Trick-Training - A Beginner's Guide to Success With Your Dog!
By listendogtraining, May 17 2016 08:52PM
Some people just LOVE teaching their dog tricks… getting your canine to perform on cue – especially if you have an audience – can be great fun! Others however, deem trick-training to have no real purpose, arguing only in favour of the meat and potatoes of a good solid foundation in obedience training. After all, in what circumstance is it ever going to be handy that your dog can spin in a circle on his back legs upon request? Probably none whatsoever. But that doesn’t mean that trick-training is pointless… far from it. Read on to find out all about the wealth of benefits trick-training can offer you and your four-legged friend, what you’ll need to try it out, and exactly how to get started.
Benefits of Trick Training:
Think about it – your dog can’t play a board game, read a book, or enjoy a good film… he needs other ways to engage his brain, and trick training is a fantastic opportunity to give his brain a good workout! You’ll be improving his problem-solving skills as you encourage him to work out what behaviours you are looking for through luring, shaping, marking and rewarding.
It’s Great For Rainy Days
If you have a high energy, high endurance dog, like a Labrador Retriever or a Border Collie, you’ll be amongst the first to wax lyrical about the importance of ensuring your canine companion gets oodles of daily exercise!
However, most people are unaware that a good 5-10 minute trick-training session can be more tiring than a walk itself. Of course, at Listen Dog we are firm advocates of your dog getting enough physical exercise on a daily basis, regardless of the weather – however a well-placed trick training session can help to take the ‘fizz’ out of an exuberant dog who’s yet to receive his morning walk, or buy you some time if you’ve had to delay a jaunt in the park due to an unpleasant storm. Using all that brain-power uses up energy, and can leave dogs feeling just as spent as a hearty game of tug, or a stretch of fetch.
Enjoy A Better Relationship
The more positive things you do with your dog, the better your relationship will become – it’s simple isn’t it? If you keep training sessions upbeat, enjoyable and successful for your dog, he’ll actually look forward to them – and he’ll look forward to trying to please you as a matter of habit. And owning a dog whose default setting is to try and please you is always a joy!
Improves Your Dog’s Ability To Learn
The more time you spend training your dog to perform tricks, the better his problem-solving abilities will become as he grows accustomed to the process of running through behaviours, paying attention to you and looking for ever-more discreet cues, and generally becoming more aware of the lines of communication between you both. All of this adds up to improving your dog’s general ability to learn, which in turn will improve his basic obedience (you know, that crucial meat and potatoes stuff, that is definitely useful in the big wide world!)
Top Tips For Successful Trick Training:
Invest in Literature
As simple as it sounds – stocking up on a few good quality dog-trick books is a fantastic way to jump-start your new hobby. Find one or two that you really like (if money’s tight, try road-testing a couple from the library first) and leave them on the coffee table or out on the kitchen worktop – wherever you go about your daily routine! It takes less than a minute to flick through a book and find a trick you like the look of, and it takes less than 5 minutes to introduce the trick to your dog in the form of a training session. So all those little moments throughout the day – waiting for the kettle to boil, waiting for dinner to cook, waiting for the bathroom... suddenly they’ll become the moments you come to utilise and look forward to!
Some tricks – like ‘lay down’ are fairly straightforward, and luring your dog into the correct finishing position is easy, whilst other require a little more guidance. Be patient with your dog, and reward baby steps along the way. The goal of each training session is simply to get better results than the last time. For example, whilst training an over-enthusiastic Labrador to ‘beg’ (sit on hind quarters whilst both front paws are offered up in a stationery position) I initially lured her front end off the ground, and marked and rewarded (using a clicker) every time she lifted her front paws. Progressively, I then aimed to ensure she kept her rear end in a sitting position as she raised her front feet, so I only marked and rewarded this behaviour. Once she understood this, I then only marked and rewarded when she held the position for a split second, as opposed to just throwing herself up then straight back down again. This process is called shaping, and is a really helpful way to break down more complex tricks into manageable chunks so that neither you, nor your dog ends up confused and frustrated.
In trick training, it is imperative that you ‘mark’ the precise moment your pet performs the correct action. Dogs make very direct associations, and will only associate a reward with whatever they did immediately prior to its delivery; if, for example you tell your dog to lay down, which she does, but whilst you’re fishing in your pocket for a treat she stands up and takes a step toward you, you are not rewarding the correct behaviour. However, rewarding your dog with a treat at the exact moment or in exactly the desired position is not always possible – hence why most trick trainers wax lyrical about ‘marking’...
This is why clickers are so wonderful – they’re both easy and instantaneous – two things that the swift delivery of a piece of cheese just cannot always be! If you and your dog are entirely new to clicker training, you will need to initially ‘charge’ the clicker up – which means building a positive association with the clicker in your dog’s mind. Put simply, sit with your dog, your clicker, and a pot of treats for a few minutes, and click-treat, click-treat, click-treat... you get the idea. Your dog quickly learns that a click represents success and impending reward. So for those moments when you can’t deliver a treat immediately, you deliver a click – cementing in your dog’s mind the exact behaviour that the following treat is a reward for, and increasing the likelihood that he will repeat that exact behaviour, the next time you ask!
Put In The Time
Honestly, I can’t stress this enough, because it’s happened to me so many times – you may feel like you’ve been trying to teach one trick for weeks but your dog is just never going to understand it... he’s just squirming, pawing and obsessing over the treat in your hand... don’t stress. Keep going through the motions, day after day, and you will SEE the lightbulb moment when it occurs – and boy will you be glad you persevered!
Maybe it’s just me, but I love the buzz of seeing a dog fully understand a complex request, and knowing that it’s because of the work I’ve put in. And remember, when your dog succeeds at something, HE feels great about it too; you can sleep easy knowing that your dog is happier, because of you!
Motivate Your Dog
Try to ensure you always set your dog up to succeed; don’t ask too much of him, and always break down bigger or more complicated tricks into smaller steps that he can achieve and be rewarded for. Try not to let him be wrong more than two or three times in a row, or he will end up feeling frustrated and discouraged. For trick-training to work, you need your dog to WANT to learn, and the best way to achieve that is to ensure he enjoys the process of learning. If he repeatedly fails at something, take it a step back, and practise executing and rewarding an earlier stage of the trick for a while – always set your dog up for success, not failure. Also remember to keep training sessions short, and end on a high note. When you are about to finish, it can be good to quickly run through two or three commands your dog is confident with, to let him finish on a high, in anticipation of the next session, rather than dreading it.
Want To Take It Further?
Dog trainers tend to train the hardest when working toward a goal – it helps to keep you motivated and focused when you’re striving towards a specific end-game, and Do More With Your Dog provides you with just that, in the form of progressive Trick Dog Titles which you and your dog can work towards, one at a time, as your trick training progresses! Each title, from Novice to Champion involves the successful training and performing of a checklist of progressively complex tricks, and will earn you certification and a title ribbon.
For more details on how to get involved, click here to find out about the first certificate, and download your first checklist and application form!
Always remember – trick-training is meant to be fun for both of you! Keep it positive, and you and your dog will go far.
Listen Dog training will be launching tailored Trick Training workshops in September 2016. To register your interest and be added to our waiting list, get in touch today!