Tricks? Why? Why would I teach a Livestock Guardian Dog, whose primary job is to chase off coyotes, bears, and cougars, to do silly tricks?
Good question! The answer is, because training is training is training. If the dog is learning something, and the handler is building a bond with the dog, it’s training. Even if it’s fun and silly. Especially if it’s fun and silly.
What do you accomplish by teaching tricks?
Number one is building relationship with your dog. No matter what your dog’s job is, you want a strong bond with him or her. I want my dogs to come to me when I call. How do I achieve that? I make myself a valued resource, they want to spend time with me, because I’m fun, I communicate clearly with them, and sometimes I have good snacks.
Number two is building your own training skill set. Teaching tricks improves the timing of the handler, teaches you the process of building brand new behaviors, taking baby steps, patience, and sometimes, humility! Teaching behaviors as “tricks” also takes off the pressure of feeling like this is something the dog MUST do, or something that’s going to “ruin” the dog in some way if you teach it incorrectly. Basically, you’re sneaking foundation skills training in under the radar!
Number three is keeping the puppy or dog mentally busy and engaged. If you don’t give the puppy a job to do, like learning tricks, the puppy will find plenty of jobs for himself, which won’t be nearly so cute. Things like chewing the legs of the furniture, tearing up the garbage, chasing the cat, climbing on the counters, just to name a few. Any sort of daily training breaks help keep the dog engaged with you, and tire them so they sleep better and stay out of trouble. Of course, training and management go hand in hand, so you still need to manage and supervise your puppy to get the best results!
Number four, many tricks can be taught and performed indoors, so if you have a small space, or say, a global pandemic happening, or if you just have long work days and want to stay home, rather than attend a class or go to a park, you can still do fun work with your dog.
Number five, tricks ARE foundation behaviors for obedience, rally, or just good manners. Sits, downs, stays, hand signals, leave it, targeting, platform work, go to bed, awareness of where the rear end is located, and that they have a rear end, all of these are great starts for a Rally or Obedience dog, ladderwork, perch work, jump work, all great for agility and obedience. Learning how to learn, teamwork with the handler = great for any discipline, dog sport, or well behaved family pet.
Number six, well, completely extraneous, but THE TITLES! The oldest and most well known group awarding Trick Dog Titles is Kyra Sundance’s Do More With Your Dog. Check it out! http://www.domorewithyourdog.com/ The American Kennel Club (AKC) and Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) are also offering Trick titles now. I like DMWYD for a few reasons, they lean heavily to positive reinforcement, and incremental learning, Kyra Sundance has several books for sale with her tricks listed, including step by step instructions for teaching them, video and YouTube tie-ins, Facebook “Spark Teams” with certified instructors to help teach and witness your tricks. I am strongly considering becoming certified through the organization and teaching their tricks curriculum.
And number six PLUS- For many people, the opportunity to earn titles and show off your pups skills to the world are a real incentive for actually doing the training.
So, those are my reasons for teaching tricks. I’m also an AKC CGC and Tricks Evaluator, so if you have tricks you want evaluated, I can do that. If you’d like to learn tricks online, I can also do that, I’d love to do an online tricks class via Zoom, so if you’re interested, leave a comment or contact me through the web page or Facebook page!