Columbia Star

1963        Celebrating 60 Years      2023

For Dogs, it’s Trick and Treat




Hold is a versatile cue. What dogs will hold is only limited by their size and willingness. Nessie, the pug, is demonstrating self-control by holding a cookie while balancing more on her head.

Hold is a versatile cue. What dogs will hold is only limited by their size and willingness. Nessie, the pug, is demonstrating self-control by holding a cookie while balancing more on her head.

It’s almost Halloween, a great time to teach your dog a trick and give him a treat. Most trainers are fans of trick training. It’s not as silly as it sounds. Training your dog to do a few simple tricks builds your relationship, improves your communication, helps your dog learn to think, and can help a nervous dog build his confidence. If you have a therapy dog, teaching your dog a trick or two is a great way to interact with clients. If you work with rescue dogs, teaching a trick may increase the rescue dog’s odds of being adopted. Teaching tricks is just plain easy and fun.

Consider putting something your dog does naturally on cue; it’s an easy way to teach a trick. Keep some tasty treats in your pocket to catch and reward the behavior you want. If your dog play bows ( paws on the ground, rear end sticking up), tell him you like the behavior by marking the behavior with a brisk Yes and give him a treat every time he bows. He will soon figure out he gets rewarded when he bows and will begin offering it more often. When he does, you can add a verbal cue such as Take a Bow or Worship Me. You can also put other natural behaviors on cue such as shaking (as in shaking off water), sitting up, or a head tilt.

Small dogs often sit up, or “sit pretty,” naturally, but any size dog can learn this trick.

Small dogs often sit up, or “sit pretty,” naturally, but any size dog can learn this trick.

If you aren’t patient enough to wait on a natural behavior, you can quickly teach some easy tricks. Here are a few of my favorites.

Hand Target (Touch): This cue has many uses besides just being a trick. A hand target or touch can be used to help shy dogs feel more comfortable in situations in which they feel uncomfortable or as a way for a dog to interact with a new person without the pressure of being petted. It can be used to refocus a dog that is beginning to become too excited or aroused. It’s simple to teach. Present your flat, open palm very close to your dog’s nose, no more than an inch away. Your open palm should be perpendicular to the ground and at your dog’s nose level to make it easy for your dog to see and touch. Most dogs will reach out to sniff or touch your palm, thinking you are offering a treat, but there should not be a treat in your hand. As soon as your dog’s nose touches your palm, say Yes then give your dog a treat from the other hand. Repeat this until your dog figures out he is getting rewarded for touching your palm. Then you can begin gradually presenting your palm farther away. When your dog understands the cue, you can use the hand target to have him jump up in the air to touch your palm or weave between your legs.

Put your dog’s natural play bow on cue. Margi Moore taught her poodle, Bug, to Ta- Da, but you can name the behavior anything you like.

Put your dog’s natural play bow on cue. Margi Moore taught her poodle, Bug, to Ta-Da, but you can name the behavior anything you like.

Jump through a hoop: Hula hoops are perfect for this trick. First get your dog used to walking through the hoop. With the hoop resting on the ground, lure the dog through the hoop with a treat. If he is uneasy about the hoop, mark Yes and treat for any interaction with the hoop such as sniffing it or even looking at it. When your dog will follow the lure through the hoop as it rests on the ground, raise the hoop a tiny bit. If you have a small dog, raise it only an inch. If you have a large dog, you can raise it up by several inches. Lure your dog through the hoop. When your dog is easily jumping or stepping through the hoop, fade the treat out of your hand, but use the same hand gesture as when you had a treat in your hand. Mark Yes and treat after he goes through the hoop. Gradually raise the hoop as your dog is successful and add your verbal cue, Jump or Through. A word of caution: do not teach this trick to your dog until he is at least a year old and his growth plates are closed.

An adaptation of the handtargetisthe fist bump. Jan Ayer’s Boomer loves to fist bump his mom.

An adaptation of the hand target is the fist bump. Jan Ayer’s Boomer loves to fist bump his mom.

Spin or turn: Teach your dog to move in a circle in one direction first. Hold a treat at your dog’s nose level. Slowly enough so he can easily follow the lure, guide your dog into turning in a circle. Repeat several times with the treat lure. When your dog easily follows the lure, use the same motion with your hand, but do not have a treat in your hand. By this time your dog should understand to follow your hand, even without a treat in it. Add your verbal cue. You can use one cue such as Spin for circling left and a different cue such as Turn for circling right.

A hand touch or target is the basis for several different tricks. Rose Cely teaches Gigi a hand touch.

A hand touch or target is the basis for several different tricks. Rose Cely teaches Gigi a hand touch.

These are just a few examples of fun, easy tricks to teach. There are lots more trick ideas on the internet and in books. Trick and treat!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.