Gettin’ Tricksy With It
Week 1:

Welcome to Gettin’ Tricksy With It! In this class, we will learn all about how to teach some of the most well-known and well-loved tricks, preparing you and your dog for social media stardom, and getting them ready to take on some trick dog title testing!

For our first week, we will be reviewing some vocabulary, and using that vocab in relation to popular tricks.

The first thing I want to talk about is a marker. Markers are used to tell a dog when they got it right, and let them know that a reward is imminent. Examples of markers are clickers, marker words, or other sounds, lights, body touches, etc. The latter two examples would be most appropriate for dogs who are hearing or vision impaired. For the purposes of this class, I will be utilizing a marker word of “yes.” You are welcome to use whatever option works best for you and your dog. REMEMBER! The marker acts as a bridge - you have a couple of seconds, therefore, to deliver the reward. Don’t worry if you have trouble getting in to a rhythm at first. That is totally normal! I recommend that you start working on coordinating yourself (especially if using a clicker or something else that you have to hold) using things that your dog already knows well. A great way to do this is in a sit or down. The pattern will be as follows… “Sit” - dog sits - mark - deliver reward - release if applicable.

The next term is shaping - when we use shaping for training, we are marking approximations of a behavior, slowly upping our criteria, until the dog can perform the complete behavior. Our first trick that will use shaping for is Four Paws in a Box!

For this trick, you will place your box on the ground and have yourself facing said box. You will reward your dog for any interaction with it, even if it’s just looking at it to start. As they start to investigate it more, you can up the criteria! So instead of just looking, the dog now might paw at it. Once they are pawing at it consistently, wait a few more seconds and see what they offer! Ideally, they will offer one paw in, then another, eventually all four! For this trick, I like to drop the reward IN the box itself to draw a bit more attention to that object. I will also release the dog with a “get it” and a thrown treat to act as a reset button.

You’ll notice that sometimes I am throwing my “get it” treat in such a way that Journey has to walk through the box to go get it. This is helping him understand that his back feet can indeed go in there! The hope for that is he will therefore be more comfortable offering that as I up my ante. As your dog gets better and better at this, you can do it with smaller boxes and really test their body awareness!

Now we switch gears and work on a trick with luring! When luring, we are guiding the dog in to a position using a treat to their nose. The perfect trick to lure is Spin!

You’ll see in this video that Journey catches on pretty quickly! I am using my body to lean in a bit and then back out as he is completing his spin. As he gets more confident, I am removing the lure completely and just using a hand gesture. My goal for this trick would be to not have to use the lure at all, and to minimize my body movements.

So what if your dog won’t go all the way around? That’s fine! You can work around this by tossing a treat on the ground to help complete the rotation, or leaning your body in a bit more. Also don’t worry about only reinforcing a partial spin for a little bit! In addition, you might notice that your dog can do one direction more fluidly than the other - this is normal, and might just mean that you practice the “worse” one a bit more.

One of the more popular tricks is speak! For speak, I utilize capturing! When capturing, we are rewarding the dog for doing a behavior on their own that we want. In this video, I’m actually enticing Jari to bark, then marking and rewarding when he does.

Now that we’ve had some practice using various methods for trick training, let’s talk a little more about some frequently asked questions

When do you name a trick? I wait until the dog is offering the behavior consistently. Then I will say the name for the behavior during said behavior, gradually saying the cue earlier and earlier until it is before the dog acts. After that, you can to work it in with other, already fluent behaviors for the dog to test if they really understand your cue.

Should you use a verbal cue, or a hand signal? I mix it up! It really depends on what I’m teaching the dog, and how I’m teaching it. For spin, it’s VERY easy to just keep with that more subtle hand signal. For fun, I will test out a verbal and try to have my dogs respond to verbal only, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s not a necessity that they do that! For sit, down, and stand, I need my dogs to respond to to each using verbal OR hand signal for obedience purposes. So those I will work on a bit more.

Can you work on multiple tricks at one time? Totally! I will not interchange not very well known tricks at all, but there is no reason why you cannot work on one trick in progress, then in the same day in another session work on another. Many times, our body cues (even if they are not intentional) will cue the dog to do something anyway, and if you are using props, then the dog will definitely start to recognize that a specific object means to do a specific behavior or set of behaviors.

How long do you train each trick per session? Depends on the dog! If they are workaholics like my dogs are, our training sessions could go upwards of 10 minutes! I wait until the dog is showing any signs of not being in to it, then we stop. Again, I try to keep it to one “new” trick per session, but will mix in some older, better known tricks sometimes.

Can you use toys as rewards to train tricks? Absolutely! In this class I am using treats for everything. For a toy, you would just mark, then present the toy. Food rewards are just quicker, which means I have more chances to reinforce in a shorter time frame. My dogs are also not very in to toys, so food is where it’s at!

When should you use which method for a trick? It would depend on the trick itself. For example, with Four Paws in a Box, I could have just lured Journey in, or I could have waited until he walked in on his own. For that latter idea, it might have been more difficult as he may not have felt comfortable enough to do that, or he just might not have seen any other reason to interact with the box. For luring him in, I decided against that because I wanted him to really think about what his feet were doing, since this is a great body awareness exercise! So you have quite a few methods at your disposal - the fun part is thinking of how you can use them to get the desired end behavior!


Four Paws in a Box: Work on consistency! Once your dog is offering all four paws in upon seeing the box, switch to a smaller one, or something with a different shape (round versus rectangular versus square) and see how they do!

Spin: Work towards a full spin in both directions!

Speak: Once your dog is offering a speak readily, put a cue to it! Either a word, hand gesture, or both and practice!