5 Easy (Yet Impressive) Tricks to Teach Your Dog
Training tips | By: Taylor Wyllie, KPA CTP | Apr 04, 2023
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In the weeks after adopting our dog, Scott, my husband and I impressed (okay, annoyed) all our family and friends with adorable videos of him performing a plethora of circus tricks. He was an anxious mess at the time, but teaching him tricks seemed to help calm his nervous system. Plus, it endeared him to us at a time when he was keeping us up all night with incessant barking.
Your dog doesn’t have to be as much of a mess as ours was to get something out of trick training. In fact, all dogs need mental stimulation to live their best lives. As the saying goes, “more brain games, fewer destructive aims.”
Okay, I don’t think that’s actually a saying, but it should be as a mentally satisfied pup is less likely to engage in destructive and annoying behaviors, such as excessive barking or counter-surfing.
All of that aside, teaching your dog tricks is fun! So, let’s get right into it.
1. Shake hands
One of the simplest tricks to teach your dog is to shake hands. To start, simply hold out your hand at your dog’s chest level. Many dogs will automatically paw at it. When they do, click or say “yes” and give them the treat. Repeat this process until your dog consistently paws at your hand when you offer it. At that point, you can add a verbal cue such as the adorable, “how do you do?” Simply say “how do you do?” just before you hold out your hand.
Troubleshooting: If your dog does not paw at your hand, you can put a treat in your hand to encourage the pawing. Just be careful—you don’t want to teach your dog to paw at food they want. Only use the lure a couple of times to jumpstart the behavior before getting rid of it.
2. Tell me a secret
Friends and family can’t help but smile at this fun and unique trick. In fact, when my niece visited, she asked my dog Scott to “tell her a secret” probably a hundred times a day. Apparently, he told her things like “your dad smells funny” and “aliens do exist.”
Luckily, this trick is relatively easy to teach. Start by holding a treat between your thumb and forefinger at your ear (leaving the rest of your fingers available to cup your ear in the universal whisper-a-secret-in-my-ear gesture). When your dog comes closer to investigate, mark (click or say “yes”) and give them that treat. Repeat this process a few times and then drop the lure. If you’d like a verbal cue—such as "tell me a secret"—simply say it just before you bring your hand to your ear.
3. Play dead
Playing dead is a slightly more advanced trick, but still relatively easy to teach. Start by getting your dog to lie down. Hold a treat in front of their nose and slowly move it back towards their shoulder. As your dog follows the treat, they should naturally roll onto their side. When they do, mark (click or say "yes) and give them the treat. Repeat this process until your dog is consistently rolling onto their side. That's when you can add your cue—perhaps "play dead" or "pow!"—by saying it just before your dog goes to roll on their side. Once they understand the verbal cue, you can make it more difficult by having your dog start in a standing position.
Some dogs, especially older dogs, may not be comfortable rolling onto their hip in this way. If your dog does not seem to be having a good time, stop training. No trick is worth your dog’s pain.
4. High five
Teaching your dog a high-five means you’ll never be left hanging again. Start by getting your dog to shake hands (see trick #1). Once they've got that down, hold your hand up in the classic high-five position. Your dog should lift their paw and touch your hand. When they do, mark (click or say “yes”) and give them a treat. Repeat this process until your dog is giving high fives away like they’re nothing.
5. Play Ball
This uncommon trick will make your friends think your dog is the next Air Bud. Teaching your dog to “play ball” requires a little more skill on your part than the others in this list, though it’s still easy to teach. You will need to use the training concept of shaping. Shaping is used to teach dogs new behaviors by breaking down complex actions into small, achievable steps. It involves rewarding the dog for incremental progress towards the desired behavior, eventually shaping the behavior to the desired end result.
Choose a ball, any ball. Hold it, examining it like it’s the coolest thing you’ve ever seen, then set it on the floor near your dog. As soon as your dog looks at it, mark (say “yes” or click) and give your dog a treat. Repeat a few times. Then wait until your dog moves toward the ball. As soon as they do, mark and reinforce. Repeat a few times. Then wait until your dog touches the ball (with either their nose or paw, depending on what you want the end behavior to be). Finally, wait to mark and reinforce until your dog touches the ball strongly enough that it moves. To add the cue, say “play ball” just before your dog goes to hit the ball.
Teaching your dog tricks not only means they’ll steal the show next time you have people over, but it’s also a great way to give them the mental stimulation they need. Plus, it’s fun. So grab a bag of treats, a clicker (or prepare your voice for all those “yeses”), and get to training!