Ten easy tricks to teach your dog

Article by Harriett Type

Harriett Type is a writer and dog lover from Sussex, England.

Even the most relaxed dog parents have generally managed to train their furry friend with the basic commands of sit, stay, returning when called, and walking to heel. 

The more dedicated might have ventured into the realms of high-fives and, perhaps, getting Rover to roll over. But it’s not unwillingness that sees most people stop at basic dog tricks. For many people, it’s simply that they don’t know what’s possible.

So, let’s look at some dog tricks that will help you and your dog have fun without needing the canine equivalent of a PhD.

Dogs are ready to learn tricks

The good news is that we have a good starting point. As any dog lover knows, dogs are intelligent. They can learn 250 words, on average. Some breeds, such as Border Collies, can learn even more.

With a little persistence on both sides, you can put that ability to use by teaching your dog some truly useful tricks and commands. These commands can save you mess, help keep your dog safe, and impress your friends even more than adorable paw shaking or playing dead. 

Ring the bell 

Set yourself up for success by teaching your dog to clearly communicate when they need to to ‘spend a penny’.  Avoid surprise puddles and the guessing game of whether they want to go out every time they glance at the back door.   

Start by hanging a bell on a rope right by the door that leads to where the dog goes to ‘powder their nose’. Then, use clicker or reward training to teach them to touch the bell. 

Next teach the dog to touch the bell each time they go out to do their business. Ideally, after a while they will ring the bell every time they need someone to open the door for them. This technique also works with an electronic bell or a hotel style service bell that they can easily ring with a push of their nose. 

Poo corner 

No one wants to clean up dog mess but it’s a something that all dog parents have to do. However, you can make your life easier by teaching your pooch to poop in specific places. 

First, decide on a suitable spot. Don’t worry. If you don’t have a back yard or garden then you can choose a suitable spot in your local park or a similarly dog friendly location. Crucially, though, make sure it is close enough to home, so your dog doesn’t have to cross their legs for too long. 

Once you’re at the special spot, keep your dog on the lead and hang around until they have done their business. We’ll use clicker or reward training again here to tell them that they have done the right thing. Continue doing this and pick a word to say each time they poop or pee, for example ‘poop time’. Carry on with the clicker or reward training, and reinforcing the verbal command, until it is established. Even once your dog is used to the command, it’s important to continue rewarding and praising them each time they get it right. 

Speak 

Dog barking

Dog tricks aren’t just for fun or convenience. Since the time of hunter gatherers dogs have been useful for protection and security. According to former burglars, criminals avoid houses that have barking dogs. So, there are times when you want your dog to show off their vocal prowess and bark furiously on command.

It’s easiest if you start out by latching onto something that you already know makes your dog bark. For example, the doorbell.

Ring the bell and say ‘speak’ as the dog barks. Reward him or using a clicker or treat. Repeat up to ten times. Then try the verbal command on its own. Say ‘speak’ without ringing the bell. If your dog barks, then good job! If not, it might take a little longer for your dog to associate the word ‘speak’ with barking. With a little patience, though, you should get there in the end.

Hush 

Dogs are great early warning systems and can bark day or night when they hear strange noises. At times, though, they do get it wrong. They mistake cats on TV for a pride of moggies in the back garden, they go into a frenzy each time your neighbour unlocks their front door, or freak out when the rubbish is collected. To avoid a continuous onslaught of unwanted noise you can teach your dog the particularly useful command to ‘hush’.   

You’ll need your clicker or treats readily to hand throughout the day. Unlike the other commands we’ve looked at so far, we’re looking to stop a behaviour here rather than encourage one.

Start by associating quiet with a reward. When your dog is barking but stops even for a millisecond and looks at you, reward them. After you have managed to do this a few times, says ‘hush’ when you reward them. Over time they should start to obey the voice command ‘hush’ alone. Remember that you do not want to lose your early warning system, so don’t over-use the command when there is a stranger coming into their territory. 

Bring your lead 

Just about all dogs love to go for a walk so it’s not hard to train them to bring you their lead for walkies.

Before you get started, make sure to keep the lead somewhere that your dog can reach. First train them to pick up the lead with click or reward training – make sure that you also train them with the word ‘lead’.  Next train them to bring it to you at the door and drop it into your hands.  When the command is fully ingrained, do expect the dog to bring you the lead whenever he fancies a walk; this might not always fit in with your plans. 

Dogs like to please their owners and using this basic technic you can also train them to bring you other items – slippers or a newspaper being an absolute classic.  Ipads and phones might also be useful but perhaps invest in a study rubber case and screen protector, plus screen breakage insurance. 

Leave it 

This command is actually more than a party trick, it can save a dog’s life.  Some dogs are obsessed with wolfing down discarded socks or can’t wait to get to your chocolate. Others go scavenging on their walks and snaffle up everything from sheep poop to discarded bones. These dubious habits can lead to them eating harmful objects or dangerous substances making them very sick or needing costly surgery. 

To train them to ‘leave’, put the dog on a lead and place some dog biscuits on the floor. When they go for the biscuits pull them back and say their name and ‘leave’. When the dog stops and looks at you, reward them. Keep repeating the training until they leave the biscuits alone on your command.  Next take the lead off and try again. If they haven’t quite grasped the command pop the lead back on and keep trying. 

Drop it 

Like the instruction ‘leave’, this command can save your hound from gobbling up something very unsuitable.   

First teach the word ‘drop’ to your dog by saying the word and putting a biscuit on the floor at the same time. After ten or so times, the dog should be looking for the treat on the floor when you say the word. 

Next use a toy that the dog likes but not one that they’re possessive over. After a while of playing, when the dog has the toy in their mouth, put some treats on the floor and say ‘drop’, so that they drop the toy and eat the biscuits. Don’t be tempted to take the toy out of their mouth. 

After you have practiced this a few times, the next phase is to give the treats only after they have dropped the toy.  Repeat until they are consistently dropping the toy on command. 

Put your toys away 

Dog pulling a trailer with toys

Living with a dog can be at times like living with a furry toddler; they always want to play, and they leave their toys strewn across the floor creating trip hazards.  However, like a toddler you can encourage them to tidy up after themselves and unlike toddler they are more likely to do as they are told. 

Buy a box or a basket with a wide opening and gather all the toys together nearby. With the clicker or reward training, teach the dog to pick up the toys, bring them to the basket and drop the toys into it. 

If you have already taught them these separate commands, then this trick should be fairly straightforward.  After playtime encourage them to tidy up so that they get used to responding to this command regularly. 

Open and close doors 

Most mutts work out how to open doors either with their noses or by scratching at them.  To save your paintwork you can teach them to open the door properly.  This will work with levers handles or doorknobs which don’t need to be turned, just pulled 

First you need to teach your dog to pull on a cloth to the command ‘tug’ using reward or clicker training.  Next tie a cloth around the handle and then teach them to tug on it with the new word ‘open’. Ideally the tug should then be opening the door. Repeat until the command is established.  You can then do the same with ‘close’. As the dog gets better at tugging the doors open and closed you can swap the cloths for more attractive cords. 

Sitting at street corners 

Most pooches are totally oblivious to the dangers of cars and roads. Given half the chance they wander off the curb and would even run into the road if unsupervised. 

Help keep your four-legged friend safe by teaching them specific points to sit automatically and wait to be told to move. Perhaps on the pavement outside your gate, or at the end of your drive; maybe at the point where you might cross the road to or from the park. If for any reason they come to this point unsupervised, ideally they will then sit and wait before hurling themselves out into oncoming traffic. This command can be hard for some hounds to learn and you need to be persistent and consistent to have the best results, but it’s well worth the effort. 

Identify the locations that you want the dog to wait, then on your walks ask them to sit and use clicker or reward training to drill in the command.  Continue to do this until your dog starts to sit without being asked at the specific locations; remember to always praise your pup when they do this so that the training continues to stick. 

Make it fun for you and your dog

Most mutts love to learn and like to obey their owners but remember to keep it fun. Training sessions should be short and positive, around 10 to 15 minutes is more than enough. All throughout, keep praising your pooch and oozing positivity. 

If you are getting frustrated, then stop and try another day as dogs are masters of reading our emotions and they will associate your negativity with the command. Contrary to the old proverb, you can teach an old dog new tricks.

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