Ten Tricks for the AKC Trick Dog Title
I was at a show a few years ago when a friend of a friend asked if we could be their guinea pigs for the then new AKC Trick Dog titling tests. Our dogs weren't trained for tricks, but my two salukis, Pepe and Ponzi, had obedience and agility titles, so how hard could it be? They could go through a tunnel, walk on a board, jump over a jump, sit on a platform and do the weaves. Ponzi already had a CGC title, so the rules said only had to perform five tricks to earn the TKN. Done! But Pepe didn't have a CGC, so he we had to come up with a quick additional five tricks for his title. I walked away thinking that had been a fun diversion. But by the time I got home I was eyeing the requirements for the next level. And the next.
Before I knew it was taking breaks from Facebook to look away from my screen and work on another trick with the boys. They loved it. Of course, treats were involved, but they seemed to enjoy the challenge and the interaction. We all grew to look forward to trick training. I always trained them together, which added to the lion-tamer atmosphere we all seemed to thrive on. For two months they learned to sit up and beg, jump through a hoop, crawl on their belly, spin right, spin left, turn on the light, play a piano, high-five, super high-ten, bow, balance a treat on the nose (Pepe only---Ponzi has no self control), catch a treat, catch a ball. We took the test for the Intermediate and Advanced levels, and they both passed. But now what?
Both dogs still looked at me expectantly as I typed away. Pepe nudged me with his nose. Ponzi did the paw in my lap thing. And cocked his head. Apparently I had created trick monsters. Bu I also found that these were my favorite times of the day, and I looked forward to them as well. And there are two higher levels yet...
If you're considering checking out a Trick Dog title, I can heartily recommend the endeavor. Everyone enjoys it. It gives you motivation to spend some pure fun times with your dog. It keeps your dog's mind active. It helps young dogs learn to learn, and keeps old dogs mentally active. For rainy days it helps burn off a little energy--maybe just mental energy but it's better than nothing.
The tricks have also been handy. We visit my mom in the nursing home, and the other residents have grown to look forward to the "circus" dogs coming to visit. Tricks releive boredom at dog shows, especially when waiting for our turn in the group ring. One caution here: After I taught Ponzi to "play" the piano I enouraged him to move his front feet up and down the keyboard repeatedly to better simulate playing. This was not a good idea, as he demonstrated the first time I baited him while in a perfect show stack in the ring--and he started shuffling his feet several steps to one side, then the other, over and over--argh! Lesson: Make sure your cue to move the feet is very different from your cue to stand still!
But other than that, tricks entertain ringside spectators and help make our show dogs seem more fun and approachable --which they are! They make your dogs better breed ambassadors.
In addition, tricks help nervous dogs calm down. Having a trick your dog knows how to do well helps the dog focus. One part of being nervous comes from not knowing what to do. With a well-learned trick, the dog knows exactly what to do, and is even more likely to eat a treat he was too nervous to eat before. This works very well at the veterinary office, especially if the tricks you teach help get veterinary tasks accomplished.
1) Kissing Canine
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a dog that would give you a kiss when you needed one? Now you can, with just few simple lessons . . . and maybe some tasty treats. If your dog naturally licks your face, you can click and reward her every time she does. Once she’s doing it reliably you can add a cue, such as “Nobody loves me,” and reward her only for licking on cue. If she doesn’t lick your face naturally, you can help her a little bit by doing the following:
- Get a sticky treat, such as butter or peanut butter, and smear a bit on your cheek.
- Let your dog lick it off your cheek. Click as soon as she starts licking.
- Gradually put less and less of the sticky treat on your cheek, but still click when she licks. Hand her a treat when she finishes.
- You should gradually be able to do away with the sticky goo on your cheek and just click and hand your dog a treat for kissing you.
- Once she’s doing that, add a cue by saying “Nobody loves me . . .” in a sad tone. Click and reward her only when she kisses you after you say that. Soon she will learn that she gets a treat when she kisses you on cue!
2) Open Arms
This trick will work only with small dogs. If your dog is bigger, he might knock you down! But this trick is very cute. When you say “Eek, a mouse!” your dog will jump in your arms and it will look like she was trying to get away from a mouse. Here’s how to teach it:
- Kneel on the floor in front of your dog. Encourage her to run to you and get in your lap. You may need to hold a treat to get her to come. As soon as she is even partway in your lap, click and reward her. Keep practicing, gradually clicking and rewarding her only for getting farther and farther onto your lap, until she is all the way there.
- Hold your arms down so instead of jumping into your lap she is jumping into your arms on your lap. Click and reward her for doing it right.
- Now sit up taller and repeat the earlier steps. Gradually require her to get her whole body into your arms before rewarding her.
- Next sit in a chair so she has to take a small running jump to reach your lap and then your arms. Be sure to click and treat!
- Once she is jumping up into your arms while you are seated, sit on some cushions on the chair so you can gradually rise up to an almost-standing position without your dog knocking you down. Be sure to catch her! If you drop her she may be too scared to try again.
- Now stand all the way up and have her leap into your arms!
- Add your cue: “Eek, a mouse!” Click and reward your dog for jumping into your arms after you cue her.
What if she is too big for this trick? You can do the trick with just her front paws on your chest or lap.
He spins and spins and where he stops, nobody knows . . . The amazing spinning dog dazzles your audience and dizzies your dog. This trick is easy to teach if your dog knows how to be lured with a stick or your hand, but you can also teach it using a treat. Here’s how:
- With your dog standing in front of you, show her the treat and move the treat so she follows it in a tight circle. Start by just clicking and rewarding her for turning her head, then for turning just a little bit, then for turning a little bit more until she is turning in a complete circle. Always spin in the same direction.
- Once your dog is spinning in one circle, try guiding her with just your hand, without holding a treat. When she finishes the circle, give her the treat. Once she spins in one circle to your hand, practice adding on a second circle. Then add another, and another . . .
- Now it’s time to add your cue. How about “Tornado!” Give the cue right before you make the circle with your hand, and click and reward your dog for spinning. If she spins without the cue, just ignore it. Practice until she is reliably spinning when you say “Tornado!”
- Next you need to phase out using your hand to signal. Make your hand circles smaller and smaller, until your dog is responding to just your voice cue: “Tornado!” Remember to keep clicking and rewarding.
Here’s a really cute trick: your dog will peer out from between your legs like he’s hiding from somebody. Follow these directions to teach it:
- Go with your dog into a bathroom. Stand in front of the door so you are blocking it with your back to the dog. Keep your feet slightly apart so the only way out for her is through your legs.
- Use a treat or your hand to get her to come partway through your legs. When her head sticks through, click and stop her by giving her a treat.
- Keep repeating this process. Gradually work up to having her stay between your legs for several seconds before you click and treat.
- Add your cue word. Let’s use “Dogcatcher!” Click and reward her when she comes to peek out between your legs after you say “Dogcatcher!” Don’t reward her for it at other times.
- You won’t look too impressive doing your trick in the bathroom, so you need to work your way to a bigger room once she’s doing the trick reliably in the bathroom. Move to a hallway first and practice there. Once she’s doing the trick there, move to a larger room. Gradually train her so she can come from anywhere behind you and run to peer from between your legs. Be sure you are still rewarding her!
- Finally, start standing more naturally with your legs not so far apart. Leave just enough room for your dog to stick her head through—it will look funnier that way!
If you've ever dreams of your dog in the movies, he'll need to know how to crawl. It’s easier for some dogs than for others, but most dogs can learn. It’s easiest to teach if your dog already knows how to lie down and come on command.
- Place a barrier between your dog and you that is just low enough so he has to crouch down to go under it. You can use a broomstick between two chairs. Have your dog lie down on the other side of the barrier from you. Call or lure your dog to you. As soon as he takes one step in a crouched position, click and give him a treat.
- Work on having him gradually crawl all the way under the barrier. If he is having problems, you can raise the barrier at first and gradually lower it. Be sure to click and reward him when he is still crawling.
- Next make the barrier a little longer, so he has to crawl for a few more steps. You could use a second broomstick and drape a sheet over both of them so they make a tunnel. Keep making the tunnel a little longer and longer as your dog masters each distance.
- Now gradually remove the barrier, starting with any sheet you’ve draped over it, and then removing each stick, starting from the middle. Eventually you want your dog to crawl the same distance but without any barriers. Be sure to click and reward while he is still crawling.
- Once he is doing this reliably, introduce your cue. You could pretend he’s a war dog crawling behind enemy lines and shout “Incoming!” Give him this cue before you call him to you. Click and reward him only when he comes after you cue him. Gradually quit calling or luring him and just use the “Incoming!” cue.
6) Take a Bow!
Every performer should know how to bow! There are two ways to teach your dog to bow, and which way is best for your dog depends on your dog. If your dog naturally bows a lot, such as when he wants to play, you can teach him by just waiting for him to bow and then clicking and rewarding him every time he bows. When he starts bowing and looking at you for his treat, then you add a cue, such a “Take a bow.” Once you do that, you click and reward him only when he bows after your cue.
If your dog doesn’t bow on his own, you can teach him how. Here’s how to do it:
- With your dog standing, kneel by his side. Take a treat in your hand and put your hand between your dog’s front legs from behind, showing him the treat. Your dog should bend his head down to reach the treat. When he does, click and give him the treat.
- Gradually move the treat back toward his rear, but still between his front legs. Now your dog has to reach between his front legs to get the treat, and that will make him bow a little bit. Be sure to click and reward him as soon as he starts to bow.
- Keep practicing, gradually moving the treat closer to the ground. Click and reward him for getting his elbows closer and closer to the ground.
- If he moves out of position or tries to lie down, just start over. If he keeps trying to lie all the way down, you can put your other hand under his tummy and guide him so he keeps his rear off the ground.
- Instead of holding the treat in your hand, put it in your pocket and try to get him to bow by just following your hand. When he does, click and reward him with the treat from your pocket.
- Once he is bowing consistently to just your hand signal, add your voice cue: “Take a bow.” Then just click and reward him for bowing on cue.
7) Yes or No
Should every trick dog know how to nod? Yes! Is it hard to teach your dog to shake his head? No! Every trick dog should know how to nod yes and shake his head no. Fortunately, these tricks are not too hard to teach.
- Have your dog face you. If your dog already knows the Look Smart! trick, you can stick her target to your hand. Otherwise you can just hold a treat.
- To teach your dog to shake her head no, move your hand back and forth so she has to move her head back and forth to follow it. When she does, click and treat.
- Keep practicing this. If you are using a treat, gradually do away with it in your hand so your hand is empty. Click and reward your dog with a treat from your pocket.
- Gradually fade your hand movements so you are moving your hand only slightly. Work on making sure she still moves her head back and forth as if saying no by rewarding only head movements that go beyond your hand movements. If you can get your hand movements small enough, you can also use them as a second, secret hand signal for your dog.
- When she is shaking her head no, introduce a cue, such as “Don’t you agree?” Practice using the cue and clicking and rewarding her only when she shakes her head no in response to it.
8) Gimme Five!
Polite dogs shake your hand. Cool dogs give you a high five. Your cool dog can give a high five by slapping your open palm with his paw. Dogs that like to use their paws to move objects can learn this trick very fast. Here’s how to teach it to a dog that already uses his paw.
- Have your dog sit.
- Kneel in front of him holding a treat in your closed fist on the ground close to his paw.
- Encourage your dog to paw at your hand for a treat. As soon as he lifts his paw, click and give him the treat. If he noses your hand, just ignore him and wait for him to make a paw movement.
- Repeat this, gradually making him move his paw closer to your hand before clicking and rewarding him.
- Now take the treat out of your hand and just use your empty fist. When he touches your empty fist with his paw, click and give him the treat from your other hand.
- Gradually open your palm and reward him for touching his paw to your palm.
- Repeat having him paw your palm, gradually raising your hand higher, clicking and rewarding him for touching your palm with his paw. Finally he should be reaching up to paw your hand.
- Now to teach him when to do it. Let’s use the cue “Gimme five!” Say “Gimme five!” just before showing him your palm. Click and reward him for pawing it right away. Now when you say “Gimme five!” your dog will high-five you!
- Now you can move your hand around and even encourage your dog to stand up on his hind legs to high-five!
One way to teach a lot of paw tricks is to first teach your dog to touch a target with his paw. It makes learning all the other paw tricks even easier. Here’s what you do:
- Get a target, such as a sticky note or a piece of tape. Let your dog see you place a dog treat under the target. Now place the target where he can’t reach it with his nose, but has to paw at it instead. You could place it under a chair, for instance. As soon as he tries to paw the target, even if he doesn’t reach it, give him a treat.
- Each time your dog gets his paw closer to the target, click and reward him. Once he is reaching for the target reliably, remove the treat from beneath it so he is just reaching for the target without a treat beneath it. Click and reward him again for getting his paw closer and closer to the target.
- Gradually move the target so your dog doesn’t have to reach under the chair to reach it. If he tries to nose the target, he won’t get anything, because the treat is no longer under it. Click and reward him for pawing it.
- Move the target to slightly different places. Click and reward your dog for touching it with his paw.
- Now add a cue. How about “Touch!” Say “Touch!” and click and reward if he touches the target. Don’t click or reward any other time. Eventually your dog will learn that he gets a reward when he touches the target with his paw after you say “Touch.”
- Now you can gradually move the target away from your dog, so he has to step forward to reach it. Keep clicking and rewarding him when he touches the target. Work up to placing the target across the room, on a chair, or even stuck to a wall.
10) Nose Targeting
Just as paw targeting gives you the foundation for lots of other paw-oriented tricks, nose targeting does the same for nose-oriented tricks. Sometimes the easiest way to teach a trick is to tempt your dog into doing what you want by luring him with a treat. Use the same concept as with paw targeting, only using the nose.
You can use the same method to teach your dog to follow the end of a stick. A stick is handier than your hand if your dog is very short, so you don’t have to bend down. It’s also handy for teaching your dog tricks that have to be done farther away from you.
Once the dog is touching the target with his nose, move it around so he continues to touch it, and reward for doing so. Now you have the basis for tricks such as pushing buttons, putting the nose in your pocket, or even saying prayers.
As you practice these tricks you'll find your dog may make up his own variations, These tricks will provide the basis to do enough tricks to earn the Trick Dog Advanced title---because once the two of you have mastered these I bet you can't quit!