Tricks are both enjoyable and extremely useful. Really, dog tricks are not much different from a person performing gymnastics, doing algebra, dancing, sinking a putt or playing the piano – all learned physical and mental skills, practiced to perfection. Similarly, dog tricks are no different from basic obedience commands. Although a lot of dogs perform obedience exercises more reliably than tricks, and a lot of dogs have more fun performing tricks than obedience commands, it need not and, indeed, shouldn’t be that way. Tricks should be as precise and reliable as obedience commands – as precise as scoring a perfect 10. And basic obedience should be as much fun as performing tricks – as much fun as dancing.
How often do we see dogs fail to “Sing” or “Speak” on late-night television Stoopid Pet Tricks? How often do we see dogs require six requests before they deign to rollover and play dead? Sloppy! – No reliability, no proofing. Whether a trick or as basic manners, the dog should be trained to do it on the first request. If an American Football quarterback required six requests from the coach to execute the right play, he would soon be sent to the dog house and so should the owner if the dog doesn’t “Speak” following a single command.
The good thing about tricks is that everybody smiles, laughs and giggles – the best reward of all. In fact, in no time at all, performing the trick becomes the reward in itself, i.e., the trick becomes self-reinforcing. And the trick becomes a reward for other exercises. Asking the dog to “Give us a hug” is a great reward for a good down-stay on greetings, and allowing the dog to jump through our arms becomes a rewarding finale for a lightning recall. But how many times do we see highly trained dogs performing ultra-precise heels, recalls, sits and stays – machine perfect but without sparkle – working with owners who give ‘praise’ that could freeze a frog in Florida? Hey! No one died! Wake up you Scrooges! This is life! Enjoy it! No warm-up laps, no reruns. Have fun with your dog. Now!
Dog trick: Rollover
Have your pup sit and lie down, and then, keeping the food lure extremely close to the pup’s body, instruct the pup to “Rollover,” and move the lure backwards along one side of its muzzle to the top of its neck and over its shoulders. It may help if you tickle the doggie’s ‘doodads’ with the other hand. (Physical contact in the inguinal region causes most dogs to raise a hind leg.) As your pup rolls over onto its side and back, keep moving the food lure so that it rolls completely over into the down position once more. Once your puppy has mastered roll-over, a variation is to have the pup roll in the opposite direction with the obvious request, “Now, roll the other way.”
Dog trick: Bang
Another variation of rollover is to have the pup stay on its side or back and play possum. Firstly, try this from the down position. Say “Bang,” point your finger like a pistol, move the lure as above, but as soon as the pup is on its side or back, say “Stay” and keep the treat stationary. Secondly, try this from the sitting position. After saying “Bang,” give a down signal followed by the rollover signal. Thirdly, try “Bang” from a stand-stay using the combined down- and rollover-signals as before. Finally, try it when the pup is walking. Kids just love this one. So do many adults. “Bang” is the essence of the Omega Rollover.
Dog trick: Beg
Have your pup sit-stay, say “Beg” and raise the lure a head’s length above the puppy’s nose, so that it lifts its front paws of the ground and sits back on its haunches. If the pup jumps up, lower the lure and move it backwards a tad. Initially, it may be easier practicing this exercise in a corner, so the puppy may lean against the walls to keep balance.
Dog trick: Back-up
With your puppy in heel position, sandwiched between yourself and a wall, instruct it to “Back-up,” and then move the food lure under the pup’s chin and into its brisket. Alternatively, this exercise may be taught in a narrow passageway, such as between a bed and a wall. It is good to alternate “Back-up” with both “Forwards” and “Stand-stay.” The concept of forwards and backwards is a good one to learn in other body positions, such as the sit-stay. “Sit Forwards” and “Sit Back” are fine-adjustments to ensure that the dog is ideally placed to set off heeling for example. “Sit Back” is also good when the dog is too eager to get out of the front door.
Dog trick: Grovel
Start with the pup in a down-stay, and inch the food lure along the ground a little way in front of its nose. If the pup stands up, just try again. Alternatively, move the food lure under some low-slung barrier, such as a bed, coffee table or even under your leg. “Grovel” is helpful for dogs with creeping down-stays. By alternating “Grovel and “Down-Stay,” the dog at long-last grasps the essential difference. Now of course, “Grovel,” previously the problem that distracted from obedient stays, has become the reward for good down-stays.
Dog trick: Give us a hug
Start with your dog in a sit-stay. Say “Give us a hug,” energize the dog by waggling a food lure in front of its nose, and then, slap your chest like a gorilla. It is wise to alternate “Give us a hug” with both sit-stays and down-stays. Thus, the dog learns the difference between enthusiastic and controlled greetings. This wonderful trick is a simple solution for puppies which like to jump-up. First, we train the puppy to sit when greeting people, and then, we may teach the adult dog to jump-up, but only on our terms, i.e., only on cue, when the time is convenient, and we are prepared to enjoy the dog’s advances. For example, probably only certain doggy-people will invite the dog to jump up, when they are wearing dog-proof clothing. (The dog-disinterested may be instructed to say “Steady,” “Off,” “Back-up,” “Go to your mat” and “Sit.”) On returning home, instruct your dog to down-stay. Formally greet the dog, and then change into dog greeting clothes, and once prepared, ask the dog to jump-up and hug. Now, jumping-up (something the dog likes to do) becomes a reward for a good stay-greeting. Training a dog to shake hands on request is a similar ploy to combat an annoying pawing habit.
Dog trick: Bow
Instruct your pup to stand, and move the food lure down to the ground to come to rest a few inches in front of the pup’s front paws. The puppy will lower its forequarters until elbows and sternum touch the ground. With some pups it is necessary to place the other hand underneath (but without touching) the pup’s belly to prevent the hindquarters from collapsing into a down. The playbow posture is a solicitation to play – an ‘atmosphere cue’ which communicates that subsequent behaviors are playful. This is a wonderful trick for children. If a child can successfully entice the dog to bow, the dog is saying it likes the kid and would like to play, and as such, it is unlikely the dog would be frightened or irritated by the child’s antics. Also, “Playbow” is a wonderful instruction to give to your dog when it meets other dogs.