Here at Zigzag HQ we seriously love nothing more than a puppy with a party trick! We know you’ve been wanting to impress your neighbour with some stellar handshake skills. It doesn’t stop there though – maybe you want your puppy to wave, weave through your legs as you walk, or even go and grab you a beer from the fridge. The options are endless when it comes to teaching your puppy tricks.
Happily, you’ve come to the right place. In this article we’re going to give you the lowdown on:
- Why tricks are great for your puppy
- What fun tricks you can easily teach your puppy
- Our top tips to make trick training less er…tricky.
Why should I teach my puppy tricks?
Teaching puppy tricks isn’t just for fun, although, trust us, we know how great trick training can be. It also comes with these added benefits:
- It helps you and your puppy bond and teaches your puppy to listen – the more you do with your pup the more they want to learn and do with you – you really do get a new best friend.
- Knowledge is power, right? Even for pups! The more they know the more confident they become.
- Light bulb moment! Trick training helps with a pup’s super sleuth problem solving skills.
- Can be used as fitness, rehabilitation or canine-conditioning training. Not that your puppy will become the next Arnold Schwarzenegger, but there are tricks that can help them build muscle tone, improve stamina, and help with balance and coordination.
- Will likely make your pup more obedient – you’ll be able to ask them to do a long list of useful behaviours any time you’re in a jam.
So what’s not to love about trick training? It’s great for your puppy and has loads of benefits for you too. Here are a few of our favourite easy tricks you can start teaching your pup.
Cool tricks to teach your puppy
OK, do you fancy learning some cool tricks to teach your puppy? Ones you can show off when people come around to visit, or perhaps you fancy yourselves as a Britain’s Got Talent contestant? We’ve outlined below some of our favourites from the reasonably easy ‘High Five’ puppy trick to the rather more complex ‘Go get me a beer’ which uses backchaining, a method that really helps teach difficult puppy tricks, and it’s one that will take a little bit of work by the way, but wow that trade off will be worth it.
Anyway, teaching your puppy tricks should be fun, so let’s get going and start teaching those tricks, we’ll have circus dogs in no time.
Well, who doesn’t want a puppy that can ‘give them some skin’ when the time is right?
You can build this trick up from a simple ‘give paw’ behaviour, just start holding your hand a little bit higher each time, and reward them when they make contact. An easy peasy trick to teach.
This trick is when your dog sneaks up behind you and peeks through your legs. It’s also quite useful as a safety position, your dog won’t be bothering anyone when they’re sitting nicely in between your legs, and people are unlikely to get that close to you. Personal space and all that.
Teach your dog a middle position by luring them between your legs from behind, then start asking for the cue when they’re further away so it becomes more of a peekaboo.
Bow or downward dog
Such a fun trick, you can either teach this trick as a dog yoga pose which is great for core strengthening and stretching, but also teach it as a ‘take a bow’ for being such a clever dog. How about making it really fun and have the cue to bow as a round of applause?
Start with your dog in a stand and then lure some food into their nose and down to their paws, you’ll need to get your hand that’s luring them just right to get them to bow rather than go all the way into a down position. Mark when their bottom is still up with a nice ‘yes’ and then reward them with a delicious treat. Practice makes perfect!
You’ll teach this trick by doing something called ‘capturing’. For this you need to have your dog trained on a word marker…. A what marker? Basically that means your dog knows when you say ‘yes’ they did the right thing and a reward is on its way. You can also use a clicker of course but we don’t always have them to hand when they’re needed so conditioning a word marker is useful too.
When you catch your dog sneezing you’re going to say ‘yes’ and grab a treat for them. Your puppy will likely be a bit confused at first, that’s ok, you’re now going to need to wait for them to sneeze again.
There will be times of day when your puppy is more likely to sneeze, it often happens when they’re very excited or when they’re a little frustrated. Our goal isn’t to stress the puppy out, as we’re making this fun and quite quickly they will start offering this behaviour regularly for you.
Make sure you pinpoint the behaviour with your marker so your dog knows exactly what you’re looking for.
Behaviour Chains – Go get me a beer from the fridge
Behaviour chains break complex tricks like the legendary ‘go get me a beer’ into small chunks for the dog to follow, and as they learn each piece of the chain they build up to learning the whole thing. Clever, huh?
Teaching these trick routines is not easy, but it is a lot of fun, and it keeps things interesting once your dog has mastered the basics of trick training.
Did you know we have a library of tricks in the Zigzag puppy training app?
Top tips for teaching your puppy tricks
Keep trick training sessions short and sweet
Trick training is seriously exhausting for pups. Keep training sessions short and fun to keep your pup on point and eager to learn. Using all that brain power or physical stamina for some of the skills is seriously hard work. Imagine if you tried to do ten downward dogs in a row? Consider how your dog feels doing that, and be sure to give them plenty of breaks.
Go at your dog’s pace
Trick training with your puppy, well actually all types of puppy training is a journey, not a race. Enjoy the ride of learning together.
Switch up your rewards
At the beginning of trick training we typically use lots of food to reinforce, because let’s face it who doesn’t love food? But also because we’re often using a lure/reward method to shape behaviours, or we want to be able to do many repetitions quite quickly, so food works perfectly for this. As time goes on and your dog gets more proficient at training you’ll want to switch things up, so try using toys, verbal praise or some loving strokes and see how your dog responds.
Don’t be stingy
It’s not reinforcing if your dog doesn’t find it reinforcing so use the good treats, they can be tiny just a little taste, but do use a high value reinforcer (that’s code for good treats) for this training to begin with. They’re worth it. (we have an article on rewards and treating for you to read, just saying)
Practise in lots of places
Yes we’re going to tell you about generalising behaviours, it sounds a bit jargonny, but it’s essential if you want your puppy to be able to perform tricks outside of the home, so practise at the park, at the vet’s office, and other locations, yes, even when you get your morning coffee. Let your puppy shine and be the talk of the town.
Feel free to use a clicker
Clickers are really useful for trick training as they’re just so good at marking the right behaviour, you can also use a word marker like ‘good’ ‘yes’ or even ‘banana’ as long as your dog understand that ‘this noise’ = I did the right thing and a reward is coming, it’s all good.
So did we inspire you to try trick training with your puppy? Want to do more training? Well, we have a bunch of trick content in our Zigzag puppy training app, we also have some articles right here for you such as this one on obedience training.