By: Sara Ondrako, Certified Canine Behavior Consultant
Teaching your dog new tricks has many benefits beyond impressing your family and friends. Teaching them new things helps keep their brains sharp and mentally stimulated. Spending one-on-one time with your pup helps strengthen your bond with each other. And, of course, it's an easy way to show your dog how much you love them by giving them more quality time with their favorite person (you!).
Many pet parents love teaching their dogs cute and easy tricks like how to lie down, roll over, high-five, shake hands (or paws), and play dead. To give you even more skills to add to your pup's repertoire, here are five other fun tricks to try. Beginners have no fear; these are some of the easiest tricks you and your pup can learn. You don't have to be a dog trainer to follow these step-by-step instructions using simple positive reinforcement training methods your canine companion can easily follow.
Grab your treat pouch, fill it with kibble and some high-value goodies like freeze-dried turkey bites or liver, and let's get started!
Trick #1: Sit Pretty
Sit Pretty is always the best dog trick for earning extra "aww!" points that lead to even more treats! Your pup should already be able to reliably sit on command to accomplish this trick.
Here's how to get your dog sitting pretty.
- Begin with your dog in the sitting position.
- Raise your arm parallel to the floor in front of your dog just below chest height. With your other hand, place a treat up and over their nose - encourage your dog to get the treat.
- As soon as your dog's paw lifts off the ground to start to try and reach the treat, mark it "yes!" and give them the treat.
- Repeat step 3 a few times, then wait for two paws to come slightly off the ground, mark it "yes!" and give them a treat.
- Repeat step 4 a few times. Then, as both paws start coming up more reliably, use your forearm to help your dog balance as needed while they are learning to sit back on their bottom with two paws up. The arm is temporary and can help if a dog doesn't feel stable with both paws off the ground. Once your dog is more stable on two paws, hold the treat up, remove your arm as they bring both paws off the ground, and quickly mark "yes!" followed by giving the treat.
- Next, roll in the verbal cue (command word) - right as their paws are coming up in position towards the treat above them, say "sit pretty" and give the treat. Repeat several times.
- Then start using the verbal cue "sit pretty" as you are positioning the treat above them. Repeat several times.
- Next, hold the treat in front of you but not above their head anymore and say, "sit pretty," then wait. As your dog starts moving into position (it doesn't have to be perfect to get the treat), mark it "yes!" and give them the treat. Repeat a few times. You may have to break this down into a few steps starting with slightly below the first position, then slightly lower, and then lower still if your dog struggles with this step.
- Finally, hide the treat and ask your dog to "sit pretty" and wait. As your dog starts to move into position, mark it "yes!" and give the treat. After repeating a few times with success, ask, "sit pretty," After your dog lands in that position, wait for a second, mark it "yes!" wait one more second and then deliver the treat to your dog.
For a more dramatic "sit pretty," see if you can encourage your dog to learn how to go straight from the down position rather than a seated position, up into sit pretty.
Trick #2: Twirl (aka Spin)
Spin is a great trick for pet parents who love making TikTok dance videos and want to include your pup! Your dog should be able to reliably follow a lure to accomplish this trick.
Here’s how to teach your dog to spin:
- Start with your dog in a standing position and use a treat in front of your dog's nose to lure them in front of you clockwise slowly. When you complete one full around-the-clock turn, mark it "yes!" and give the treat to your dog. (You can also start going counterclockwise, but stick with one direction before teaching them the opposite direction.) Repeat several times until you have a nice, even round circle with them moving in one direction.
- Next, hide the treat in the palm of your hand with a closed fist and point one finger from the same hand to use your finger as the bridged lure in front of your dog's nose to make the same circular clockwise motion. As soon as the dog completes the circle by following your finger, mark it "yes!" then open your hand and present the treat to your dog. Repeat several times.
- Next, place the treat in your palm and point your finger again, this time not in front of your dog's nose but slightly higher than their head and encourage them to follow that circular motion again. Treat and repeat.
- Add in the cue word "spin right" - use the same motion as in step three, and as soon as your dog moves to spin around, use the words "spin right." Treat and repeat. You want to mark the action of spinning as it is happening at first.
- After your dog has had a few sessions practicing with the word and the motion with your hand further away from the dog, start a new session at step 4 and practice step 4 three times. Then, eliminate the hand motion altogether, and give the cue words "spin right." Treat and repeat several times.
- Once your dog has this down (will respond 99% of the time and can spin under mild distraction), you can teach the opposite spin (counterclockwise / spin left) so your pup can turn on cue both ways.
Advance this by asking your dog to spin in more challenging places, such as in their kennel, when you open the door before they are released. When your pup learns to reliably follow your cues no matter the location or distraction, you know you're in sync with your training partner.
Trick #3: Give a Kiss
Your dog or puppy should be comfortable near your face to accomplish this trick. Give a Kiss may not be for all pups!
To teach your pup to give a kiss, follow these steps:
- Get out the organic, xylitol-free peanut butter! Mix a sprinkle of Pumpkin Powder with your peanut butter for a tasty boost. You'll also need your pup's favorite training treats on hand.
- Place a small dab of the peanut butter on your cheek and use your finger to tap your cheek while you encourage your dog to come to lick it. Give lots of praise as your pup enjoys a quick little cheek treat.
- Repeat step 2. This time, as your dog licks the peanut butter, use the cue phrase "give kiss" while your pup is licking. Then, mark it with "yes!" move your cheek away from your dog, and immediately offer a high-value training treat. Repeat several times.
- Next, put a tiny dot of peanut butter on your cheek and repeat step 3 with almost no peanut butter. Treat and repeat three times.
- Now point to where peanut butter would be on your cheek and use the cue phrase "give a kiss." Mark a successful lick with "yes!" and treat and repeat.
- Next, present your cheek without pointing and ask, "give a kiss." When your dog licks your cheek, mark it and reward them with a treat immediately.
- Once your dog has this down, try other locations, such as your other cheek, or point to your arm and ask, "give a kiss." If the new area confuses your pup, take a few steps back and repeat the process using the new place so your puppy can learn that it's the same ask, just a different location. This alternative is ideal for people who love dog kisses, just not to the face.
Trick #4: Leg Weave
To accomplish this trick, your pup should be able to follow a lure. Your mobility should also not be affected. Stable walking and coordinated balance are essential to keep your dog safe while learning the Leg Weave.
Teaching a walking leg weave allows you to have fun with the same fancy maneuvers that agility dogs perform without all the fancy equipment! However, extra-large dog breeds that don't fit under your legs will be unable to do this trick safely and should use agility equipment for weaves.
Here’s how to teach your dog the Leg Weave:
- If your pup eats kibble, separate one-third of their food for training treats. If you're working with a senior dog, I recommend cutting their Relief Chews into smaller pieces for treats. Don't worry - size doesn't matter regarding treats, just flavor and frequency. You'll go through many treats teaching this one, so as not to pack on too many calories, use what they would already be getting that day to train with.
- Begin with a handful of treats in each hand in an area where you can take several large successive steps, such as a long hallway, a wide-open room, or a backyard (if your pup can work under mild distraction). Next, ask your dog to "heel," or, if they don't know heel, lure them with a treat to your left side and reward them for following.
- Step out with your right foot and use your right hand to lure your dog under your leg to the other side of you. As soon as they are through (their hind legs have cleared your outstretched leg), mark it "yes!" and deliver the treat.
- Immediately take a big step with your left foot and lure your dog with a treat from your left hand under your left leg. Mark "yes!" and give a treat once your pup has made it out from under your leg and back to the left side.
- Repeat step 4, going back and forth from left to right as you move in a straight line, and reward your pup each time their body clears the next leg. Repeat this several times until your dog knows what to expect and is already anticipating going through the next leg.
- Next, remove the treats from your hands. Use the same side hand as the leg stepping out to point with one finger as you step out with each leg. Only on the first step out in the series of weaves, start using the cue phrase "let's weave." This will help your dog learn to keep going in and out of your legs until you end the activity so that you don't have to ask your pup to weave every time you step. When your dog clears each leg, mark it with "yes!" and take a treat from your pouch to deliver quickly. Weaves take some practice to get used to, as it requires balance and coordination on your part too!
- When you begin the next series of weaves, use the cue phrase again, "let's weave" only as you take that first step out, and point again in the direction you want your dog to go. Give your dog an end cue or begin signaling with a new end cue, such as moving your leg that went forward last, back by your other leg, and telling your pup, "good dog!" then toss a treat away from you so they can start picking up on a pattern when the weaving series is complete. Repeat several times. While you can work up to walking longer and longer distances with your pup weaving, start by only taking 4-6 steps total before ending the weaving series and then starting again to get your pup used to the cue phrase.
- Now, eliminate the finger-pointing and put the treats back in one hand but out of the way (behind your back is often a comfortable spot). As you take your first step out, say, "let's weave," and deliver a treat when your pup clears the first leg without pointing. Then, immediately try the second/left leg and reward when your dog clears it again. Practice a few times like this.
- Place your treats in one hand. Step out and say, "let's weave" when your dog clears your first/right leg, give a "that's it" or "good girl" encouragement, and immediately step your next leg out. When your pup passes the second leg, mark "yes!" and treat. During this step, you reward your dog for every other leg cleared. Practice a few times. Now switch the hand your treats are in (and therefore the side in which the dog is getting the treats) and continue giving treats for every other leg cleared.
- Repeat step 9, except this time, reward your pup for every third leg cleared. Then, over a few practice sessions (five minutes each), move up to your dog receiving a treat for successfully clearing eight steps. Throw your pup a verbal praise or tug-of-war party and give higher-value rewards for successfully getting through eight leg weaves. You want them to know you're proud of them! They feel that energy and will be more likely to answer the call to more and more challenges. Remember to use your end cues to tell them when the leg weave series is complete and when to keep going!
Trick #5: Chin Rest
Chin Rest is excellent for teaching dogs consent practices that will make them more comfortable being touched when they need to be (or when they're accidentally touched when they don't want to be). To complete this trick, your pup should not be bothered by face-touching. If your dog is uncomfortable with their face being touched, work with a certified behavior consultant to help you through this.
Aside from being useful in teaching cooperative care exercises, Chin Rest is one of my favorite ways to train dogs that like to jump on house guests to get attention and engagement without jumping on people.
Follow these steps to teach your dog Chin Rest:
- Raise your left arm in front of you and open your hand (palm-up). Take a treat between your thumb and pointer finger in your right hand and place it in the middle at the back (closest to you) of your open hand. Encourage your pup to come to get the treat from your hand by using your eat cue. If your dog doesn't have a "take it" signal on board, use a high, happy tone to talk to your pup while you slightly move the treat around to get their attention. As your dog grabs the treat, move both hands out of the way. If your pup is comfortable with this, repeat it a few times before moving on. If your dog hesitates to contact your open palm while taking the treat, repeat until your pup is much more comfortable with her chin in your hand while grabbing the treat and offer lots of verbal encouragement.
- Next, move the treat away from your open palm, so your pup slides her chin further into your hand to retrieve the treat. When she makes contact with your open palm, say "yes!" and let her have the treat. When she has the snack, remove your hands and repeat several more times.
- Now present your open hand alone. As your pup moves toward your open hand, bring the treat from your right hand up to the position it was in during step 2. Remove your hands as soon as your pup has the treat. Repeat several times.
- Next, encourage the beginning of the actual chin rest by making it harder to get the treat, requiring your pup to be in the correct position where their head is entirely in your hand before the treat even appears. Present your open hand and wait until your dog makes complete contact with their chin before delivering the treat with their chin still in your hand. If your pup removes its chin from your hand before you present the treat, do not deliver the reward; try again. Repeat several times. Try this in different rooms and outside, where some distractions may be in the background. You can start building your cue word at this step by saying "chin" or "chin, please" as you present your hand.
- Now advance this into a complete chin rest by building in duration. Offer your hand out as you did in step four, deliver the treat, immediately provide another treat, and then another before your pup moves its head to reset for the next one. The key isn't several treats at once but several in succession. Once your dog has the last treat, give them your end cue, such as "okay," as you pull your hands away. Eventually, you can leave your hand in place and use your end cue to signal your pup to pull their head out on cue.
- Next, gradually slow down your treat train until treats are delivered once every five to ten seconds while your dog holds their chin in your hand. When you finish the exercise or training sessions, give your pup their end cue, followed by a treat scatter toss away.
- Now ask your pup for "chin" or "chin, please." Reward the chin rest and use your other hand to distract your dog in different ways while maintaining the chin rest, such as waiving your other hand in the air (subtly at first) or using your other hand to touch their back. Offer a treat for remaining in place while you distract them. If they pop out of the chin rest prematurely due to the distraction, try again. This time, make it easier for a round or two before advancing.
Bonus Trick: Advanced Chin Rest
Your dog might be super social and get overly excited when people come to visit. It might not be a big deal with friends and other dog owners, but you should reduce the likelihood that your pup might unintentionally hurt a kid, an older person, or anyone who gets nervous around dogs. Incorporating a modified chin rest can teach your dog to approach people more carefully.
First, work on allowing your dog to say hello only after the excitement level winds down. Keep them in "place" or on a leash until they are more settled. Once it's time to say hello, have visitors help you reward your dog for having all four paws on the floor by having them extend their arm out with a treat before your dog even has the opportunity to jump at your guest. Once you have these steps in place, you can add a chin rest as a polite way for your dog to ask for pets from visitors.
Here's how to do it:
- Pick a colored microfleece washcloth or small piece of soft fabric that you can fold to fit or will fit in the palm of your hand.
- Place the cloth in your hand, ask your pup for "chin, please," and reward as usual. Repeat several times.
- Set your open hand on your lap with the cloth in place and ask for "chin." Treat and repeat several times.
- Next, place a treat between your index finger and thumb with your left hand removed from under the cloth (so the fabric is sitting on your lap) and your treat hand at the back-middle of the cloth as you did in step 1 of teaching your chin rest. Ask for "chin." let your pup grab the treat and repeat this step a few times.
- Remove the reward from the cloth and put both hands behind your back, keeping the fabric on your lap. Next, ask your pup for "chin, please," and reward her for placing her chin on the cloth.
- When you have a guest over, give the same cloth to the guest, and after your pup is calm and quiet and ready to say hello, have your guest ask for "chin" with the fabric in place and have them give your dog the affection they are seeking from the new person while the chin is in place. When your dog moves their chin, that's its way of saying - that's good, thank you, I need a break now.
- Eventually, your pup will place their chin on visitors' laps, whether they have a cloth in place or not, as they learn that position brings engagement and affection. This is a much better way to say, "please pet me; I'm excited you came to visit," rather than catapulting on top of them.
If your dog struggles with initially keeping their paws on the floor as they head over to greet a seated friend, walk over with your dog and have your dog sit in front of them first. Then have your visitor request "chin." Next, practice walking away from the visitor (treat your dog for walking away with you), then back to the visitor with a sit and "chin" a few times before finally allowing your dog to give it a shot on their own. You can also have your guest extend their hand out with a treat before the dog reaches them. This will help slow the dog down and reward them for giving space. Ultimately, your dog will be better at remembering their chin rest and not hurl themselves at Aunt Betty out of excitement.
More Helpful Training Tips
If you find your dog struggling to jump from one step to the next, back up and repeat the previous step or break the current step down even further so your dog can win an in-between step. Once your dog has successfully and repeatedly completed the in-between stage, you can try moving on again.
Use a clicker to mark "yes!" instead of your voice to use fewer words; this can sometimes speed up learning for your dog. Clicker training is an easy way to communicate that they did what you wanted and their reward is coming.
To make sure you mark the exact behavior you want to see repeated and that you take advantage of that window of opportunity, use your treat pouch as your refill bag but keep a handful of treats in your hand and ready to deliver to your pup.
While these trick training examples utilize food and dog treats, you can also have fun using dog toys as reinforcers in place of food to teach your pup these fun tricks.
If you have a multi-person household, encourage all family members to practice these tricks in the same way so that your pup has a good relationship with everyone in the home - kids included! If you live alone with your pup, take your dog to the vet hospital for fun visits and have staff members ask your puppy to perform tricks for treats. This helps ease vet visit anxiety and allows your dog to have happy, positive experiences with others.
Play with your pup to get the wiggles out before starting a training session, and limit your new skill training sessions to five to ten minutes. Practice new skills two to four times a day. Learning gives the brain a workout, so to keep your canine companion motivated, get the reps in with short training sessions, and be sure they get adequate independent enrichment and rest afterward. If your pup has trouble settling in for solid naps, you can cut up a Calming Chew for a reward during pre-nap training sessions. This will help them ease into a comfortable snooze sesh after playtime.
Other Uses for Trick Training Principles
Outside of trick training, you can apply these same step-by-step techniques to help with any basic commands (cues) your pup may struggle with. Break it down into baby steps your dog can quickly achieve to keep their motivation high, reward them frequently, and slowly start increasing the difficulty.
Hand signals are more accessible for dogs to follow than verbal cues, so hand signals are used during training but phased out when the dog better understands the cue word. Pick a hand signal from one of the above tricks to communicate with your dog occasionally, without using the cue word or talking, for another fun way to work your dog's brain and keep their listening skills sharp. Once you have several on board, you can also try running your dog through all their known cool tricks in sequence using hand signals only!
Reward Your Pup (and Yourself!) for a Job Well Done
Have fun working with your best furry friend on new skills that will impress - it really is fun to show off how intelligent our dogs are. Plus, training has the added benefit of strengthening your bond with your pup through mindful positive training. Whether you have an adult dog or a new puppy, these simple tricks are a great place to start. Once your pup becomes super tuned into you with learning, you can have fun exploring more advanced tricks like handstands against a wall, opening and closing select doors, and even learning to fetch specific objects by name. The possibilities of bonding and learning with your best friend are endless.
The next time you bring your social pup to a friend or family gathering, have fun showing off all your hard work. Pat yourself on the back for a job well done as a fantastic pet parent. Consider teaching your dog how to take a bow as your next trick to wrap up your best party performance in true dog-training style!