Teaching all dogs new tricks
Whether you have a brand new puppy or an older pooch, it’s important to know how to train a dog. Some dog commands can be used for adorable tricks, like shaking your hand or giving a fist bump, while others can be used for obedience and safety, keeping your dog calm and well behaved in busy public places. It’s simple enough to learn how to teach a dog to fetch, but some dog tricks can require more complicated training. To take the pressure off, we’ve rounded up the easiest tricks to teach your dog.
Learning how to train an older dog with new tricks is a little easier than learning how to train a puppy, but with the proper steps, consistent practice and positive reinforcement, your dog will be doing tricks in no time.
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For one of the easier tricks to teach your dog, here’s a fun canine version of the fist bump. Jessica Ring, certified dog trainer and owner of My Fantastic Friend dog training, recommends these steps.
Step 1: Tuck a smelly treat under your thumb and hold your open palm about one inch away from your dog’s nose.
Step 2: Hold still and wait for your pup to bump your hand with their nose.
Step 3: Say “Yes!” the instant their nose touches your palm. Then give one of the best dog treats with your other hand.
Step 4: After several successful bumps, remove the treat from under your thumb and try again with an empty hand. Gradually present your hand farther away so your dog has to take some steps to get to it.
Step 5: Add the cue “touch” before presenting your hand.
Easy tricks to teach your dog that will also help them chill out? Yes, please. Here’s how Ring does it.
Step 1: Start with your dog in the down position.
Step 2: Wait for any tiny head movement toward the floor. Immediately say “Yes!” to mark the movement, then deliver a treat on the floor.
Step 3: Repeat until your dog has caught on and is deliberately lowering their head. Over time, wait for movements that are gradually closer to the floor until your dog is consistently touching their chin on the floor.
Step 4: Next, add a split second of duration before saying “Yes!” and giving the treat. Add more and more duration until they’re resting their chin on the floor. The secret is to always offer the treat close to the floor.
If your dog struggles to learn this command, or to calm down in general, that could be a sign your dog may need obedience training.
Ring a bell to go potty
Whether or not your dog is one of the easiest dogs to train, this is one of the most handy tricks to teach your dog because sometimes, you’re too distracted and don’t pick up your pup’s potty cues. Colleen Demling Riley, a certified dog trainer and canine behaviorist at Pawtopia, instructs her pet parent clients to try these steps.
Step 1: Put a treat between the door and the bell. Your dog will ring the bell with their nose as they attempt to eat the treat.
Step 2: When your dog does ring the bell, offer praise, open the door, walk outside, give your pup the treat, then repeat. This step should be practiced in three-minute sessions, three times a day, for three days.
Step 3: After the third day, wait until it’s potty time and then take your pup to the door and put your hand near the bell. When your dog rings it, take them outside to potty. If they go, offer praise and treats. If they don’t go, bring them back inside. They aren’t allowed to play or go on a walk. This will help your pup learn that the bell is only to be used to go potty and not for another reason.
This is a classic easy dog trick. It also helps your dog get used to having its paw touched—like for clipping nails. To try the trick for yourself, Riley says to follow these steps. And remember, consistency and positive reinforcement are the biggest dog training secrets.
Step 1: Hide treats or a toy in your closed fist.
Step 2: Place your closed fist near your pup’s paws and wait. They will normally try to lick your hand first but will eventually use their paw. When that happens, say the word “shake,” give them the reward, lots of praise and then repeat. Make sure not to say the word “shake” until they paw your hand. If you say shake over and over while your hand is being licked, they will think that “shake” actually means “lick.”
Step 3: Keep practice sessions to less than five minutes. After a week of daily practice, remove the treat or toy and put your empty hand by their leg and say “shake.” When they put a paw on your hand, offer praise and a treat.
Wondering how much exercise your pup really needs each day? If it’s more than they’re currently getting, try sneaking in some exercise to your trick training. It’s worth the effort. Here’s how Liz Claflin, dog trainer and director of operations at Zoom Room, says to start.
Step 1: Tuck several treats into the fist of your right hand. Stand with your dog on your left side.
Step 2: Step out with your right leg and bend your right knee. Reach your right hand under your leg from the outside of your body and in, toward your dog.
Step 3: Encourage your dog to approach your hand with the treats and smell them, then lure your dog under your leg to your right side.
Step 4: Switch the treats to your left hand, lunge with your left leg and reach your hand under your thigh and toward your dog, just as before.
Step 5: Repeat, lunging your way across the room.
Teaching your dog to wave hello is a pretty impressive dog trick to show off at the dog park. It’s also one of the cutest dog behaviors! Some dogs might struggle with dog tricks like this one, but Claflin says that with consistency, patience and lots praise, your pup will be waving in no time.
Step 1: Ask your dog to shake. As they move the paw toward your hand, quickly pull your hand away.
Step 2: As soon as your dog starts to put its paw back down, immediately move your hand in front of him again as if you want them to shake, with the goal of your dog doing two pumps of the paw.
Step 3: If successful, immediately offer a treat.
While you’re prepping your pup to socialize at the dog park with this trick, also learn why do dogs bark at other dogs.
Here’s another favorite trick from Claflin: the spin. If your dog is one of the hardest dogs to train, remember to stay patient and keep trying until they get it.
Step 1: Take a favorite treat pinched between your thumb and pointer finger and make sure your dog smells it.
Step 2: Have your dog in front of you and lower the treat near their nose and slowly lure them in a big circle. Once your dog completes the spin, reward with a lot of praise and the treat.
Step 3: Once they have successfully spun in a circle two or three times and no longer appear confused, add in your command. Say “Spin!” in a happy tone of voice one time just as you start to lure your dog around in the circle. Repeat.
This is one of those dog tricks you’ve seen your pup do on its own before—crawling sneakily to casually take a slice of pizza off the coffee table. But now, your pup can learn it on your command with these instructions from Claflin.
Step 1: Place a few favorite treats in one hand and ask your dog to lie down.
Step 2: From there, put your fist full of smelly treats right up to its nose. Stay low to the ground and slowly pull your hand parallel to the floor.
Step 3: You want your dog to crawl forward a tiny bit to get to the treats. If they stand up, simply stop, ask them to lie down again and start over.
Step 4: Once your dog has successfully crawled forward a small amount, praise and reward and then continue to lure them forward. Then praise and reward again.
Treats are important, and so is praise, including offering lavish affection. But do you actually know why dogs like to be petted?
Jump through a hoop
This trick is reminiscent of the dog tricks seen under the big top. Nick Hof, a certified professional dog trainer and canine behavior consultant at Paws Look Listen, shares how to teach it. He says you’ll need a hoop that will be a comfortable size for your dog to jump through—tiny dog breeds might need an extra-small hoop.
Step 1: With one hand, hold the hoop upright and firmly on the ground. With the other hand, hold a treat and use it to lure your dog, having them walk through the hoop.
Step 2: After doing this a couple of times, begin to hold the hoop just a little off the ground and repeat.
Step 3: Continue to raise the hoop until your dog needs to do a little hop over the bottom of the hoop to get across. This is also a good time to remove the treat from your hand so your dog isn’t focused too much on that. After each repetition while they learn, reward them with praise and treats.
Step 1: Begin with your dog in a down position. Make sure their hips are rolled to one side.
Step 2: Deliver a treat at one of your dog’s elbows. As they go to get the treat, they will roll their hips in the opposite direction. You will then use a treat to lure their head to follow their hips.
Step 3: Since rolling over is a difficult trick, reward your dog for small steps toward it. Try to reward your dog each time they progressively roll toward the side. If you are too stingy, your dog will get frustrated and leave.
Dogs tricks that teach basic commands are fun and can also keep your dog from danger.
Step 1: Start with your dog in a standing position. Hold a treat between two fingers and put your hand underneath your dog’s chest, between their front legs.
Step 2: Your dog will look down and then move back to get the treat. When they do, say “Yes!” and give them the treat.
Step 3: After a few repetitions, you can add a cue word. (Or have fun and make it a “Beep! Beep!” sound.) give the cue word or sound right before you put your hand under their chest. You’ll be able to fade this as your dog starts backing up at the cue.
Close the door
You don’t live in a barn! Try this easy dog trick that Hof shares:
Step 1: Start by placing a Post-it note on your hand and present it for your dog to touch. Reinforce your dog’s behavior with a “Yes!” followed by a treat.
Step 2: Place a Post-it note on an open door and ask your dog to touch it. If your dog touches it at all, mark and reinforce. If they don’t, try again but hold your hand right next to the Post-it to help them.
Step 3: Encourage them to keep touching the door until they’ve pushed it closed! This is also great fun to teach on cabinet drawers and doors in the kitchen. Now your dog can help you out around the house.
About the experts
- Jessica Ring is a certified dog trainer and owner of My Fantastic Friend dog training. She is an honors graduate of Jean Donaldson’s Academy for Dog Trainers, a rigorous program known as the Harvard of dog training.
- Colleen Demling Riley is a certified dog trainer and canine behaviorist who owns Pawtopia, a dog training company. She was chosen as a finalist for Entrepreneur of the Year by Women in the Pet Industry Network.
- Liz Claflin is a certified dog trainer and vice president of strategic projects at Zoom Room, a dog training company.
- Nick Hof is a certified professional dog trainer and canine behavior consultant. He owns Paws Look Listen, a dog training company.
Originally Published: August 14, 2019