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Summer Trick Training

We’ve written a few blogs over the years about what makes trick training fun and helpful in our relationships with our dogs. As we are in the middle of what promises to be the hottest summer ever (and somehow also the coolest summer we are likely to ever have again) I want to focus on the benefits of trick training this specific time of year. If you can’t get up and out before 8am you’re going to fry, unless you are willing to wait until dark and feel safe walking then. So this time of year we have to be a little creative about tiring out our dogs. 

If you have talked to any of us about exercise and stimulation, you’ve probably heard us say that mental stimulation will generally take you a lot further in tiring out your dog than physical stimulation. A dog who is physically tired but not mentally tired can actually sometimes fall into some problematic behaviors like barking, chewing, digging, and other destructive behaviors. It’s similar to when we are feeling tired from work and trying to sleep, but our brains just won’t stop going. It can be very frustrating to sit there exhausted but unable to sleep so sometimes we will lash out at others or just get very angry. It is the same for our dogs when they don’t use their brain a lot, except we see them take it out in mostly destructive problem behaviors instead. 

Now that’s not to say that physical stimulation isn’t important for your dog and won’t help to tire them out, because it absolutely is and will. However we can easily overdo it with physical stimulation. Especially when our dogs are young, if we are always focused on tiring them out physically, then they will likely adjust to the level of activity we are giving them and require more and more to reach the same level of tiredness. With mental stimulation, their brain won’t adjust to the activity level quite as quickly so we can make them more tired. Plus, the commitment from us for 5 more minutes of training is much lower than adding 10 minutes onto our walks. 

Especially when we are competing with the heat of the summer, we can use this to our advantage and spend our time focused on tiring our dogs out mentally. If they are mentally exhausted they will still sleep and relax, even if they aren’t as physically tired as they usually are. 

So what does all of this have to do with trick training? Mental Stimulation! You can provide mental stimulation for your pup with puzzle toys and obedience training as well, but trick training is a super fun way to get that mental stimulation time in. Let’s face it, working on obedience skills can be tedious and boring after a while, and if we are doing training time every day to compensate for the lack of exercise, you’re going to run out of obedience skills to work on. Working on tricks is a great way to mix things up. 

But what tricks to teach? There are so many! 

You really can never go wrong with a little bit of “free shaping”. Essentially you grab some treats, sit down with your dog, stare at them and wait for them to do something. When they offer a behavior that you think you like, mark and treat! It sounds simple but it really can be complicated if you aren’t sure where you’re going with it. You can do simple things like wait for your dog to turn their head. Mark and reward that and then eventually put a head turn on cue. Or if you want to build on it you can start looking for bigger and bigger turns until you get a spin! The good news is that you actually don’t have to take it anywhere. You absolutely can use this as a way to just tire your dog out mentally without turning it into a huge trick. A great stepping stone to getting into shaping in general is to try the 101 Things to do With a Box game. 

If you’re wanting to train more of the standard tricks, I love using the AKC Trick Dog Titles for inspiration, even if you never plan to actually earn a title. Their lists are a great source of ideas. 

You can always keep an eye on our page too! We love training tricks and will often share what we are doing. This month we will be sharing four videos on how to teach a few tricks, so keep your eyes out for those! 

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