Most owners like to have a few "nifty tricks" for their dog or puppy to do on command. It is important to get the obedience basics down first, but then it is a great idea to keep working with your dog to build up a repertoire of extra tricks to keep training exercises fun. There are endless additional tricks and routines that dog's can learn depending on their ability and interest. Matching the type of tricks you teach your dog with their characteristics and temperament is a sure way of making the trick easy and simple for the dog to learn. For example, teaching a terrier breed to bark on command (speak) is relatively simple since they tend to be very vocal dogs anyway. They are also very athletic and can easily be taught to sit up (beg) to get a treat. A large breed such as Great Dane has a very hard time balancing in the sit up position so this trick is likely not a good choice for this type of dog.
Roll Over and Play Dead
To be able to start to teach the roll over command the dog must be willing and able to lie down on command. Dogs that have hip or back problems should not be taught the roll over command as it can be painful and even cause potential injury in some cases.
With the dog in the down position hold a treat to one side of the body or the other while gently rolling the dog over on that side. This is actually the "play dead" command and you can start using this immediately. This can be very frightening for dogs so just take this very slowly. Immediately give the treat and a good belly rub. Work on just having the dog get comfortable rolling onto its side on command. Once the dog will move onto its side in the play dead position, then use another treat by arch it over the dogs head close the nose so the dog twists its head to the other side to get the treat. As soon as the head starts to rotate to the other side say "Roll over". The dog's body will automatically follow the head if you slide the treat far enough away from the nose on the other side to be just out of reach.
Some dogs are very nervous about the roll over command as showing their stomach is a sign of submission in pack behavior. If your dog never rolls over on its own and doesn't seem to like a good belly rub every now and then roll over may not be an ideal trick, but play dead may work just fine.
You can also combine the tricks using the roll over first followed by the play dead. Some dogs become real actors with these tricks and will lie there very dramatically and stay almost motionless. The more you reward and praise the dog when he or she does just what you want the more they will get into the performance.
Another version of play dead includes having the dog cover his or her nose or eyes with their front feet. This is something that many of the smaller breeds do anyways, so simply use a verbal command and reward when they naturally use the behavior. Gradually start requesting the behavior when you want it, then immediately provide a huge amount of praise, attention and perhaps a small food treat. Before you know it your dog will do this on command.
Balancing a Bone
There are many variations on this trick including balancing a ball, a toy or even a treat. This is a very tough trick for most dogs and will only work if the dog has a flat, fairly wide nose in comparison to the object you are using. The dog must know how to sit and must also be willing to have food or toys present and know to leave it alone without eating or playing with until commanded to do so. Start this process by holding out a treat, telling the dog to "leave" or "ignore". Once they are calm and not grabbing for the treat, use the command "take" or "get" or whatever you wish to indicate that the dog can now have the item.
Start with the dog in a sit position with his or her head level. Begin by using something easy to balance, such as a flat toy or very small dog biscuit. Place the biscuit on the dogs nose so it is balanced. Give the leave command, remove your hands and leave just for second, then give the "take" command. The first few times the dog may drop the treat, but he or she will quickly learn to tilt their head or just give a quick flip to catch the treat. Gradually increase the time that you expect the dog to balance the treat.
To make this trick easy to train, plan on practicing shortly after feeding and never right before.
Some dogs love to howl, so why not turn this into a great trick? Typically most dogs will howl to certain sounds, particularly a harmonica. Just a cheap kid's one will do and you don't need to play a tune at all, just randomly blow into it. As soon as you are going to start blowing into the harmonica say "Sing" then blow. As soon as the dog starts to howl, give him or her a lot of praise and a treat. It will take the dog awhile to understand that this kind of noise is what you want so just keep practicing. Soon they will start to sing on command or even when just glimpsing at the harmonica. Some dogs will howl to other sounds such as certain voices, television commercials and even alarms and sirens. Just keep pairing the command with the action and give lots of praise and rewards for a job well done.
There are lots of other tricks that you can teach a dog based on his or her natural behaviors. Dogs can learn the terms right and left as well as shake a paw, give a kiss and lots of other advanced types of tricks just by pairing their behavior with a command and giving rewards and time to practice. Keep in mind that older dogs, just like puppies, benefit from continued learning and interaction with the family.
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