Winter can be boring and seem endless sometimes, but grey skies and bad weather don’t mean that you and your dog need to stagnate inside. Trick training is easy to do inside on a cold winter evening.
Once your dog knows several tricks, then you can teach him to perform multiple tricks one after another. If you can come up with a narrative for the routine, you can amuse your family and friends.
Decide on a Routine
Trick training routines are great for therapy dogs as they can be conversation starters. Trick routines can also help teach young kids how to approach dogs correctly or what to do should a strange dog approach. One fire department volunteer taught her dog to stop, drop, and roll for kids’ fire safety programs. The uses for trick routines are endless; just use your imagination.
You can either build your narrative on the tricks your dog already knows, or you can create a narrative and then teach the tricks to go along with it. Either way will work.
I tend to do a little bit of both. I figure out a brief story line based on my audience. Is this going to be for kids? Or for a special day for therapy dogs? Then I look at the tricks my dog knows and decide whether or not I need to teach some new tricks to fill in the story line.
Building a Routine
Before you put the routine together, teach each individual trick separately. Make sure your dog knows each trick completely and can perform it with distractions.
When you’re teaching the tricks, don’t do the training in the same order all the time. For example, if you always begin your training session with sit, down, stay, then sit up, shake, wave, and roll over; then your dog will assume that is the way they are to be performed. In other words, that will be the routine. So mix up the order that you teach both the obedience exercises and the tricks.
When your dog’s tricks are great, then start putting the routine together. Practice the trick that will be last in the routine; for example let’s say “Take a Bow.” Do two or three bows.
Then add the trick that will be the next to the last trick, perhaps, “Spin.” Ask your dog to spin and then bow several times, praise and reward him and take a break. Throw his ball or rub his tummy.
Over several training sessions, add a few more tricks, beginning from what will be the end of your routine working towards the beginning of the routine. At the same time, begin using your narrative so your dog gets used to it.
If your dog is bright and has a sense of humor, you may find that he’ll add some ruffles and flourishes to the routine. On any given day, he may perform a trick differently or he may do something entirely different. Don’t get flustered or angry; instead, go along with him. Change your narrative and make it fun.
A Veterans Day Trick Routine
This past Veterans Day, Bones, my English Shepherd, and I visited several veterans at a local assisted-living facility. Bones wore a camouflage bandana and I had a few props that were easy to carry. I explained to my small audience that Bones happily supported our local Marines. As I held up a small American flag, Bones gave the flag a ‘High Five’ sitting up on his hips, both front paws in the air, and one front paw lifted high.
Then I explained that to help support the troops, Bones copied some of their training. I asked Bones to lie down, crawl, and roll over on a brown blanket; explaining that we used a blanket because we couldn’t bring mud inside. Bones then spun in place, weaved through my legs, and jumped through a hoop. I finished up by having Bones take a bow as the CD player played, “America the Beautiful.”
We got lots of applause and the veterans thanked us, as did the staff. But, most importantly, our little show also gave everyone a chance to talk, share memories, laugh, and even shed a few tears. Even though this was just a little show with one dog, they weren’t forgotten.