One of the best things you can do is teach your Primitive Dog some tricks. That might sound a bit crazy, right? Well it’s not! In reality, all behaviors are taught to your dog the same way that they would learn a trick. The “basics” of sit, down, heel, and come, are all about letting the dog know when they did the correct thing, marking that, and then rewarding to reinforce, all in the hopes that they will repeat the behavior when you want them to. But besides the idea that everything we teach using operant conditioning can be considered a trick, there are many benefits to those silly (but fun!) parlor tricks that so many of us love.
We’ve all heard the saying, “A tired dog is a good dog.” In my experience, physical exercise only does so much. For my Primitive Dogs, trick training has been an amazing way to engage their mental energy and tire them out that way. Since many tricks also employ some type of physical activity, sometimes you can actually take care of both needs at once. Shaping games in particular (both free shaping and shaping using props) are a huge hit with my dogs, since their curious and independent nature leads them to WANT to figure things out, without their needing to rely on cues from me.
Another benefit does have to do with a physical exercise component. Fitness tricks are wonderful ways to help your active Primitive Dog stay in shape, so that their bodies are prepared to deal with their seemingly endless energy. Those who participate in dog sports or who have working dogs will also directly benefit from fitness tricks, since their dogs are thought of as athletes and need to take care of their muscles just as human athletes do. Rehabilitation after an injury or surgery is another time when you would use tricks to help your dog to heal and get back to their normal way of moving, so it’s even easier to do this if you have already worked on these types of tricks versus trying to teach them when your dog is recovering.
The last great benefit to trick training that I want to highlight has to do with relationship building and developing focus. We want our dogs to think that we are the best thing ever, and that hanging out with us is the greatest. Instead of just hoping that it happens that way, training tricks with your Primitive Dog will show them that you are fun to be with, and that good things come their way when they engage with you. As a practical example of this, many dog sports handlers use tricks as a way to “warm up” their dogs before a competition. Besides doing trick routines to stretch out and loosen up, this can also help you and your dog to destress a bit and have some fun in what can be a very nerve-wracking environment. The focus then comes as you practice doing the “fun stuff” around more and more distractions.
We know that our Primitive Dogs in particular can have somewhat short attention spans. They are also typically more independent-minded as compared to, say, a herding breed. So we have to be a bit more creative in how and what we teach them! Tricks have so many benefits to all dogs, but specifically for the more curious and high energy breed types. Building trust and positive relationships, while keeping our dogs fit and thinking, can make all the difference in your day to day calmer life with your Primitive Dog.
We are in the process of developing some really exciting online classes including some tricks so stay tuned. Meanwhile if you have any tricks you are dying to teach your dogs, ask in the community group and we'll be sure to help you!