Generally speaking, tricks are fun for dogs and their owners. It’s a way to mentally stimulate your dog and show off to your cat-people friends. But there’s more to it. Some “tricks” serve a greater purpose than others. Just think about it; “come” is far more useful than “roll over”. (And I’m not just saying that because Lana hates/refuses to learn roll over.)
I’ve compiled a list of 10 tricks I believe every dog should know. They should be the first things your dog learns when you adopt him/her, and the behaviors you practice most so they’re never forgotten.
1. Come – I think it’s pretty obvious why this trick is necessary. Say you’re on a walk with Lottie (roll with it, I think it’s an adorable name) and she wanders off a little way. At first it’s no big deal. She’s a good girl and she won’t approach a strange person or dog without permission. She knows to come when called, and usually does, but not 100% of the time. No big deal, if she hesitates, you’ll just call again! Your random train of thought is interrupted with a strange rattling sound. Or a hissing. Or a growling. The sound of whatever animal that lives near you that either caries venom, diseases, or a serious grudge against dogs and a big set of chompers. If you call Lottie and she hesitates, that’s a few seconds longer she is standing next to a dangerous enemy. Or worse, walking closer to it. Or maybe her hesitating means she’s standing in the middle of the road longer. Or even just standing in the rain getting stinky. (This is a choose your own adventure.) So yes, ”come” is obviously important, but a consistent “come” is equally so.
2. Leave it – This command might have worked in the last scenario as well. If it was Lottie checking out the other animal and not vice versa. This trick is amazing in multi-dog households. Lana is a bit toy aggressive, so teaching her and my fosters to ‘leave it’ makes my life easier (and keeps our home harmonious) on a daily basis. If you want to teach ‘leave it’, put your dog on leash and leave treats on the floor. Holding some treats of your own, walk by the treats on the floor. Try to distract your dog with a cheery voice and the scent of the treats you’re holding. Whenever your pooch heads towards the floor treats, gently tug the leash and remind them to leave it. When they ignore the treats on the ground, reward them with a better treat from your hand! (It’s so helpful to carry a bag of treats at all times when training.)
3. Drop it – This is an absolutely wonderful trick. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to drop this order (awkward wording, not a pun) mid-walk because Lana found a random slice of pizza or chicken bone on the ground. “Drop it” can prevent your dog from swallowing choking hazards, toxins, etc. Additionally, if I need to take away a toy she’s in the process of mutilating or grab a ball she wants me to throw, this is the easiest way to do it without fear of accidentally being bitten. Like “come”, this trick requires lots of practice. Probably even more, but it is so worth the time and effort.
4. Wait – Your dog can “wait” for just about anything. Wait before eating dinner, wait before going through a doorway, or wait before jumping into or out of a car. To me, the most important is waiting to enter or exit a car. If they jump out of the car before you have time to grab the leash and they see a squirrel, they’re off! (Mine, at least, would be.) It’s just a safety measure to avoid being hit by cars or running off. It’s not hard to teach and very handy. (Bonus, your dog can ‘wait’ on the scale at the vet’s office to ensure an accurate reading!)
5. Easy/Gentle – This is more of a manner than a trick. If you notice your dog grabs treats or toys out of your hand with a little too much enthusiasm, it may be time to teach them this trick. It took me many aching fingers to realize this. If your pup uses too much teeth, simply close your hand over the treat and don’t give it to them until they approach more gently. It may take a while for your dog to connect the cause and effect, but they’ll figure it out. You may get scratched up at first, but in the end you’ll save yourself a bloody finger or two.
6. Heel – I’m just awful about taking my dog on structured walks. Or walks period. But when I do, she is miserable on leash (except on those occasions we use a prong collar). My boyfriend hates taking her running. She zigs and she zags and she has to check out every darn thing she (thinks she) sees. That’s because we did not practice heel like we should have. Once upon a time she knew to walk by my ankles until I gave her the okay to explore. I think she still associates the prong collar with the command, but I try not to use it often. I think of it as a training aid, not a daily accessory. However, seeing as we really ought to start training again, I should probably give in and use it a little more often. Heel not only makes walks more pleasant for you and your dog, but anyone walking by definitely appreciates a dog walking well than one pulling to go see them – even if they like dogs. It’s just about being polite.
7. Play – It sounds weird, I know. Teaching your dog to play, as a trick? Yes! Dogs learn to play ‘correctly’ from each other in a pack environment. If you don’t have other dogs to help teach your little one, then it’s up to you! What you need to keep in mind is that play should be fun and good exercise, but it shouldn’t be too rough. If your dog is ever around smaller dogs, much younger or older dogs, cats, older people, or children (which almost every dog will be at some point), they need to learn to play gently. I was fortunate that Lana was raised with other dogs so she understands to be gentle with puppies and let loose with dogs her size. But when she was young, I did discourage rough play, and I’m glad I did.
8. Off – Off should refer to people and to furniture (and other dogs!). Dogs should never habitually jump on you or guests (or other dogs). This is especially important if he or she meets an older person, a child, someone with a handicap, or even someone with a normal injury like a sore back or sunburn. (Take it from a Floridian, dog nails on sunburned skin is unpleasant.) I love that my dog is happy to see me when I get home, but jumping on me is unnecessary. I think it’s just as cute that she always brings me a toy and a shows off her wiggle butt. I feel no love lost. (Also, Lana knows not to jump on her elderly sister, thanks to the command ‘off’. Desi’s arthritic back couldn’t handle that, so it was super important that Lana knew her stuff.)
9. Watch me – Watch me can be useful if you need to distract your dog from something. It could be a squirrel or dog on the other side of the road, something they’re frightened of, or the vet standing next to them getting ready to give them a shot or take their temperature. To teach this, hold a treat near your face and reward them when they look at you.
10. Stand – Admittedly a trick more helpful at the vet’s office than most real life situations. But, it’s one I actually spent today practicing with Miss Lana. All I ask of Lana is that she goes from a sit or down position to standing on all fours. She still doesn’t stand up with only the word “stand”, but the vet probably wouldn’t think to try that anyway. She does stand with the slightest pressure under her tummy from my hand. And, since her recent surgery wound was on her tummy, this turned out to be more useful than I anticipated. (Fun fact, the vet actually commented about how well she behaved the whole time she stayed for supervision. I have no idea, but I like to think she showed off this trick.)
BONUS 11. Check – this is probably more helpful for someone like me, with a fearful dog, than the average dog owner. If Lana sees something scary, I encourage her to ‘check’ it out (by walking over to it and pointing), and then reward her with enthusiastic praise and treats if she comes even a little bit closer. I also do this with my male friends and family, since she’s not the biggest fan of men. I’m not a professional trainer and can’t guarantee it works for everyone (or that it’s even done anything for us), it seems worth a try. At the very least, it doesn’t hurt anything.
*I don’t think clickers are by any means necessary for training. I use one for complicated tricks, but usually I just praise vocally (high pitched and happy sounding tones!) and with food. However, there’s nothing wrong with using the clicker if you want to.
What other tricks you would recommend to any and every dog owner? Comment and share your wisdom. And don’t forget to add us on Facebook if you haven’t yet!