Thursday, March 1, 2012

Hops in the Right Direction: Trick My Dog!

For a long time, I really believed that teaching a dog tricks was something a "serious" dog owner would never do, that it would lead to bad habits, that it wasn't important.  Oh, how wrong I was.  Teaching tricks acutally has a lot of benefits, especially for the dog with altered mobility.

It's true that tricks aren't as serious as teaching "come" (which could save your dog's life if she runs out into the street) or "stay" or those kinds of things.  But they do provide mental and physical stimulation, as well as building the bond between you and your three-legged pal.  If running around for hours isn't an option (as it isn't for some tripods), tricks can channel and exorcise a lot of energy in a low-impact way.  And it's fun!  Why shouldn't your dog have a hobby too?

"Put your toys away" is both fun for your dog and crosses off one of the items on your "things to clean up" list.

"Roll over" can be extremely helpful, thoough many dogs start out uncomfortable with the idea of showing their bellies.  You can also stop halfway through, and teach her simply to lie on her back.  Just think how much this could help at the vet!  It's also a great position for some gentle massage.  Prada loves to have the inside of her back legs rubbed, but she's so tiny, it's hard to get at them from any other position.  She doesn't roll all the way over onto her back; she only goes about three-quarters of the way--no big.

"Sit pretty" is what I call "beg."  I hate the idea of a dog begging for food--it's just bad manners.  However, "sitting pretty" is a great core muscle workout.  Prada's chest is already really strong from hopping around all the time, and this is a good trick for keeping her tummy and back muscles toned.  We have a long way to go on it (I've frankly let the training slide for a while), but it does seem to be helping her balance, as well.

"Touch" is super easy--just rub a treat on your palm to make it smell yummy.  Then, when your dog touches her nose to your palm (no teeth allowed!) say "yay!" and reward her.  It's great for getting your dog to focus on you, and because it is so easy for your dog to learn and remember, you can use it in high-stress situations to remind her that you are in charge and she can relax.  So, if you are being approached, for example, by someone who is wearing a long coat that is billowing in the wind at ankle-height and your dog is suddenly afraid, "touch" can remind her you've got everything under control.  It also works for redirecting your dog's attention from undesired behavior, like jumping on visitors or barking at leaves.

There are a lot of great resources out there, but I particularly like this one for its ideas for you to keep in mind while you're training, and this forum, where there are a lot of really knowledgeable people who have lots of different ideas of teaching the same trick.  Like people, each dog learns a little differently, so it can be helpful to not be set on one way of teaching a trick.  Both of these sites frequently recommend the use of clickers for training, but a voiced "Yay!" or "Good!" work just as well, as long as you're quick about it.  (Your dog will associate the good sound with whatever she's doing right then, so make sure you're not rewarding her for the wrong thing.  You get about 1.7 seconds after the behavior to reward.)

Because Prada spins incessantly when she is anxious, I'm trying to put that on cue (Dance!) as well.  My hope is that if I can put myself in control of her behavior, I'll be able to help her stop before she makes herself puke.

Best thing about tricks?  They are a polite, positive way for your dog to ask for attention.

What awesome thing can your dog do?

Sunny's awesome things include looking stinking adorable, loving on everybody, and playing "couch potato."


  1. Unfortunately, Peaches and Roscoe's main trick is eating the cat food. :(

    We even blocked the counter where we keep it so Peaches couldn't jump on the toilet and then take the next step up on the counter. Now that it's blocked she apparently enlisted Roscoe, our lab mix and we found the cat's bowl upside down on the bathroom floor last night. We've moved the bowl to the back of the counter against the splashboard now. Hopefully it will be safe there. Fingers crossed!

    1. Oh, man, Prada loves cat food. One of the perks of having a tiny dog, though, is that she can't get to high places, so that problem was pretty easily solved. Of course, Prada also loves to eat her own hair when I'm grooming her, which of course makes her puke. Don't really get that one.

  2. Sunny is adorable.

    I love this information, it's going to come in really handy!

    You've won an award:

    1. Hey, thanks! Now I'll have something to talk about on Monday!