top Tips for Teaching Your Dog New Tricks
Training your dog to do tricks is fun and rewarding – and surprisingly straight-forward with a bit of know-how.
As well as the enjoyment it brings, mastering a repertoire of tricks has other benefits too. It’s great mental stimulation for your dog, and being able to impress family and friends with your dog’s super-smart ability never gets old.
But where do you start with trick training? And how do you make it a success?
- Master the basics
It’s important to work from a solid foundation when you begin trick training and that means ensuring your dog already understands and responds well to commands like ‘sit’, ‘down’, ‘come’, and ‘stay’.
Jacqui says: ‘Don’t get ahead of yourself. Trick training is super fun but it takes time and patience.’
- Break tricks down into easy-to-manage steps
Whether it’s teaching your dog to ‘shake hands’ or ‘bow’, it’s always helpful to work in stages.
Jacqui says: ‘Don’t expect your dog to understand the complete trick straight away. The key is to break it down into bite-size chunks.
‘For instance, I was keen to teach one of my dogs, Basil, the ‘elephant’ trick, which is when a dog puts its two front paws on a bucket and walks around it using their hind legs.
‘I started by getting Basil to put his paws on a cushion and to walk around that. I then slowly built up the height until he could do it on a bucket.’
- Build trick training into your day
Take advantage of opportunities throughout the day to practice your tricks, remembering to keep sessions short to maintain concentration.
Jacqui says: ‘Trick training is very taxing on a dog’s brain and they get tired very quickly as you are asking them to do something very different, so short training sessions are vital.
‘I like to make training fun and impromptu so at moments in our day when I haven’t got anything else going on, like when an ad break comes on the TV or I’m waiting for the kettle to boil, I grab my clicker and a hand full of treats and do some trick training. The dogs respond really well to this.’
- Play to your dog’s strengths
Think carefully about the tricks you’d like to teach your dog and be sure to factor in their natural talents.
Jacqui says: ‘Trick training is so much easier when you work on tricks that your dog enjoys and that let them use the skills that come most naturally to them.
‘In my case, Basil loves to be high up so any trick involving height or jumping up suits him and he learns much quicker than with other types of tricks.
‘My other dog, Dillis, is a speedy nippy collie so she does best at tricks that include weaves and spins. It’s absolutely vital to play to your dog’s strengths.’
- Always be patient
Sometimes trick training can be a case of one step forward and two steps back. It’s important to remain patient and positive for your training to be a success.
Jacqui says: ‘What the dog learned and mastered yesterday may be forgotten today but don't beat yourself up or feel fed up, just go back a stage and build on that.
‘The dog will soon pick up on your frustration or disappointment which will inhibit any further learning.’
- Always end your trick training on a high
The key to successful trick training is to make it fun for your dog – and not to skimp on rewards for getting things right.
Jacqui says: ‘Do whatever you can to make trick training enjoyable. I always offer frequent treats and end the session with praise and play. I like to get out our favourite Tug-E-Nuff toys and have ten minutes of mad playing around. It really helps reinforce positive behaviour.
‘If you are training a new trick and it is not going as well as you want, just end the session on a trick that you know your dog enjoys and has mastered. Then you can give lots of praise and a treat so that you always end on a high.’