By Alexandra Nevin
Looking for something fun to do? Try teaching your dog a fun trick! Teaching your dog fun tricks is not only a great party trick that will impress your friends and family once you are allowed to see them in person again, but also a great bonding experience for you and your dog. It can certainly help to strengthen even the strongest relationships.
I have taught my dog a variety of hat tricks and different commands for different purposes. Some of them require multiple steps to teach (but are always worth the time to teach) and some simply build on basic skills most dogs already have. I will fully disclose that I am NOT a dog trainer by profession; I just do this for fun with my multi-talented furry friend. So the steps I used may not specifically work for each and every dog out there, though I am open on IG to message with any questions of course, (sometimes I have had a backup plan too haha) and of course it will take some longer to learn the steps involved also, but worry not. Spending time with your dog is always worth it!
Some of these hat tricks even have practical real life uses for either keeping your dog safe from an unwanted interaction or improving position for general heeling work, or good baselines for other more involved tricks. Creativity for real life uses is key for sure!
*Dog must know the “SIT” command
1. Place your dog into a sit in front of you
2. Show them your training treat while sitting and hold it just above their head so they must stretch to reach it
3. Ideally, the front limbs will leave the ground only (not to stand upright like a person. Be careful not to hold the treat too high)
4. Repeat step 3 until the dog understands they must stretch; but not stand, to gain access to treat
5. Mimic hand motion without food in hand and name the trick (I chose “pretty”). When the dog reaches up into the “pretty” position to sniff your hand, (looking for treat) mark with “YES” and reward from your other hand
6. Repeat step 5 and build duration slowly while starting to back off a little bit at a time. (You may need to also give the hand signal from a distance for a better understanding in the part of the process)
Show your friends and family because you and your dog are an amazing team!
Jump through hoop/my arms
1. Acquire a large enough hula hoop that your dog can easily walk through and place it on the ground
2. Lure your dog through the hoop using a food item or toy he/she likes. Once dog has walked through the hoop, reward
3. Repeat step 2 as many times as necessary for your individual dog to walk through without any level of fear or discomfort. This should be fun!
4. I personally like to place my dog in a sit-stay so he can get a decent running start at the hoop (it also allows me a little bit of time to organize my hands and limbs accordingly too haha). Raise the hoop just slightly so the dog must lift his or her legs higher than before, like walking over a pole, and call them through the hoop. I personally used my hand to indicate where I want him to end up before naming the trick; it was a swift hand motion.
Repeat until dog is comfortable running through the hoop that is slightly raised off the ground
5. From here my dog now knows what is expected of him and knows the hand signal, so I put a name to the trick (“hoopa” just seemed to flow out of my mouth comfortably so I went with it). You can simply slowly raise the hoop a little bit higher every time he gets comfortable with the current height.
Remember; mistakes happen, some limbs are likely to not get through the hoop, that’s okay, I reward for effort but when the task is completed exceptionally well (all limbs through hop in a swift, clean motion) I reward much better.
6. Great your dog can jump through a hoop! If you want nothing more, than the rest of these steps are not necessary but if you want to get your dog jumping through your arms keep on reading!
7. Acquire a smaller hoop. I used an old, deflated bicycle tire b/c it was much smaller than my hula hoop from the dollar store and it was just what I had laying around. It is important for me that I could place my arms around the hoop eventually fading out the hoop entirely.
You may need to revert back to step one with a new hoop now, but you should be able to move much quicker through the steps also, so don’t worry.
Once they’re jumping through the smaller hoop. Start with your arms wrapped around the side of the hoop to mimic the end goal of the trick.
8. Repeat until dog is readily jumping through your hoop with arms. Simply put the hoop away and start low with your arms. As your dog jumps up into them you will tend to remove them from around your dog which is great b/c there will be nothing there for your dog to get caught on or knock you over with.
Just gradually increase height of your arm hoop and also the angle (instead of a horizontal jump to get through, you can position the hoop like a halo and have them jump straight up and over it which is a neat party trick also.
9. If your dog is comfortable with it and not too heavy for you to reliably catch safely, you can start with a arm hoop and simply catch them mid-air which can certainly add to the impressiveness of this trick too!
1. Place your dog against a wall to help keep them straight and stand in front of them. In my photos I did not have a good place to put my camera near any walls so I didn’t use one. But if you want a relatively straight back up, I would definitely suggest a wall haha.
2. Pull out a treat so they can see you have it and place it against their chest. It is ideal for them to already be standing but a sit is okay also, this motion should encourage them to kick their back feet out behind them into a stand anyway. (Also how I taught stand).
This will bring the head down but also encourage them to back up in an effort to get to the treat easier, along with the spacial pressure of you being so close to their front section.
3. On the first step back reward with the food they’re seeking in your hand. This may be a slower process for some dogs. Simply use smaller increments as needed for your individual dog of steps back.
4. Reset and repeat, each repetition, as they begin to understand the requirements, add a step or two more than the previous rep to increase the duration of the command.
5. Once understood and my dog began to back up as soon as I flipped my hand at time while moving towards him, I then named it “back” and the further changed my hand motion to a waving motion. You might find that the spacial pressure of you moving into your dog’s space is enough to get them to back up on their own.
This is okay, don’t force them to stay still just so you can get your hand on their chest. You can simply pair a command with that motion and slowly fade out your position. (If your dog seems uncomfortable or nervous it is likely that you getting up in their space is just too much pressure for them, try easing back, move with less purpose and try to keep this a light and fun of an exercise as possible. After all, I want my dog to perform every single trick or command with heart and soul, and none with any fear!
Tactical Heel (“Escort” or “Middle”)
1. Lure dog between your legs with a treat and reward once in position. Repeat multiple times
2. After dog is positioned between legs, before rewarding; take one step luring your dog with the treat to encourage them to stay with you. Reward when dog takes step forward with you. Repeat multiple times, slowly adding more steps before rewarding.
3. Once command is pretty well understood, you can add speed changes to make things more challenging (try not to step on your dog though haha) It is important to be careful where you are stepping and also to move sloe enough for your dog to be able to keep up pretty easily.
You don’t want them sprinting off out from between your legs or lagging behind. I found that in the earlier stages taking tiny steps helped center us both, then taking large but slow steps helped ease us both into a normal walking pace.
To be honest I am also very short so it can still be difficult for me to be in sync with my dog. Occasionally I will snug my legs around his chest enough to help me know where exactly he is and also to guide him better and steady him too because let’s face it… I’m rather klutzy and I don’t want to fall on top of my dog haha.
4. Name the command and show your friends and family!
As a fun side note; you can do the exact steps but with your dog facing behind you instead of the same direction as you. I call this backwards version “WATCH MY BACK”
Play Dead (“BANG”)
*Dog must know “down”
1. Put the dog into a “down” and lure them onto their side with a food item. When they’re on their side, mark and reward.
2. Repeat multiple times. When dog understands. Name the behaviour (I called it “bang”)
3. Place dog in a regular down and name the command. They should roll onto their side. Use the same motion you used to lure with but mark when they get into position and reward from your other hand. If they don’t, keep going with reps slowly fading out the lure. Make sure they know that “bang” means they should lay on their side. If they DO roll from the down to their side; try it from a sit.
4. I ended up pointing two fingers instead of one when I asked for the down (hand signals only) and just “bang” my dog once he was in a down, which prompted him to roll over. I then started to point for the down with two fingers instead of one and “shot” him saying bang while he was in the process of downing. Gradually speeding up the step by step process.
5. Moved to a sit pretty and repeated the process. This brings a little bit more drama to the trick haha.
On My Back (“HOP UP”)
It would be ideal if dog knows the “place” command but not totally necessary
I employed a helper for the first steps to help convince my dog to get up onto my back
1. Lay on your belly flat. Have your helper lure the dog onto your back and reward for any attempt to get on there. (if the dog is hesitant, a foot touching the back is a good starting point, and work from there to get the whole dog up there.)
2. Start to make those requirements more stringent (2 feet must be placed and held before getting reward, three feet for 3 seconds, 4 feet, etc). When dog understands what is expected, name the command (I used “hop up” and had my partner say it and reward him once he happily jumped up onto my back).
This was essentially how I knew the dog knew what we wanted and also associated the words “hop up” with getting onto my back.
3. When the dog is comfortable and happily getting up onto your back while you’re on your belly. Switch from your helper to you saying the command, you may need to use a free arm to lure your dog at this point bc the command hasn’t been coming from you until now. It may confuse the dog.
4. Get on your hands and knees and ask your dog to hop up. Try to ensure that you are very stable and your back is flat, not arched.(it’s easy to be knocked over and you must stay stable so your dog knows it’s safe to get up there.
Otherwise this may not work as well ( I certainly wouldn’t jump up onto someone if I knew there was 50% chance they would fall over ha-ha)
5. Repeat until its consistently good results and the dog is able to stand up there fairly well balanced and stable.
7. Now you can move to a crouched position, feet on ground and reach your hands down for support if you need to and ask your dog to hop up. During this phase I started to toss a treat ahead of me while he was in the air getting onto my back so he basically started to use me as a ramp (you can probably use this time to shape the dogs movement into a rebound off of your back by tossing a treat behind you when they get up there too, I’ll let you know how that goes when I start to give it a go!
6. You can gradually begin to straighten your back (within reason) for a more impressive “hop up” but otherwise that’s it. Your dog now knows how to jump onto your back =/- rebound off of your back.