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Let’s Get Tricking

Tricks can include everything from basic manners and behaviors to more advanced agility and service dog behaviors

Why I Believe We Should All Be Teaching Our Dogs To Do Tricks.

You probably don’t realize it but you have already taught your dog to do lots of tricks! Have you taught your dog to sit, lie down, stand, stay or come? Have you taught your dog how to fetch a ball to your hand? Have you taught your dog to zigzag in and out of weave-poles? Name a behavior and I will tell you it is a “trick”. The words behavior and trick are often interchangeable.

Trick dog titles often include many of the basic behaviors we all teach our dogs and I would much rather call something a trick than an “obedience” behavior. By calling a behavior a trick we can actually change the mindset of the person teaching it. We can influence how people interact with their dogs.

Many tricks are really useful behaviors.   Agility. Obedience. Rally. Manners. Scent-work. Dock Diving. Therapy Dog. Service dog. Search and Rescue Dog. Drug Detection Dog. Sniffer Dog. Guide Dog. Police Dog. Dogs that alert people to oncoming seizures. Dogs that sniff out cancer. Dogs that find those hidden stashes of cash. They are all “trick” dogs.

Trick dog titles include everything from basic manners and behaviors such as sit, down, stand, stay and come, to more advanced service dog behaviors such as carrying diverse items, turning the lights on and off, opening and closing doors, getting the washing out, ringing doorbells and retrieving objects. They also include scent work activities, object discrimination, agility behaviors and much more.

Once you start doing tricks with your dog, you will realize that you have embarked on a wonderful journey that will increase the bond you share with each other. You will learn to work together as team and you will both find your skills increasing. Your dog will astound you with what he/she accomplishes and you will be amazed at the knowledge you gain! While your dog learns the “game” and gets progressively quicker at learning, your skills as a trainer will definitely improve. Whether luring, capturing, shaping or simply thinking about the best way to break a behavior down into simple steps, you will be astonished at the rate in which your knowledge set increases.

A recent webinar that I did for The Pet Professional Guild was called “How To Train Your Dog To Do A Handstand.” The title was perhaps a little bit misleading as although I did give step-by-step instructions on how to teach this trick, the webinar also included information on how to teach a dog to “go back”; how to cue, mark and reinforce; how the reinforcement protocol affects the behavior being taught; how we can step into the “learning cycle”; how a consequence/reinforcer can also be the antecedent to a behavior; how to make training sessions more efficient by breaking behaviors down into micro-steps and training in sets; how and when to introduce a new cue. Perhaps a more appropriate title for the webinar would have been “Learn How To Use Positive Reinforcement Training In All Your Training, With The Added Bonus Of Teaching Your Dog A Handstand.”

Jambo does a handstand.  PPG Webinar.
Jambo loves learning new tricks! Why not teach your dog how to do a handstand?


Learning tricks helps dogs to become more creative and I love the idea of dogs knowing that they are not only free to offer new behaviors, they are actively encouraged to do so.   There are no “wrong” behaviors. There may be behaviors that you don’t like but that’s easy to solve, you simply ask your dog for a more appropriate one. I use tricks as alternative or incompatible behaviors. What do I mean by this? Let’s think of an example. Your dog is attempting to jump up on your guest. Your dog believes this is acceptable because you allow him/her to jump up on you. Your dog doesn’t realize that your guest is not only wearing their new clothes, they are also a little scared of dogs. Rather than shouting at your dog and commanding them to get down, you cue your dog to do a different behavior – one that is incompatible with jumping up. If your dog is touching your hand, he isn’t going to be jumping on your guest. You can now reward your dog for a job well done! Everybody is happy and relaxed. There hasn’t been a raised voice.   Your dog has been refocused on to something appropriate that is also a lot of fun.

Does your dog have a lot of surplus energy and sometimes get into trouble? Doing tricks helps you to use up that energy. Some tricks are mentally demanding and others are more physically demanding. By teaching a good mixture of behaviors, you end up with a happy but tired dog.

Trick training is also likely to result in an improvement in your dog’s physical and mental well-being. Many tricks help to increase muscle tone, stamina, flexibility, balance and concentration. Teaching tricks also seems to result in a big boost in a dog’s self-confidence. At the same time, every new trick you teach, provides you with yet another useful way to channel your dog’s energy into something positive.

Tricks are even a great asset for helping to both focus and reinforce a reactive dog.   Engage the dog in an activity they love that has a previous high reinforcement history and you will help the dog to feel calmer and more able to cope with what could previously have been a very stressful situation that might have left him with no alternative other than reacting.  You’ll be surprised at the power of a hand touch.

There are still many people who use commands and believe their dogs should obey them. By teaching people the same behaviors but naming them tricks, we also teach them how to cue rather than command. We teach them how to ask rather order. It’s amazing how a simple word can not only change people’s approach to training but also their beliefs about how a dog should be trained, their demeanor and their frame of mind. By talking about tricks rather than obedience behaviors we can actually influence the way people interact with their dogs on a daily basis! We change their whole way of thinking! We set people off on a journey with their dogs: a journey of force-free training.

Pet Professional Guild members understand force-free to mean: No shock, no pain, no choke, no fear, no physical force, no physical molding, no compulsion based methods are employed to train or care for a pet.”

Some people mistakenly believe that, although they can teach a trick by using rewards, they need to use force to teach other behaviors. Force should never be an option!   Once people realize that all behaviors can be taught as tricks, they realize there is no need to resort to aversive tools in the name of training!

Let’s start asking our dogs to do behaviors rather than commanding them. Let’s all learn how to set our learners up for success.   Let’s Get Tricking!


 Object Discrimination:  A Visual Match To Sample.


Jambo is the first Staffordshire Bull Terrier to earn the title of Trick Dog Champion. He has his own Facebook Page:

Register for the recorded webinar: Learn How To Train Your Dog To Do A Handstand.

The Pet Professional Accreditation Board offers the only psychometrically deveoloped certification for professionals who believe there is no place for shock, choke, prong, fear or intimidation in canine training and behavior practices.  All applicants are rigorously tested for their skills and knowledge in the fields of learning and behavior; biology and anatomy; ethology, canine communication and observational skills; canine health, development and life stages; business and consulting skills and best practices and, finally, scientific and practical method. 

The Pet Professional Guild is a membership organization representing pet industry professionals who are committed to results based, science based force-free training and pet care.  Join PPG today and help us educate and engage more pet professionals and pet owners. Become a steward of the science based, result based force-free message, philosophy and training practices.

To learn more about force-free training, dog behavior and emotions, join us at the Pet Professional Guild’s inaugural educational Summit in Tampa, FL on Nov 11-13, 2015.


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