Training a dog to do tricks is something that people often struggle with. However, once you get the hang of how to communicate with your dog, teaching them tricks is easy.
The first thing you should know about teaching a dog tricks, is that the saying is true. Yes, the saying. “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” If you’re trying to train your dog when they are a puppy, it’s going to be significantly easier than trying to teach them when they’re older. I have a six year old Yorkie-Poo named Jack. When he was a puppy, I taught him how to sit, stay, and other basic tricks. I thought that as he got older, he would get smarter and I could teach him some new tricks. This is in fact the complete opposite of how it actually works. Dogs’ minds are more susceptible to learning when they are young. I’m not saying you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, just saying it’s very difficult.
To teach your dog a trick, you’re going to learn four simple steps.
1) Verbal Reinforcement – Come up with a short word or phrase to distinguish the command you want to give. The key here is to make sure that you won’t confuse your dog. You want to keep it short, and make sure that two different verbal commands you use do not sound similar. For example, if you want to teach a dog to stand up on it’s legs, don’t say “stand up on your legs”. Make it simple like, “up”. This phrase is easy to distinguish by the dog, and they will most likely remember it.
2) Hand Signal – To accompany your verbal command, you will want to add in a hand signal. Just like the command, you want to keep it simple and easily distinguishable. In the “up” example, you could use an open palm that moves upward.
3) Teaching with Positive Reinforcement – Once you know the trick you want to teach as well as a command and hand signal, you are ready for the hardest part of training your dog. What you have to do is physically put your dog in the position you want them to be in. Continuing with our example, you would say “up”, move your hand upward, and actually put your dog in the up position so they are standing on their back legs. Pull out a small training treat (pieces of regular dog food work great) and give it to your dog. Allow them to finish eating it and do it again. At first, your dog will most likely give you a strange look. Don’t give up if your dog gets confused or is not cooperating. Keep persevering and reinforcing the trick. After about a dozen times, stop and begin again in an hour or so.
4) Repeat – The key to teaching a trick is to repeat. Once your dog actually learns the trick and will preform it on their own, you still need to practice every day. It is important to remember the idea of positive reinforcement. If you tell your dog to sit everyday but don’t reward them with a treat, then they will soon lack motivation to cooperate. However, if every now and then you reward them with something even as simple as a scratch behind the ear, you will find your dog eager to show of their tricks!