Lifting their paws, standing on their rear legs or catching treats in the air? You and your dog will become stars with these 10 tricks! Best of all, they don't just entertain the public, but also challenge your dog physically and mentally. At the same time, practising tricks together strengthens the bond between humans and animals.
The 10 Most Popular Dog Tricks
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High five is a trick that you can teach your dog.
If a dog spins in a circle upon command or waves goodbye with its paw, it's guaranteed to trigger expressions of delight. However, the way your dog feels is much more important than the astonishment of spectators. Thankfully, most dogs are curious by nature. They like to be kept occupied and love being able to let off steam. If they get rewards out of this too such as a treat or stroke of recognition from their owner, the world seems a better place to them.
The main thing is having fun!
With the knowledge that practising dog tricks can aid the human-canine bond, many dog owners set ambitious goals. However, it should be clear to you before you start training that not all tricks are suitable for all dogs. Although most dogs are willing to learn to a certain extent – mainly if it benefits them in the form of a reward – their size, physique or weight alone prohibit them from trying some dog tricks. Like us humans, dogs also have individual preferences and dislikes. For instance, you shouldn't practise rolling with your dog if it doesn't like lying on its back. If it doesn't enjoy jumping, you'd be better off forgetting “catching treats in the air”.
The basic requirement for practising dog tricks is both you and your dog having fun in the process. As well, success will come much quicker if the focus is on fun rather than you stubbornly continuing to work on an exercise when your dog would much rather be lying in its basket.
The journey is the goal
Practising tricks should be a positive experience for your dog. Pressuring your dog is totally out of place. Proceed cautiously and always practise step by step. Be patient and respect your dog's learning rhythm. This doesn't mean that you have to give up straight away as soon as your dog doesn't take part or if a trick doesn't work from the outset. It's important to observe your dog closely and learn to evaluate its behaviour. If it loses motivation, you're best off ending training and carrying on at another point. With time, you will get a good feel for whether your dog is still on the ball or would rather focus on other things. Hence, practising dog tricks also fosters a better understanding of your dog. At the same time, your dog gains trust in you, because you react to its needs. As a result, the tangible success of a dog trick isn't perfect execution but rather ongoing throughout the whole training process. Consistent, gradual training and small successes now and then foster self-confidence and strengthen the bond between you and your dog.
How to motivate your dog to do tricks
Mutual trust, reliability and clear commands are the basic tenets of successful dog training. These apply to practising little tricks too. However, something extra is needed to really get dogs enthused by our tricks and rules of the game. Although some dogs have an innate will to please, they can be a bit selfish too. After all, they know that behaving in the desired way will bring them many advantages, whilst unwanted behaviour will be ignored or even punished. With breeds known for a certain stubbornness, you can really see how they consider whether carrying out a command really does prove beneficial for them.
Rewards lead to success
This urge for praise can be taken advantage of in training. Dogs choose the path promising them the greatest success. If a treat is waiting for them when they successfully complete an exercise, this will naturally motivate them to participate. Positive reinforcement through treats, stroking or a dog toy will help you and your dog achieve your goal quicker. It is more reliable than if you pressure your dog or even punish it if it doesn't complete an exercise according to your wishes. In order for dogs to learn what behaviour is correct and brings the longed-for praise of their owner, the treat should always follow straight afterwards. Dogs live in the present and always relate their owner's reaction directly to the current situation. It's also important that you always end a training session on a successful note. If you notice that your dog is still overwhelmed by an exercise, you're best off going back a few steps. Give a command that your dog can carry out without any problems and reward it at the end. Only then should you end the training session so that your dog will be happy to take part again next time.
Before you start with training...
The basis for successfully practising the following 10 dog tricks is your dog mastering basic commands like “sit”, “down” or “drop”. Only start with tricks when your dog carries out these basic commands without fail. Also make sure that training starts at the right time. If your dog is tired or hungry, it will certainly show little interest in your tricks. After mealtime, you should give your dog a break of at least an hour to digest its food. Once full and rested, it will definitely be keen to join in with your training session.
The 10 most popular dog tricks
The classic dog trick that forms the basis for many more tricks is giving paw. Although this trick is relatively easy to learn, you need patience (and a few treats) for your dog to react without fail.
- How it works: Tell your dog to sit and kneel alongside it. With the palm of your hand, lift the paw upwards and clearly say the command “give paw”. Repeat this process for as long as it takes for your dog lift its paw of its own accord as soon as you have given the command. Then reward it immediately with a treat. Alternatively, you could hide a treat sealed in your hand from the beginning and hold it in front of your dog's head. Your dog will try to reach the treat and will presumably use its paw at some point. If it then places its paw on your hand with the treat of its own accord, give it the treat and say clearly “give paw”. With time, your dog will have internalised this exercise to such an extent that it will lift both its left and right paw as soon as you hold the palm of your hand in front of it.
High five or waving
High fives are no longer solely used by humans as an expression of shared success. It's no surprise that this trick is becoming more and more popular with dogs too. If your dog has already mastered giving paw, you will be able to teach it this movement relatively quickly.
- How it works: Hold your hand in a vertical position (not horizontally as for giving paw) and give the command “give paw” that your dog already knows. As soon as your dog lifts its paws and touches your hand in a vertical position, give it a treat. It will presumably be somewhat confused at first as to why you're giving it a treat although it hasn't placed its paw on your hand, although it will get used to the new exercise with time. As soon as it has developed a routine, you can introduce a new command like “give me five” or “high five”.
You can try it all out from a distance later on. Move further and further away from your dog during the exercise so that at some point it can no longer touch your hand when raising its paw. Give it a treat nevertheless as soon as it raises its paw for it to learn that doing this alone is sufficient. If you then stand further away and hold your hand vertically as a greeting, your dog will wave back at you.
Standing on their rear legs
The exercise of a dog standing on its rear legs by raising both front paws from a sitting position is extremely popular. It has to shift its weight backwards in order to do so. It can take a while depending on your dog's agility for it to find balance in this position and be able to stand on its rear legs without any problems. It's important that your dog always stays sitting on its rear end during the exercise – if it stands up on all fours, it defeats the object of it.
- How it works: As with the previous two exercises, this one also starts from a sitting position. Lead your dog near a wall and give the “sit” command. Ideally, it will sit with its back to the wall at the start of the exercise, which will help it to find balance and prevent it from standing up quickly, since it would have to go back a bit in order to do so. Show your dog a treat and hold it above its head. Make sure it isn't too high though, as otherwise your dog would try to stand up. As soon as your dog has straightened up a little and slightly raised its paws to reach the treat, give the command “on your rear legs”. Reward your dog by giving it the treat. If it stands up, give the “sit” command again and keep the treat for yourself at first until your dog manages to stand up with its front paws raised.
This exercise comes from dog dancing. The human stands opposite the dog and raises their left and right leg alternately. The dog raises its right and left paw high from its sitting position in sync so that it looks as if the dog and human were marching on the spot together.
- How it works: Once again, the basic requirement for this exercise is mastering the “give paw” command. Let your dog “sit” and line up facing it. When you now say “paw”, raise your right leg instead of your hand. Many dogs that have already internalised the paw command will instinctively raise their paw and use your leg for guidance. Praise your dog as soon it lifts it paw almost at the same time as your leg and give it a little treat. Now carry out the same exercise once more but with the other (left) leg. Your dog now has to raise the other paw. Repeat the exercise several times and demand more and more steps in return for a treat, meaning that the treat only comes after the dog has raised its paw alternating with your leg twice, four, six times and more.
The aim of this exercise is initially for your dog to touch an object with its paw and to knock it over. Once it has mastered this, you can then even teach it to open doors with its paw.
- How it works: Position an interesting object (such as a plastic bottle or cuddly toy) in the room and make your dog aware of it. Now wait and see what happens. If your dog approaches the object and touches it with its paw, praise it effusively and give it a treat. Repeat the process by constantly pointing out the object and praising your dog as soon as it has touched it again with its paw. The following day, you can build upon the exercise with the command “touch”. Whenever your dog touches the object of interest, say “touch”. After a few days, this signal will be so well consolidated that your dog will also react if you show it other things in your home and say “touch”.
In order to teach your dog to close doors, show it the room door and say “touch”. Give your dog a reward if it thereupon touches the door with its paw. For your dog to really close the door, build upon the command with “Touch! Shut the door” and only reward your dog when it has touched the door forcefully enough for it to close. You can gradually increase the distance to the door until it's sufficient for you to point to the door and call “Touch! Shut the door” from the sofa or a table.
With this trick, your dog will roll over on its back until it is lying in the “down” starting position. Since some dogs don't like lying on their back, this exercise demands a certain level of agility and patience. Special treats of course also help as a reward.
- How it works: Say “down” to your dog so that it lies in front of you, with its rear end and both elbows touching the floor. Hold the treat you have chosen right in front of your dog's nose so that it slightly touches its snout but can't be eaten. Now lead your dog slowly in the direction in which it should roll by holding it behind the head and above the spine. Your dog will try to keep its snout on the treat and will ideally turn around automatically. If your dog is hesitant to lie on its back, you can support it slightly with your other hand and carefully bring it to the desired lateral position.
It can be entertaining to watch your dog crawl along the floor, touching it with its stomach and slowly crawling forwards. However, it could take a few practices until your dog has mastered this trick. After all, crawling isn't a natural movement for dogs.
- How it works: Give your dog the “down” command and kneel in front of it. Place a hand gently on its back and hold a treat in your other hand in front of its snout that you pull away from your dog slowly and near the floor. If your dog wishes to stand up to to follow the treat in your hand, press it gently back on the floor. Give the “crawl” command or another similar signal word. As soon as it manages to crawl forwards slightly – even if this is only a tiny distance at first – praise your dog and give it the treat. Repeat this exercise for as long as it takes for your dog to crawl forwards on command. If it has mastered this movement after a few days, you can remove your hand from its back and position yourself opposite your dog at a slight distance. Hold the treat near the floor and say the relevant command. As soon as your dog crawls, give it praise. If it tries to stand up, say “down” once again. Give it the treat as soon as it has crawled its way towards you.
In this exercise, your dog rotates from a standing position either to the left or right. Although this movement is unusual at first for some dogs, most will soon follow the exercise when they get the reward they hoped for at the end.
- How it works: Stand in front of your dog and like with the “roll” exercise, hold a treat near its snout. Now move your hand in a circular motion above your dog's head and above its back so that it also has to move in a circle in order to follow your hand. Give a suitable command such as “turn around”. Once your dog has turned, give it a treat. Repeat this exercise for as long as it takes for your dog to master turning from a distance too. Move further and further away from your dog until you make it turn at the end by simply making a small circular hand gesture and giving the command.
Slalom through the legs
Like with the tap dancing and turning exercises, slalom runs through the legs are a popular element of dog dancing. Even dogs less keen on dancing will have great fun with this trick. However, your dog should reach up to your knees at most. If not, it won't have a secure position when running through your legs.
- How it works: Stand alongside your dog in the step position. If your dog is standing to your right, you should have your left leg forward. In this position, hold your left hand with the treat through your legs (possibly near the floor) and move your hand back around to the left. Your dog will follow your hand or the treat and position itself through your legs towards the left. Now take a step forwards with your right leg and carry out the same exercise on the other side. For instance, give the command “through”, “slalom” or “zig zag”. At the beginning, you should give your dog the treat right away so that it doesn't lose interest. With time, you can take more steps forwards and get your dog to do slalom runs until you reward it. Once it has understood the principle behind it, it will manage it without any assistance from treats at some point.
Balancing and catching treats
This trick promises action and astonished faces amongst spectators. However, it isn't easy to carry out and requires a little agility from your dog and plenty of patience.
- How it works: As the first step, you have to practise catching with your dog. Throw your dog a treat in the direction of its mouth and give the “catch” command. Your dog will try to catch it by its reflexes. If it manages this, it will already have got its paws on its reward. If the treat falls on the floor, you have to be as quick as a flash and pick it up before your dog. With time, you can move further and further away. You can also throw the treat slightly more to the right or left so that your dog has to jump in order to catch it.
If you would like to go one better with this trick, you can teach balancing as the second step. Carefully hold your dog's snout shut with your hand and place a treat on its nose with the other hand. Give it a suitable command, such as “hold” and slowly take your hand away without the treat falling. If your dog manages to keep its head still for a while and balance the treat, reward with the snack. As soon as your dog has mastered catching and balancing, you can connect the two in the final step. Place the treat on your dog's nose and give it the command to balance. Then say “catch”, which will make your dog try to jump to reach the treat on its nose. Of course, plenty of practice is needed for this trick to work. So be patient! If it doesn't work, simply take a step back and practise catching and balancing.
Still fancy more dog tricks?
Have you noticed that all dog 10 tricks work according to a similar principle? There is a clear command, hand gesture and treat at the end. This can be a treat as described, but an interesting dog toy can also help. Once you have understood this pattern and can correctly assess your dog, you will be able to practice many tricks together. Your dog may learn to jump through your arms or act as if it had fallen dead upon giving the “bang” command. You can also teach your dog practical tricks such as “bring my slippers” with a little practice.
We wish you and your dog plenty of fun practising together!