When your dog starts to think “sit,” “stay,” and “down” are for amateurs, it’s time to offer up a new challenge and take the tricks to the next level!
But what’s the best way to teach them? And are certain types of dogs more apt to be star students?
First, it’s important to know what methods to use and how they work. When combined, strategies known as positive reinforcement, “environmentally cued” and “capturing” are the most effective and offer speedy results. Plus, you’ll want to be consistent, have good timing and avoid accidentally rewarding undesirable behaviors.
Positive reinforcement uses treats and praise to reward a pup who completes the action you requested. It also means that undesired results are ignored rather than punished. A positive approach teaches a dog to love learning and creates a pleasant and enriching human interaction.
Environmentally cued training encourages dogs to offer a desired behavior immediately upon receiving a cue from the environment. For example, ask a dog to sit at each door. The door becomes the cue for the dog to sit and wait for permission to exit. At this point, a verbal command is no longer needed.
The method of capturing rewards a dog for performing a desired behavior when no command was given. An example is when you walk by your dog and they drop the toy they were chewing on. Reward the dog as if they had responded to a “Drop” command with a “Yes!” and a treat.
So, can you really teach an old dog new tricks? Yes! You just need to know what drives them—like food! Others are motivated by toys or even just praise. It’s never too late to create your training foundation, but the younger your dog starts, the happier both you and dog will be.
How about breeds? Well, any type of dog can learn basic obedience and tricks, but some can be a little more challenging than others. Some, like hounds for example, are known to become easily distracted with interesting sights or smells, so building a strong training foundation is important. Herding breeds were born to work with strong instincts, a desire to please and high energy levels, thus allowing them to excel in obedience, agility and tracking. However, any dog can excel with the right motivation and training.
When using positive reinforcement, environmentally cued and capturing training methods, it’s best to lay a solid foundation of your basic commands before moving on to special tricks. In the following order, teaching a dog to be attentive, look, sit, lay down, stay and come are the most common and beneficial commands. Other commands like “leave it,” as well as off- and loose-leash walking, are equally important. Teaching these good habits can help prevent undesirable behaviors from developing.
When teaching commands, whether it’s your basic “sit,” or something more involved like “wave,” it’s best to start with hand signals. Once your dog is reliably responding to hand signals, verbal commands can be introduced to accompany them. After this, try practicing just verbal commands and then practice alternating between the two so your dog learns to respond to both.
So now it’s time to talk fun stuff, like “waving” and “rolling over”! In order to teach a dog to wave, they must first have a thorough understanding of the “sit and shake” command. To begin, present your hand signal normally used for “shake.” Pair this with your verbal command for “shake,” but instead you’ll add “wave” to the end so the verbal becomes “shake wave.”
When your dog moves his or her paw to touch your hand, move your hand away, causing the dog to miss your hand. Gradually move your hand signal so fingers are pointing upwards with an outstretched palm (like a stop signal). You’ll want to make sure this looks different from your normal hand signal for shake. Gradually present your hand a little higher each time (but make sure it’s not too high when starting out). Make sure to heavily reward your dog each time he or she misses your hand. When your pup is reliably performing the wave, you can shorten the verbal command to just “wave.”
To teach a dog to “roll over,” he or she must first have a thorough understanding of “down.” To create the hand signal, present a tasty treat for your pooch to sniff (but not eat). In the direction that you want him or her to roll, move the treat slowly from the nose to behind the head in a circling motion. This motion is the hand signal and encourages the head to turn and follow the treat. Eventually the body will follow.
If your dog gets up, start over by putting him or her back into the “down” position. Gradually make your hand signals of the circle smaller and bring your hand more in front of your dog, rather behind the head. Eventually you’ll be able to stand up straight and give the hand signal for your dog to roll over. You can also pair a verbal command to this once the dog knows the hand signal.
Once your furry friend is rolling over, waving or performing any other trick reliably, you can remove the treat and reward him or her after completing the task with praise, petting, toys or anything else pleasing to your pup.
Remember: Reward the good behavior, ignore the bad. Treats, hugs and happy praise will go a long way in raising a smart and responsive dog.