Trick Training

Most of the actions you see dogs doing in movies are simply an assembly of simple tricks. By teaching your dog to do each trick, you can have him/her capable of being a movie dog (or just a fun pet). Some of these tricks help the dog in other sports such as agility and in obedience. Likewise, agility work can be incorporated into movie work. For example, dogs that can jump obstacles can be taught to jump in and out of moving cars, leap over people or other dogs, or jump in and out of windows. A-frame work can be used to teach the dog to go over fences or other high obstacles and dog walk training can be used to teach dog to walk along narrow walls, etc. We use the circle obstacle with the hole covered with saran wrap to teach the dogs to jump through a window. This list doesn't include tricks such as retrievals which are used often in movies or bite work. Bite work should only be done by a trained handler as you must do it properly to be effective. None of these tricks require special equipment. These tricks are meant to be fun for you and your dog. There are many ways to teach the same trick. Use the one that works for you and your dog.

Editor's Note: Even the tricks that don't list an agility use make good warmups to get your dog's attention!

Agility use: Practising jumping obstacles, socializing with other dogs, being handled on obstacles from both sides
How: This is an interesting trick to do if you have a group of dogs that get along (ie non- aggressive with each other), keep a still down stay, and are good at jumping low obstacles. If you have this combination, this trick can look very impressive. First start with pairs. Have one dog in a down stay with the handler holding the leash short and a treat in hand if required. The other handler gives the "over" command and while on leash has the dog jump the one who is down. Repeat in opposite direction to get dog used to jumping on both sides of handler. Then switch dogs. When the pairs are reliable, put up to 6 dogs in down stays about 3 feet apart depending on size of jumper. One dog (on leash to begin) jumps all of the other dogs. This is repeated several times for each dog and then they change places until all dogs have had a turn jumping.

Agility Use: teaching a long stretch exercise good for warming up
How: Once all of the dogs can bow and hold it, line up dogs very close together and give the "bow" command at same time. Tell dogs to "stay" - handler holds treat close to keep attention. You need to use a very small dog such as a terrier for the next part. While the larger dogs are in bow position, the small one starts at one end and walks under their rear legs. Trick is to keep the large dogs from lying down. This takes great concentration and muscle control by the large dogs.

agility use: none
How: This is usually a simple one to teach if your dog likes to bark at you. Trick is to get her to do it on command and from distances. First decide on a hand signal that is not similar to any other. You could use a motion of opening and closing your thumb and fingers (facing the dog). This looks like a mouth opening and closing. Or you could use a closed fist, twisting motion. Tell your dog to "speak" at the same time. When she does, reward with treat immediately and say "good speak". If your dog doesn't bark readily, continue to give command until she gets really fed up with you and barks. Then quickly reward. She won't know why but if done enough, she'll get the message. Gradually give the command verbally only and then hand signal only. Increase distance to the maximum comfort zone.

Agility use: improves flexibility
How: Start heeling off leash. Have a treat in both hands. As you step with right foot exaggerate the step and bait dog under your leg while saying "weave". Dog is to walk under your leg to your right side. Then as you take the left foot step, repeat to left side. Continue as you move forward. This trick takes time to learn and if you have a large dog it can be very hard. The trick is to keep the dog weaving in and out under your legs. Once you have this one, you can combine it with the next trick (circle me) into a complete heeling pattern.

Agility use: circles improve turns and keeps dog focused on handler. May help in direction changes
How: Start heeling with treat in hand. Bait dog while saying "circle me" and draw the dog around your body so dog is completing a circle around you. Remember to continue to move forward while doing this. Make it lots of fun and get dog to skip around you. This is a fun trick - not an obedience exercise. Change direction until dog can circle you in both directions. When you've got this down to a fine art, do two circle me's, 2 weaves, repeat, repeat. Then make up different combinations, such as circle me, circle me, weave, weave, circle me, circle me, bow (and then reward). Note that this can takes several weeks to get or your dog may pick it up very fast.

Agility use: none
How: Dog in sit stay. Decide on a hand signal. It can be a circular movement of your hand like a wave or hold hand palm up and wave fingers in and out (as in making a fist). Don't use a real wave with palm facing down as it looks too much like the speak command and can confuse the dog. Sitting close to your dog give the command and hand signal. If dog doesn't do anything nudge her paw until she lifts it up. Reward. Eventually require her to lift paw higher. Always reward every time she does it. Eventually start to give command from farther back.

Agility use: none
How: The dog can be in a sit or down. The idea is to get her to cover her eyes with one paw on command. It will take some practice to find out the best method for your dog as they all respond to different signals. With treat in hand, tell your dog to "cover your eyes". Physically lift her paw over her muzzle and reward. If you blow gently on her nose, she may swipe at her face. When she does this, reward. You have to just repeat the command and movement until the dog realizes what is needed to get the treat.

Agility use: balance
How: Find a book that is suitable to the size of your dog. Balance book either on head between ears, on withers or on muzzle. This depends on your dog's body shape. Hold the dog still with left hand and place book with right. Hold book while saying "stay". Eventually remove both hands (slowly) until dog is balancing book. Count to 3 and remove and release and reward. Idea is to increase time the dog holds the book. The ultimate is to have the dog come while balancing the book. This is a hard one so don't expect instant success.

Agility use: none
How: Hold dog's muzzle and give "stay" or "leave it" command. Place a cookie on top of nose and continue to say "stay" or "leave it". Let go of muzzle. Dog must hold the cookie until you give a release command - "take it". Then she must catch the cookie in her mouth. This is a fun way to give treats and looks cute.

Agility use: none
How: The idea is to have the dog use her nose to find a hidden object. This is good practice for tracking or utility work. First start with simple exercises. Show the dog a treat (strong smelling ones work best). Then let the dog see you place it under the edge of a towel about 6 feet away. Let the dog smell the scent of the treat on your hand. Send dog and say "find it". Reward with praise when she finds the treat. The reward is the treat. Start to move farther back from the hiding place and move the location of the treat - put it further under the towel so it is harder to get out. Then leaving towel in same place, put the treat a few feet away from the towel and send the dog. The dog will have to sniff out the location. Eventually, you will place the dog with her back to the location and have someone make sure she can't see where you put the treat. Then when that level has been achieved, move the dog to another room, hide the treat, let dog sniff your hand and send to "find it". Give lots of praise. You can eventually move from food to solid obstacles such as keys, toys, etc. This makes the exercise into a retrieval.

Agility use: sending dog to a location
How: The object is to tell the dog to go in a certain direction and she will move wherever you point. First use a bait (can be food or toy). Place three baits - one directly in front of you about 10 feet away, one along the same line (10 feet away) to the right and one to the left. Dog is in sit or stand beside you on long line (or flexi). On command "go that way", point to the treat you want the dog to go to. If dog has trouble, toss a treat in that direction to get her started. Reward when she moves correctly. If the dog goes wrong way, stop her with the long line and direct again. Continue to give the command until there is success. Once dog picks up first treat point to the next one and say "go that way", and so on. The dog must pay attention and move in the direction you are pointing to. Eventually you will start to give commands when the dog is in a position. For example, I will send my dog to the left (may have to toss a treat) When she gets there I tell her to "down" or "sit". If she does it, I walk in and reward. Alternate commands until your dog will obey from longer distances.

Agility use: none
How: The object is to make your dog sneeze on command. The signal will be the handler cupping her hands around her nose and mouth and saying "sneeze". With the handler seated in a chair, have the dog in a sit/stay in front of you. Cup your hands around her muzzle, say sneeze and blow gently into her nostrils. Continue until she either snuffles, sneezes or makes any such motion. Reward "good sneeze" and treat. Repeat. This may take a long time depending on the dog. Some will sneeze immediately, and others will take a lot of work to respond.

Agility use: none
How: The object is to have your dog put his head down between his paws on the command "say prayers" and to end the exercise on the command "amen". Start with handler seated on a chair, dog in sit/stay in front. Put a treat on chair between your legs. Tell dog "say prayers" and encourage or lift both front paws on to the chair (NOTE: dog must remain seated). The action is similar to a beg with the paws resting on the chair. Tell dog to "leave it" so he doesn't eat treat and repeat "say prayers". Dog should stick nose down to the treat between paws. Then give release "amen" and reward with the treat. You may find this easier to do on a low table. While standing behind dog, guide paws on to table and encourage him to lower muzzle between paws towards the treat.

Agility Use: To get dog to down on table if you are having problems with this obstacle.
How: With dog in sit or stand stay, point finger and pull hand up while saying bang. This action is similar to the down hand signal. Dog must lie down on side with head down. You may have to do in stages - down and side.

Agility Use: To improve corners and turns and weaving - helps increase flexibility.
How: With dog in stand stay in front of you, give "circle" command and entice dog with food treat or toy to turn in circle. Don't encourage to "chase tail'. Give reward when dog turns fully. Gradually give command from greater distances. For distance, it helps to put reward on end of pole and use to get dog to turn in circle.

Agility Use: Before doing agility, this is a good stretching exercise. Can also help on down contacts.
How: With dog in stand stay, handler in front of dog, with reward (food treat) in hand. Move both hands in towards dogs front paws (above paws) while saying "bow". As dog extends head down for treat in a bow position, reward. This trick is eventually done at a distance and can be done from the side with a single hand command.

Agility Use: Helps dogs who will not go through tunnel.
How: Dog in down stay. Hold treat in right hand with left hand on dog's withers (farther back on large dogs). Move hand with treat up and down (short movements) while saying crawl. As dog moves forward, hold him/her down with hand on back. Move treat hand away from dog so dog has to follow to get treat. Reward initially after any movement and then require longer distances. If dog has trouble crawling, this can be done under someone's legs or under a solid chair or low agility table.

Agility Use: Positioning dog at start, repositioning if dog slightly overruns weave poles, general control.
How: Dog is in stand stay alongside a wall with leash on. Handler in front of dog. Step into the dog, move hands towards dog in a pushing motion (palms up facing dog). Dog will have to move backwards as you move into it. Reward with "good back" as soon as dog takes one step. Best way to reward is to toss treat into dog's mouth. If you let him take it from your hand it is hard to get distance on this one. Leash can be used to move dog back if he has trouble. Wall keeps dog straight. Gradually stop moving towards dog as you give the verbal command and hand signal. When learned properly, the dog will back away from you in a straight line for extensive distance (depending on comfort zone of your dog).

Agility use: Use to send your dog to an obstacle or to encourage touching contact.
How: Have dog touch a piece of paper stuck to the wall. Take dog to wall, command "touch" or "target" and touch the paper. When dog jumps up and touches the paper, reward. Then place an object on floor and send dog to "touch" or "target". Reward when dog moves to object and touches it.

Agility Use: Same as target - a fun trick to do that helps dog learn to go away from handler and touch or manipulate an object.
How: Hold treat at light switch (make sure dog can reach the switch when on back legs; for short dogs, place on sturdy table at light switch). Give command "turn out light" or "light off". When dog jumps up to get treat make sure paws hit the switch. Reward with "good light off/out", or whatever your command was. Gradually start to stand away from switch and send dog. Toss treat when dog jumps up and paws at light. You can also teach this by placing the treat on the switch so dog has to knock it off. If the dog uses the mouth to hit the switch more than the paw, hold the treat in your hand.

(Pat Saito)


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