When the weather is bad or I just don’t have the energy for a long walk, trick training is my go to way to tire out my dog Maze, both mentally and physically. Sure sometimes we work on “obedience” skills like heeling, stay, and recall as well, but tricks add in so much more fun for both of us. But what is a trick exactly? What makes it any different from anything else we teach our dogs?
To me, a trick is anything I’m teaching my dog primarily for fun (even if it has other benefits). To our dogs, it’s not actually any different from our regular training. They don’t know what's “obedience” and what’s a trick. The only difference for them is how we act. If you’re having fun with tricks but are more stressed when it comes to other training, they’ll be able to tell. This is part of why so many dogs love showing off their tricks!
My favorite tricks that I’ve taught Maze are the helpful ones. She will pick up just about anything I point to and bring it to my hand: socks, keys, my phone, and the remote and whatever else is laying around. This is especially nice every time I somehow strain my back! She can also close doors (and open them, but she taught herself that one). If I’m in the bedroom trying to take a nap and she starts barking at the front door, I can now call her into the room and ask her to shut the door, shutting herself in with me. It took some focused practice to get her doing it while I stayed in bed, but man was that worth it!
Of course most of her tricks are just to look cute, and that’s as good of a reason as any to teach them. However,
they’re also good for fitness! Backing up is good for the hips. Beg or Sit Pretty requires core strength and balance. “Wave” is good for shoulder mobility and range of motion. And of course all the tricks that involve jumping on or over something are quite the workout. Maze is six, and while that’s certainly not old, she’s not a super young dog anymore either. It’s great knowing that the tricks we love to do will help her stay mobile as she continues to get older.
But really one of the best parts of teaching tricks is that it has strengthened our overall bond and
communication. Maze is a dog who’s had some behavioral challenges along the way, primarily with reactivity. Any time I tried to only focus on the “hard stuff” our relationship would suffer. I’d take any small failure or set back as a monumental one. Everything needed to be perfect in every session or else the world was going to end. But when we could balance that out with fun training projects, we got to just enjoy each other's company and not worry as much about if it went perfectly. Afterall, it’s just a silly trick.
If you’re wanting to do some trick training with your dog. We have a four week tricks class coming up at the end of April! We’ll go over more than ten tricks like spin, shake, beg, and play dead. Shoot us an email if you’d like to join or if you have any questions!