Eye on the Prize: Tricks for Engagement

One of the best compliments I receive at trials and competitions is how engaged my dogs are with me. Even in the face of other dogs, crowds of people, and even the joyous smells that can come from grass and other distractions, I want my dogs (regardless of breed!), to look to me for fun… And maybe a little food and play, too! So how do we gain focus out and about? We do tricks!

Why do tricks work for this purpose? Well, when we work on tricks, we are usually reinforcing the dog immediately following. We also tend to repeat them a few times each time we “perform” them. So not only do the behaviors involved in tricks themselves begin to become pleasing to the dog, but they are being reinforced a bunch in relatively quick succession.

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#1 - Hand Touch

The hand touch is the first trick (really the first thing in general!) that I teach many dogs. Not only is it an easy one for most dogs to pick up, but you can do a ton of repetitions with little time in between if you wish. Since there is a ton of variation for this trick (higher hand so the dog bounces up, lower hand, and everything in between), it is never boring! You can also make it in to a fun game by having hand touches before and/or after your movement, so it becomes like a little game of chase. The other great thing about the hand touch is that it puts the dog in very close proximity to you, and can help keep them there!

#2 - Spin

The next trick that you will see me doing constantly with my dogs in trial environments are spins in both directions. For this trick, I teach it using a lure with my dog facing me. Since I teach it that way, my dogs are very used to performing it right in front of me in close proximity. We vary that depending on the dog and what we are working on, of course, but we do the most repetitions of this trick in that manner. It also involves lots of movement on the dog’s part, which is something that gets my dogs very excited (in a good way!).

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#3 - Peekaboo

“Peekaboo” or “place” is another trick that I use regularly with my own dogs for attention and
motivation. This is the more difficult of the three talked about in this article to teach, but it’s still really fun for the dog (and super cute, too!). Again, proximity plays a part in making it one of my favorites for engagement, as the dog is probably going to be touching you, and you can easily reach down to grab a collar or harness. In addition, since your legs are around the dog, it’s a great one for walking through crowded places, and you can actually feed your dog the whole time if need be.

With all of these tricks, it’s important to begin working on them in very low-distraction areas, and with some very yummy treats, or a very exciting toy! You can add your own spin (pun intended!) to them as well, depending on what your dog likes and doesn’t like. These should always be super fun for both of you, and very rewarding for your dog. There are plenty of other great tricks for you to work on for this purpose, so get creative and have fun!

Share your progress! We love seeing training pics and videos on our Facebook community. Also online classes are coming soon, including tricks! Keep an eye on the site!!