Cheat Sheet

Dog Tricks & Agility For Dummies

Ready for some quick tips on teaching your dog some groovy moves? Not only can all dogs learn clever trick sequences and active sporting adventures — they love getting involved! The time you spend positively teaching them maneuvers like “Paw” and “Jump over,” plus the smiles and cheerful attention your dog receives, help to inspire his confidence, good cheer, and polite manners.

Motivating Your Dog: Choosing Rewards for Dog Training

Using positive reinforcement to train your dog means rewarding him when he does something you want to encourage. This kind of dog trick training is most effective when you know which treats and rewards really motivate your dog.

Dogs are like people — each one is excited by different things. Some are dedicated foodies — a tiny cereal snack or jerky bit will have them jumping through hoops and tearing up the A-frame in no time flat!

Others turn their principled noses from food bribes, but a squeak toy or a ball? How high and how fast? And then, of course, there are the praise junkies. For the sheer joy of affection — a loving touch or a cheery word — this happy soul will repeat sequences over and over. Find out what excites your dog the most, and use it as you teach him tricks and agility.

To conduct a tail-wagger ratings test, assemble some treats and a favorite toy or two. Practice your best “Yippee! Good Boy!” phrases.

Note: You’ll be testing each of these rewards separately, so conduct the test when you have a not-too-busy block of time. Then do the following:

  1. Begin with the treats. Ask your dog to “Sit.” When he does, reward him with a treat. Repeat this three times.

  2. One hour later, bring the toys to another part of your home and repeat the “Sit,” this time offering a toy or ball toss each time he sits.

  3. The next day, repeat the sequence again, but this time, offer only enthusiastic praise.

Okay. Score the results. Did your dog’s butt hit the floor in a nanosecond when you waved a biscuit? Did the toy send quivers down his spine? Or was it your happy voice that got the best back-end response? Of course you can mix it up and use all three when teaching your dog new tricks, but usually, one will stand out as the most beloved — the true tail-wagger. Use this one when first introducing anything new.

Teaching Dog Tricks with or without a Clicker

As you teach your dog each step of a new trick, you can mark the right behavior in at least two ways. Try the following options:

  • Use a clicker. A clicker emits a sharp, clicking sound, distinct from all other sounds in your dog’s day. The click is always followed by a food or toy reward.

  • Say “Yes!” You can also target the right behavior by saying a word like “Yes” enthusiastically. Whenever your dog responds properly to your direction, say “Yes!” and reward her with food, toys, oraffection.

Here are three quick tips on how to target the right behavior:

  • Timing is everything. Think of photographing the perfect image — click or say “Yes” the second your dog gets it right.

  • When using a clicker, pair each click with a reward — food or a toy. Marry the sound with the reward — never the two shall part!

  • When using food, it’s the quality not the quantity that counts. A tiny delectable goody will result in a quick and eager performance every time!

Teaching Your Dog Tricks by Sequencing Your Moves

When teaching tricks, sequencing your moves is what dog training is all about. From simpler moves like the paw spinoff “High Five” to more complicated tricks like “Fetch Me a Soda” and more athletic endeavors like agility and Frisbee, sequencing encourages you to divide each routine into easy-to-master steps, perfecting one step before moving to the next. Only after you and your dog have mastered each separate step do you put them together.

For example, here’s how to teach your dog to jump through a hoop:

  1. Prop a broom handle a couple of inches off the floor; then jump over it alongside your dog, teaching the command “Over!”

    Place a broom handle on two objects of equal height, such as soup cans or cereal boxes. Let your dog sniff the setup, then take him back five paces back and command “Over!” as you take the jump together. Good dog! When you’ve perfected this, you’re ready for Step 2.

  2. Train your dog to walk through a hoop, using the cue word “Through!”

    First, show your dog the hoop. Place it flat on the ground so he can step around and sniff it. Now hold the hoop upright at ground level and lure your dog through with a toy or a treat. As he walks through, say “Through!”

  3. Recruit a helper to hold the hoop upright, with its bottom touching the broom handle, and teach the dog to jump through the raised hoop, using the cue “Through–Over.”

    Beginning five strides back, say “Through–Over” as you run up to the hoop and encourage your dog through. Praise and reward good performance.

  4. 4.Remove the broom and teach your dog to jump through the hoop alone, using the command “Through.”

    Repeat Step 2. Good dog! Slowly raise the hoop to the height of your dog’s elbow (or hock). Keep practicing. Encourage your dog to jump through the hoop wherever you place it. If he gets confused when you move it, lower it to half the height and/or use the balanced broom stick to increase his concentration. Got that? Now you’re ready for center stage!

Three Dog Trick Training Tips

When teaching your dog a new trick, keep these three training tips in mind to ensure that both you and your dog have a fun and productive training session.

  1. Stay positive.

    Learning new routines can be stressful. Be the kind of parent/teacher you would enjoy being around and learning from!

  2. Keep lessons short.

    Dogs get things remarkably quickly. New lessons that result in positive rewards, like roll over or play dead, are fun! When a dog gets it, she’ll long to do it again. Repetitive and lengthy lessons, on the other hand, turn a dog off . . . her mind starts to wander. If corrections are used to get a dog back on track, the dog learns one thing and one thing only: This new routine stinks.

  3. End with fun.

    Dogs, like people, have their own ideas of “fun.” If your dog loves a special toy, end your lessons by playing with it. If her idea of bliss is a soulful scratch behind the ears, end your lessons with some genuine loving. If your dog lives for food, then a jackpot (BIG) reward of favorite goodies will certainly highlight a job well done!

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