Training your dog to perform tricks is not only an enjoyable way to bond with your four-legged friend, it also provides mental stimulation and helps reinforce basic obedience skills. From easy starter tricks like "shake" to more advanced skills like jumping through a hoop or "saying your prayers", teaching your dog tricks keeps them engaged and challenged.
In this article, we'll cover a variety of impressive and just-for-fun tricks to train your dog. We'll provide step-by-step instructions on how to train each trick, as well as tips for troubleshooting any issues that come up during the training process. Whether you have a puppy or an adult dog, these training tricks will provide both you and your dog with hours of rewarding fun. So let's get started!
The Basics: Easy Starter Tricks
Before moving onto complex tricks, start by teaching your dog some basic skills that will help lay the foundation for training. Tricks like shake, spin, play dead and roll over are relatively simple to teach most dogs. Mastering the basics will help your dog understand how to follow commands and offer behaviors on cue.
One of the easiest starter tricks is teaching your dog to shake. To train:
Have your dog sit in front of you and show them a treat in your closed hand.
Say "shake" and grab their paw gently. Reward with the treat.
Repeat several times, continuing to reward.
Once your dog is consistently lifting their paw on command, start saying "shake" before reaching for their paw. Reward when they lift it.
Practice until your dog will shake hands on just the verbal cue.
Tips: If your dog is reluctant to lift their paw, gently push upwards under their elbow until they do. Reward immediately once they lift the paw, even just an inch off the ground at first. This trick may take a little longer for timid dogs but be patient.
Spin teaches your dog to turn in a circle on cue. To train:
Have several small treats in one hand behind your dog's back. Say "spin" and move the treat around behind their head.
Keep moving the treat in a circle so your dog follows it around with their nose. Reward after a full turn.
Repeat until your dog is spinning around reliably just on your "spin" command without needing the treat lure. Remember to reward generously in the beginning!
Tips: If your dog isn't following the treat lure well, try holding the treat right by their nose and slowly moving it around your body. Some dogs pick this trick up in just a session or two, while others may need more time. Be patient and keep sessions short.
Pretending to be dead on cue adds a funny trick to your dog's repertoire. Train it by:
Have your dog lay on their side. Say "bang" and have them roll onto their back while giving their belly a rub. Reward with a treat.
Repeat the sequence several times over multiple short sessions until your dog anticipates rolling over when you say "bang".
Next say "bang" but without pushing them over. When they roll over on their own, reward immediately.
Keep practicing until your dog reliably goes belly up on just your verbal cue. Then switch the cue word to "play dead." Be dramatic for full effect!
Tips: Some dogs may naturally roll all the way over instead of staying on their backs. If so, help them back onto their sides after treating so they learn that's the position you want for play dead. Take it slow with shy dogs.
In addition to playing dead, teaching your dog to roll over is fairly simple. Follow these steps:
Have your dog lay on their side and hold a treat by their nose. Slowly move the treat down to the ground, enticing their nose to follow until they roll belly up. Reward when they complete the roll.
Repeat several times on each side, then try giving the command "roll over" right before you lure them. Once they have it down, say the command first before treating for the completed behavior.
Remember to reward generously in the early stages so they understand this trick well. Require a full rollover each time.
Tips: Some dogs may resist rolling over fully. Gently guide them through the motion if needed in the beginning, praising when they complete the roll. Try giving the command when they are already laying on their side to make it easier at first too.
Once your dog has mastered some starter skills, move on to slightly trickier tricks that require more coordination and focused attention. Intermediate tricks are a great way to strengthen your overall training relationship.
Teaching your dog to wave on cue captures the cute habit many dogs have of "waving" their paw when they want something. To train:
1. Hold a treat in your closed hand in front of your dog's nose when they are in a sitting position. Let them sniff and paw at your hand.
2. The instant they raise their paw up near your hand, say "wave!" and open your hand so they get the treat.
3. Repeat until they are deliberately lifting their paw when they see the closed hand. Then start saying "wave" before they lift the paw and reward when they do.
4. Keep practicing with repetitions of the voice cue followed by the hand prompt until you can phase out the hand prompt entirely.
Tips: If your dog is very energetic, it can help to put them on a short leash so they don't jump up on you during training. This focuses their attention on your hand signal. Some dogs will pick this trick up lightning fast, while others may need more time.
Teaching your dog to bark or "speak" on cue is fun and builds their communication skills. Here's how:
1. Wait until your dog barks naturally, then say "speak!" and reward them with a treat. This connects the cue word with the action of barking.
2. Repeat this several times over a few short sessions until they start anticipating the treat after barking and will look to you when they bark.
3. Next wait for moments when your dog looks like they are just about to bark at something and say "speak!" first. Reward if they do.
4. Once they have it down, practice your speak command when they are not already about to bark to ensure they will do it on verbal cue alone. Be patient – this one can take time!
Tips: Try prompting your dog with exciting triggers that will encourage them to bark, like knocking on the door or playing with a favorite squeaky toy. Stop prompting and reward controlled barking on cue instead if they start demand barking.
Teaching your dog to touch their nose to your hand or a target stick on cue builds coordination. Follow these steps:
1. Show your dog a treat in your hand, close your fist around it, and let them sniff. When they touch your hand with their nose, say "touch!" and give them the treat.
2. Repeat until they are deliberately touching your hand with their nose to get the treat to appear. Then start saying "touch" right before they make nose contact.
3. Next, hold your empty hand out in a fist. Say "touch" and reward them when they touch their nose to your hand on cue.
4. Gradually increase the distance between you and your hand over multiple sessions until you can cue a nose touch from several feet away.
Tips: If your dog tries to paw at your hand instead of their nose, hide your hand behind your back for a few repetitions so only their nose can reach. Some dogs pick this trick up faster with a stick or paddle target they can bump with their nose instead.
Ready to really show off your training skills? Advanced dog tricks demonstrate the highest level of training and are extremely rewarding to accomplish with your dog. Move up to this level once you have mastered some of the basics and intermediates.
Fetch a Beer
What dog owner hasn't wished their dog could fetch them a beer from the fridge? With time and practice, this useful trick is absolutely possible:
First, teach your dog to retrieve using their favorite toy. Have them fetch and bring back the toy several times in a row, treating and praising each time.
Work on fetch training until your dog has a strong retrieval skill and will pick up and carry multiple object types on cue.
Set up a refrigerator next to a closed door with a rope tied to it. Practice opening the fridge, grabbing a canned drink in their mouth, then pulling the rope to close the door. Reward hugely!
Once they have this sequence down, practice with the actual verbal cues – "Get a beer!" for going to the fridge, "Close it!" for pulling the rope. Keep refrigerating those treats!
Tips: Break this complicated trick into many small steps over multiple short sessions. If your dog drops the can, don't punish – go back to an earlier successful step in the sequence and rebuild confidence. This novelty trick requires human-level coordination!
Jump Through a Hoop
Jumping through a hoop demonstrates your dog's agility and athleticism. Follow these steps to train it:
Start by having your dog step through and through a hula hoop laying flat on the ground. Use a treat lure to guide them through and reward them on the other side.
Gradually lift the hoop slightly off the ground over multiple sessions, continuing to lure and reward through the hoop.
Work up to holding the hoop 2-3 feet off the ground and cueing your dog to run through it. Reward immediately after they jump through the hoop each time.
Practice with different hoop heights and locations. Change directions periodically too. Keep sessions short to avoid overexertion or soreness.
Tips: Only increase hoop height by a few inches at a time, making sure your dog is comfortably and confidently jumping through at each level before raising it. Never force or pull your dog through the hoop. If they refuse, go back to an easier level. Patience and positivity are key!
Say Your Prayers
Cueing your dog to put their front paws on their face like praying hands is an adorable trick when you want to show off their smarts. Train it by:
Hold a treat between your hands in front of your face in a praying hands gesture. When your dog tries to get it, say "prayers!" in an excited tone of voice. Reward them when they touch their paws.
Repeat until they start deliberately placing their paws on their face when they see your hand signal. Then shift to saying the verbal cue first before doing the hand lure.
Practice just using the voice command without any hand prompt. Reward even slight paw raises at first, gradually requiring fuller "praying hands" paw placement on their face before treating.
Keep training sessions short to avoid frustrating your dog. Better to do 5 minutes of great training than drag on too long!
Tips: If your dog scratches at their face instead, gently take their paws and put them in the correct "praying hands" position and say the command. Some dogs may pick this up lightning fast, while others will need more repetition. Be patient!
Troubleshooting Common Trick Training Problems
While teaching your dog tricks is meant to be fun for both of you, it's common to encounter some issues during the training process. Here are some troubleshooting tips for common trick training problems:
If your dog won't take treats, try a different type of reward like praise, toys or petting. Make sure you're not training on a full stomach.
If your dog is too distracted or excitable to focus, train in a low distraction room and use high value treats to keep their attention.
If your dog isn't getting the hand or lure signals, reshape it by going back to step one and giving clearer cues.
If your dog seems intimidated by props like hoops, build up slow – don't force them through. Make sure to reward small successes often.
If your dog gets frustrated, end sessions on a good note with an easy trick they know well. Incorporate short training periods into daily life.
If your dog seems to stop progressing, go back to easier versions for several sessions to rebuild confidence before moving forward.
The most critical part of troubleshooting is knowing your individual dog well. Pay attention to their body language and adjust your approach if they seem scared, intimidated or uncomfortable. Tricks should be fun – keep it positive and try again later if your dog isn't in the right headspace to train. Patience, repetition and high-value rewards are key to overcoming most training obstacles.
Training your dog tricks provides wonderful benefits for both you and your canine companion. From basic starter skills to impressive advanced behaviors, teaching your dog tricks is a rewarding way to have fun, deepen your bond and keep them mentally and physically active. Approach trick training as a way to build communication – not simply to accomplish the final behavior. Be patient with your dog and break down difficult skills into many incremental steps. Most importantly, keep every session upbeat, positive and motivating for your dog! With consistency, creativity and celebration of small successes, you’ll be able to teach your dog an amazing array of entertaining tricks.