Dog Tricks

Why Train Dog Tricks:

You know your dog is the coolest canine on the block. Want your friends and family members to know too? Whether your pooch is 7 weeks or 17 years old, has competition obedience titles or has never had any training at all, he can learn cool tricks and enjoy performing them too. He'll love the structured, fun interaction with you and will get both mental and physical exercise, which can help him behave better overall.

Background and Basics

Tips for Training Dog Tricks

  1. Only train when your pooch is hungry and stop before he's tired or full.
  2. Decide what you want to reward and get the treat to your dog immediately when he performs the right behavior. Repeat 5-10 times in a row before going on to the next step.
  3. Shape the behavior. Start by training a baby-version of what you want and gradually train behavior closer and closer to your goal.
  4. Use a verbal cue ONLY when you know your dog will perform the behavior otherwise he'll learn to ignore the cue.

More Complex Dog Tricks

  • When training complex tricks it can be difficult to communicate to the dog exactly which behavior was the correct one (using your rewards). In these circumstances, it is a good idea to first train the pet to a sound such as a click from a clicker or a word that they never hear, to mean that a treat is coming. As a result the dog will know that when he hears that “marker sound or word,” it means he's done something right and will get a food reward within a second or two.
  • When using the marker word or sound the goal is that when the dog hears it, he stops what he's doing and turns to wherever the treat is being dispensed. That's how you know the click or word is having an effect.

Have you ever wondered how dogs on TV learned to be so smart? It turns out that many tricks are really easy to train quickly if you train them in a stepwise fashion. Professional trainers need to train tricks both fast and reliably, regardless of which dog they're working with. On this page you'll learn the basics of training dog tricks the professional way. You'll see and learn how to train some cool tricks too.

The Basic Steps for Training Dog Tricks

  • Use bite-sized treats or the dog's regular kibble to reward the individual training steps at first. That way we can reward the right behaviors frequently in a short period of time (10, 20, 30 + times in the course of just minutes) and as a result your pooch will learn the steps quickly.
  • Start by rewarding or sometimes luring a behavior that may look very different from your goal behavior. Then when the dog's good at that step, you'll start rewarding behaviors that are closer and closer to your goal behavior. In other words, you'll be shaping behaviors through little steps called successive approximations. By training in mini-steps you and your dog will always experience success. Even the most wayward dog will be able to learn the steps (click here to see a video on shaping a dog to somersault).
  • Once the final step is learned train the cue word so that it becomes reliable. Avoid putting a word to the behavior until the behavior is actually learned. Otherwise, to your dog, the word will just sound like random babbling.
  • As an added step we can switch to other rewards besides food and we can train the pet to repeat the trick multiple times in succession without needing a reward of any kind each time.

Free-shaping Dog Tricks

For even more fun and to hone your training skills, you may want to try your hand at free-shaping, where you just mark an interesting behavior using a click or verbal marker followed by a treat. Mark the same interesting behavior as the pet performs it, repeatedly. Once he seems to know it well, then start marking (and rewarding) a behavior closer to your goal behavior. This type of training requires the best skill of all. To see video of free-shaping check these videos out:

  • Shaping Zoe into a Box
  • Training a Lion to Calm Be Calm and Turn Head Away
  • Training a Lion to Present Her Side Against a Cage (for vaccinations later).

Dog Tricks Training Videos

Simple Tricks

(Requiring easy shaping steps)

More Challenging Tricks

Handouts and Blog Entries for Dog Tricks

Enroll in Dr. Yin's Dog Tricks Class

For more information and to enroll, visit the Circus School for Dogs page »

Dr. Yin also provides private and semi-private dog tricks lessons for $100/hour. People interested in the semi-private option should find 1-3 other participants who can split the cost and who have a similar schedule.