How to teach a dog tricks

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Learn the most effective ways to teach your dog tricks. Teach your dog to jump through hoops, fetch the paper and bark on command.

A well-trained dog is a happy dog with a happy owner.  At a minimum you should at least teach your dog to sit and stay on command.  And certainly your dog should not use visitors as a scratching post when they enter your home.  Each year millions of dogs are put to sleep because of behavior problems.  Training your dog not only makes you a happier owner, but it leaves your dog better off as well.

Dogs have almost as many personalities as humans.  Often a good indicator of your dog’s personality can be his breeding.  For example retrievers tend to be eager to please.  Hounds tend to be slower to obedience train as their background lends itself to independence.  Working dogs such as the Husky thrive on learning complex tasks and indeed have a need to be kept occupied.  Herding groups such as the collie also excel at learning tricks and have a need for companionship.  Terriers make great acrobats but may need to be leashed when outdoors.  And of course there is the non-sporting group of dogs like the Dalmatian.  Their personalities tend to be more diverse and need to be evaluated on an individual basis.  It is important in training to have a grasp of your dog’s individual personality.  This is how you will figure out the best motivator for your animal whether it is food or affection.

Beyond Sit and Stay

Teaching your dog a few fun tricks will entertain the both of you and perhaps amuse friends as well.  Some easy fun tricks include fetching the paper, jumping through a hoop, and speaking.  Before trying these tricks do make sure your pooch has down the basics such as sitting, staying, lying down and perhaps shaking ‘hands’ before attempting anything more ambitious.  Also decide on what you will try for motivation.  You can use good old dog biscuits or simply enthusiastic praise. 

Speaking

Teaching your dog to bark on command has several advantages.  You can create quite a cacophony when a stranger is at the door and by teaching your dog to speak is also the first step to teaching your dog to be quiet.  When you want your dog to bark you’ll need to keep eye contact.  When you want the dog to be quiet you usually break that eye contact.  

To start out sit or stand the dog and hold a favorite toy or treat just out of reach.  Encourage your dog to “speak”.  When he does react with a bark, enthusiastically reward him with praise and a treat.  If you would like your dog to react to a hand signal then use the signal just before saying, “Speak!”  Eventually the dog will react to the hand before you give the voice command.  To teach your dog quiet say, “Quiet” or “Shhh” and stamp your foot and avert your eyes.  When your dog obeys respond with praise and reward.  If your dog ‘speaks’ out of turn or does not obey, ignore him or her.  Using punishment is not effective and usually the cold shoulder is enough for the dog (eventually) to get the idea.  Have patience and persistence.  The dog will learn at his or her own pace.

Jumping

Most dogs love to jump.  To learn to jump through a hoop, you should start with a straight and simple jump like a broom balanced over two blocks.  Start low and conservative.  A good rule of thumb for beginning jumpers is the dog’s height (from paw to shoulder) divided in half minus 1 inch.  Also, if you have any concern, do check with your vet to make sure Fido is up to the challenge.  Any dog with physical problems should be checked out to avoid injury.  

Once your obstacle is in place let your dog check it out, discouraging any chewing on the jump.  With the dog on a leash walk a few paces away and saying, “Over.” as you approach jog up to the jump and hop over.  If your dog is unenthusiastic or refuses, then try again just walking over the jump.  Never punish.  Remember this is supposed to be fun.  Once your dog has gotten the hang of following you loosen up your leash and encourage him to jump over solo.  Don’t forget the verbal command.

If you want to add a hoop to your dog’s obstacle, get a hula-hoop at the local toy store.  You may have the dog walk through the hoop while it rests on the floor so that he becomes comfortable with it.  Lure him through with food if he seems nervous using the word, “through” as your command this time.  To teach him to jump through the hoop, have someone hold the hoop level with the same jump you started with and use “over” and “through” together so that your dog gets the idea what is expected of him.  Don’t be surprised if it takes a while for your dog to go through the hoop.  Use lots of praise and lots of treats.

Fetch the Paper

If your paper carrier leaves the news at the end of your long driveway, you’ll want to pay attention to this trick.

Fold a section of your paper over and tape it securely to use as practice.  Encourage your dog to take an interest in it, rewarding him profusely.  When the dog gets excited begin with the command, “Fetch the paper.” Or whatever you want to say.  Place the paper in the kind of plastic bag your daily usually comes in and get your dog’s interest again.  Once your dog seems to associate the command with having possession of the paper, take him outside and put the paper a few feet away giving him his command.  If he seems confused run up to the paper and shake it giving him the command again.  Keep encouraging your dog to go for the paper until he seems to understand then gradually increase the distance until you are at your front door and the paper is in its usual delivery spot.  If your dog wants to tear up the paper, take it away, tell him no firmly and gently and try again.  Reward him enthusiastically each time he delivers.

Not all dogs are good at tricks or easy to train.  However, with patience and persistence (and a lot of dog biscuits) most dogs will welcome the opportunity to learn and interact with their favorite person.