Updated: Oct 28, 2019
If you don’t already do tricks with your dog, chances are you’ve heard about dogs that can do some really cool tricks. But guess what, they aren’t just for wildly impressing your guests! Teaching your dog (or any animal companion) to do a specific behavior has so many uses. Let’s see what some of them are!
Builds communication and trust
You and your pet really have to listen and pay attention to each other to figure out how to do a trick together. You learn each other’s body language and signals in a way that helps you better communicate with each other, not just for tricks but in general. The more you do this, the more trust and respect builds between the two of you.
Especially for shy or nervous dogs, this type of training can really help them become more independent and confident in their world. This happens because they get positively rewarded for trying new things and experimenting. They get pleasure not only from the treat they receive for doing the behavior but also from knowing they solved a problem. You can actually see how excited they get when they figure out what they are suppose to do.
Increases body awareness and provide physical exercise
Does your dog often run into things or constantly get under your feet and trip you up? You are also probably familiar with growing puppies that can’t quite figure out their bodies, especially their legs. There are several types of tricks that help dogs become more aware of how they use their bodies. Their movements become tighter and more structured. They also work a lot of muscles that they wouldn’t be exercising normally. A good example is “sit pretty” where a dog uses abdomen muscles to sit up on their back legs.
Provides mental stimulation
Dogs require mental stimulation and actually benefit as much, if not more from mental exercise. Training them to do tricks is an excellent way to engage their brains in a constructive way. If we don’t provide such mental exercises, they will use their brains for other activities like chewing up the couch, getting into the trash, or barking at dogs outside all day. Mental activities help reduce unwanted behaviors and provide enrichment for them. Tricks are also a great way to supplement or replace other activities when your dog is restricted. For example, when the weather is bad and you have to stay inside, your dog is sick or injured and needs crate rest, or you have a reactive dog that can’t go out on walks.
Helps reduce anxiety in stressful situations
Once your dog has learned several types of tricks, they can do them in lots of different environments. Being able to offer a behavior they know well helps reduce stress and improve focus. In stressful or exciting situations many dogs are not able to do obedience behaviors like down or stay, but they are more than happy to do a behavior that is easy, they enjoy, and allows them to move around. The veterinarian’s office is an excellent place to have your dog do tricks they know to help keep them calm, focused, and reduce stress. Instead of sitting in the exam room waiting and worrying about the unknown, ask them to participate in an activity they know how to do, like spin or hand targeting.
Makes them better at learning and training in general
As you start training, your dog is trying to learn what you want, but dogs are smart and with practice they are able to understand you better and what you’re asking of them. They are able to learn not just tricks but many behaviors faster once they understand how the training process works. The more you train, the easier it is for them to figure out what to do.
A great way to impress your friends!
Of course a little showmanship goes a long way. People will always be impressed when your dog can do a behavior you ask of them. “Wave hello” itself is super adorable but turn it into “who’s the smartest puppy in the world” and you’re sure to get “oooohs and aaaahs”. Not only will people be impressed with you and your dog, they will probably want to know how to do it with their own dogs. Then you can pass on all this wisdom and help others enjoy the many benefits of tricks training!
So, if you've been thinking of ways to engage with your dog, build your relationship, decrease behavior issues and increase confidence, try treating your dog to some trick training! Need some more ideas, you can get loads of ideas from the Tricks section under free resources on our website. You'll find tons of free, inspiring how-to videos to help get you started!
Most importantly, have fun with your dog. We're here to help if you have any questions along the way!
Author: Krista Fleck, CPDT-KA