How to teach an old (or young !) dog new tricks
Training your dog to do tricks can be a fun, enriching experience for both of you. Dogs enjoy training because they get lots of attention and stimulating mental exercise – not to mention treats. For you, training your dog can be a rewarding way to bond with your dog.
With the right techniques and a fair bit of practice, almost any dog can learn to do the following four tricks.
Trick 1: Shake hands
Though this trick looks impressive, it’s quite simple to teach. Follow these steps:
- Start with a doggie treat enclosed in your hand.
- Your dog will smell the treat and try to get to it. Keep your hand closed. Most dogs’ natural instincts will prompt them to paw at something they cannot reach with their mouth.
- The moment your dog reaches up to your hand with its paw, say, “Yes!” or use your clicker, if you have one, and give the treat.
- Repeat until your dog quickly offers the paw to your closed hand each time.
- Next, offer a flat and empty palm to your dog. When it puts its paw on your hand, offer a treat.
- Increase the time your dog’s paw is in your hand before giving the treat.
- Then add a verbal cue – such as “shake!” – just before offering your flat palm. After repeating a few times, your dog will have learned the trick.
Trick 2: Roll over
Repetition is the key to teaching your dog the “roll over” trick. The more your dog completes the following steps, the better it will get at doing the trick.
- Start with your dog lying down. You may have to give the “down” command first.
- When your dog is lying down, offer a treat near its nose without letting go of the treat. Move your hand to the side, over its shoulder, so that your dog has to lift its head and shift on to its side to retrieve it. Release the treat.
- Immediately offer another treat – again without letting it go – and encourage your dog to shift its weight and roll. Put the treat slightly out of reach on the floor so that your dog has to roll all the way over to get it. If your dog achieves this, give praise and another treat.
- Keep practising – it may take a while before your dog smoothly rolls over using just one treat.
- After several successful rolls, give the “roll over” command and slowly phase out the treat.
Trick 3: Spin
The spin trick looks like one reserved for professional dog trainers, but it’s fairly simple to master.
- Hold a treat close to your dog’s nose, without releasing it. Use the treat to entice your dog to move around in a circle. When it has completed a circle, say, “Yes!” or use your clicker and give the treat.
- Keep practising, making sure to spin the treat in the same direction every time. See if you can get your dog to do two spins in a row before giving the treat – if it manages this, that’s good progress!
- Now try the trick using the same hand but without a treat. Reward your dog with a treat once it completes the spin, but from the other hand. This teaches your dog to follow the hand signal.
- Refine your hand signal if you wish – this could look like a pointing gesture at your dog – and slowly move your hand further from your dog’s nose. Keep rewarding your dog with a treat each time.
- Add a verbal cue – such as “spin!” – before the hand signal.
- Eventually, after lots of practice, your dog may be able to spin with the verbal cue alone – but if not, don’t worry. Not all dogs will reach this stage.
Trick 4: Take a bow!
A bow can be the perfect trick to end with after showing off all your dog’s new tricks. To “take a bow,” your dog will lean down on its front elbows, chest touching the ground. Your dog’s rear end will stay up in the air.
- Your dog should be standing up to start, with all four paws on the ground. It’s helpful if it will stand on command.
- Hold a treat at the tip of your dog's nose, and slowly move it down towards the ground, holding it close to your dog’s body, enticing it down until its front legs are on the floor, rear end remaining up.
- Some dogs find this position tricky to begin with. If your dog is having trouble understanding, try placing one arm underneath the stomach to keep its rear end in the air, and use your other hand with the treat to entice the dog down. Repeat this process until your dog understands the desired movement.
- Keep your dog in the bow, and then use the treat to entice it up to a standing position again. Say, “Yes!” or use a clicker, and give the treat.
- Keep repeating and practising. Eventually add a cue word or phrase – such as “take a bow!” – before you start the trick. Before you know it, your dog will be able to bow on command.