Learning tricks is one of the most graceful ways to build a relationship with your dog. The positive effect of constantly learning new things is both to increase self-confidence and build body awareness or develop independent thinking. All this done together by handler and dog creates a bond based on trust and joy of work.
The most important thing to start with is a built-up motivation for food or a toy and a positive attitude. Remember at the beginning to do short series of repetitions of one exercise and reward for each desired behaviour that will bring us closer to the planned effect.
Try starting with three simple tricks that you can learn yourself.
Target/touch the hand
Targeting is one of the more useful tricks that can be used to teach another. The dog can target with his nose, paw or even his whole body the handler or designated objects, it all depends on the intended target.
Prepare some treats. Hold one between the fingers of your open hand and encourage your dog to interact. As soon as the dog touches your hand with its nose, release the treat from between your fingers while praising it with your rewarding command (super, good dog, etc.). Repeat several times.
The next step is to hold out your open hand without the treat between your fingers and encourage your dog to touch it with his nose. When the dog complies with your request, reward him with a treat from the other hand near the one he was targeting, e.g. by pouring a treat on it. Repeat several times.
If your dog eagerly touches your hand with his nose, give a command. This can be e.g. target, touch, touch.
Finally, start playing with this exercise by moving your hand in different directions, holding it higher above your dog so that he has to move a little or jump up. Reward each time he does the exercise correctly.
As well as looking cool, the bow is a great exercise to stretch the shoulder girdle and can be used as a warm-up.
Have some treats ready in your hand and ask your dog to stand in front of you. With your closed hand with the treats, slowly guide your dog by directing your hand between his front paws. Reward your dog when he lowers his head, bending his front paws, leaving his backside standing. Repeat gradually deepening the flexion of the front paws.
Tip: You can use a piece of furniture or a wall to place your dog in front of it to limit his ability to back away while you deepen the bend. Sometimes, when your dog tries to move to the lying position, you can help yourself by gently touching him under the belly so that he only lowers the front part of his body. You can also use an obstacle and guide the dog under it.
Once your dog can do the bow by touching the floor with his elbows, start guiding him with your empty hand and reward him with tastes from the other hand. Do not forget the rewarding command!
The final stage will be to give a vocal command, e.g. bow, and gradually withdraw the hand gesture. Reinforce the trick with rewarded repetitions.
A trick that everyone has probably seen at some point, but which is not at all easy for a dog. Ask requires you to maintain balance, which in turn develops the deep muscles responsible for stabilising the body.
Have some treats ready in your hand and ask your dog to sit. Point the hand with the treats above his head so that he has to lift a little to reach it. At first, reward your dog as soon as he raises even one front paw.
Gradually lift your hand a little higher and further behind your dog’s head so that he has to lift more himself. Remember to keep the back paws in a sitting position.
Tip: If your dog has trouble keeping his balance, you can help him by supporting him gently by the elbow, or, if he is a large dog, by standing behind him and letting him lean with his back against your legs.
When the dog can stand for a few seconds in the position, lengthen the command and withdraw the hand gesture. As with the previous tricks, the reward for a job well done.
Always remember to reward your dog with a rewarding command e.g. super, good dog. If your dog hasn’t learned many tricks before, give him time, and practice for no more than a few minutes, gradually increasing expectations. Learning a new trick may take a day, a week or even longer – it all depends on how difficult your dog finds it.