Tricks are not frivolous; in fact, they can have great practical value in daily life with your dog.
You should both love the process as much as the results, so make training a game by using the things your dog wants (attention, food and toys) as rewards for learning new behaviors, and plan several three- to five-minute sessions each day so your dog has plenty of opportunities to build strong learning muscles.
Have a treat pouch with high-value, tiny bits of food rewards, and choose a word, such as "yes," that will become the marker you use to give your dog precise feedback about what you like. When you say it at the exact moment the behavior you like happens, you are saying to your dog "I'm giving you this reward because of that behavior!" Think of it like taking a sharply focused picture of the behavior you want.
One of the most valuable tricks is hand targeting. Teach your dog to touch their nose to the palm of your hand as the basis of come when called. With practice your dog will learn to run to touch your hand, even from a good distance away. Hold your open palm six inches away from your dog and say "yes!" followed by a reward when they touch it with their nose. Repeat and gradually increase the distance you move your hand away. When you're confident your dog will touch your hand, say a cue word, such as "touch" or "here" right before presenting your open palm. This is how they will learn to associate the verbal cue with the behavior.
Teaching your dog to "wait for it!" is the foundation of self-control and resolving a host of behavior issues, including jumping up, pulling on leash, door bolting and demand barking. Start by asking your dog to sit. Hold a bit of food about 12 inches over their head and say "yes" if he stays seated two to three seconds. If he jumps up, simply remove your hand and try again. Gradually increase the duration your dog waits to earn the reward. Now try the same by placing the treat about 12 inches away on the floor. As with the treat over their head, gradually increase the count prior to saying "yes" and rewarding. You can also work on moving the treat closer to your dog, and even balancing it on their nose or paw.
Teaching your dog to "shake" is adorable, but also useful to help your dog become less sensitive to having their paws handled for grooming and by their veterinarian. Many dogs are naturally inclined to raise their paw as a solicitation for play, attention and other resources. Sit on the floor in front of your dog with a handful of treats. Watch your dog's paws carefully and say "yes," and reward when you see even a tiny lift off the ground. With repetition, your dog will have a light-bulb moment when they figure out what you want and lift their paw with more intention. Now, place your hand just in front of them so that their raised paw lands in your hand! When you are confident they will lift their paw, say "shake" as you place your hand in front of them.
These tricks should be just the start of an ongoing effort to continue the training game and constantly add to your dog's repertoire of fun and useful behaviors.
Disclosure: This post was brought to you by K9 Advantix® II, a registered trademark of Bayer. Do not use on cats.
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