How to teach your dog tricks?

What does your dog know?

Before starting to work with our dog on a new command, we have to make sure that it knows and responds to its name. Sometimes the dog’s name has not been associated with positive things, and we have used it only to indicate what we don´t want it to do or to scold it. For example, by repeating its name with the intention  that it comes to you, when this has not been taught  and when we are close to it, in addition to tying it down to the leash etc. added to the scolding because it has taken long to answer the call.

It may also be that the guardian uses the name so much that he has “worn it away” and when the dog´s name is pronounced it is taken for granted. It will be easy to check it, we will only have to say the name of the dog, in a calm and quiet place and see its reaction. If the dog does not react or ignores us, we can associate the name with something positive to achieve the desired effect: I say the name and the dog looks at me waiting for what I want to communicate.

Keep in mind the example of the word “here”, something that all dogs know without having taught them on purpose. Surely this has happened with more things: let´s go outside, wait, bathtime, no! …

Rigor and clarity

A great facilitator, when teaching a new skill to the dog, is to keep these two concepts in mind. Always use the exact  same word (avoid saying sit, sit down , sit here boy/girl, etc.) in as neutral a tone as possible.

Accompanying the command with a gesture will  make it easier for our dog to understand since it will remember this better than with the word alone. We should try to keep these simple, avoiding excessive gesturing. Be careful as we often include small gestures or nuances in the command inadvertently, such as opening our eyes more when saying the word or starting the movement from a specific body position.

Before starting work we should say the name of the dog and with its attention focused on us, we should use the new or previously known word. Saying the word without saying the dog´s name first is not good practice as the dog is not permanently paying attention to us and we cannot demand this, therefore we must let it know that we are going to give it information.


Choosing the reinforcement

Use food or toys to reinforce the lesson for our dog, it should always be accompanied by social reinforcement given that when the dog knows the exercise it will be the prize we will maintain as such in rder  to let it know that it is repoinding well.

Adapting it to the demand of the exercise and the motivation of the dog to do such. A croquette of its food will be great for an easy exercise or mastering, but scarce or insufficient in order to learn a new exercise or trick that requires a lot of effort to learn. Therefore in these situations it would be ideal to use something more appetizing.


Take special care in rewarding the response that we want, not when lying down when he gets up to take the prize … the timing may be extended when we are dealing  with experienced dogs that know how to carry out a long or complex task, or know that they are doing well and obtaining the reward later like, for example, working dogs. The longer the wait, the greater and better the gratification must be for the dog to learn that it compensates both the effort of the work and the patience shown in exchange for for the reinforcement.


How to teach the dog?

We can be a model for our dog, motivating him to imitate us and do what we are doing that we want the dog to do for example: howling or barking so that he imitates us and then put a name to this action and  request the dog to do such action.

Thanks to luring, a simple technique based on guiding the dog with a piece of food to the desired posture, we can get countless exercises with excellent participation from the dog. It is sure to want to collaborate because it will do the action or assume the position  voluntarily simply by following the food.

Another option is to mold the dog with our hands, for example: if I want the dog to sit, I will rest my hand on its hindquarters and place it sitting. This technique can be replaced by luring, which is less invasive for the dog and usually produces better results. It is likely that the dog may find it uncomfortable to be positioned by being physically moved with our  hands, as we would too.

The last option will be to capture the behavior, for this we must wait for the dog to do it by himself or motivating it to carry out the behavior and rewarding it. Asking the dog to bark is a clear example, I move a toy or incite play and when it barks I reward it.

In future articles we will talk about the clicker and its uses, as well as some aids that can facilitate learning with our dogs.

Exercises that we can work with luring, modeling and capturing:

  • Luring / molding: sit, lie, turn, back, bear, paw.

  • Model: howl, dance, climb.

  • Catch: bark, bow, shake.


On our YouTube channel Fundación Canis Majoris You will be able to watch webinars on different canine skills.



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