Trick School for Dogs - Manuela Zaitz - ebook

Trick School for Dogs ebook

Manuela Zaitz



It is not always necessary to go to training classes to keep a dog occupied or teach him to perform certain tasks. Everybody can give a dog a good mental or physical work-out at home or during a daily walk with the use of dog tricks. This doesn't just have to involve run-of-the-mill dog games. This book presents fund and challenging tricks to keep a dog eager and interested. Numerous photos make the practical application of these exercises simple, and encourage readers to "try this at home". The main objective is for the human and the dog to enjoy themselves, as well as working in harmony. This book also incorporates some tasks for guide and support dogs for the disabled.

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Copyright of original edition

© 2007 by Cadmos Verlag GmbH,

Im Dorfe 11, 22956 Brunsbek, Germany

Copyright of this edition

© 2010 by Cadmos Books, Great Britain

Translation: Andrea Höfling

Design: Ravenstein + Partner, Verden

Photos: Andreas Maurer and Thomas Stens

All rights reserved: No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilized in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

A catalogue record of this book is available from the British Library.

ISBN 978-0-85788-628-6

Data conversion eBook:

Kreutzfeldt digital, Hamburg Print Web Software GmbH, Saarbrücken

Basic Requirements9
Conditioned Reinforcement11
Tongue Click12
Words of Praise12
One Step at a Time12
Basic Commands14
Put it in My Hand20
Important Things for the Trick School25
Visual Signals and Voice Commands25
Reward, affirmation and Appropriate Treats26
Training duration28
Signal Control28
Commands and How to Make an even Bigger Impression29
Working at a Distance30
Setting up Chains of Actions30
Training Diary31
Jumping over anarmora32
‘Play Dead!’33
Shake a Paw37
High Five38
Twist and Fox39
Shame on You!42
Play Bow46
Jumping over Someone’s Back47
Taking Socks Off50
Opening a Zip52
Taking Jacket Off53
Balancing Objects on the rear55
Here’s Boomer57
Tidy up57
Balancing Treats and catching them58
Opening Drawers and Cupboards60
Opening a Pedal Bin61
Head Shake on Command63
Walking Backwards64
Crawling Backwards68
Crossing Paws left ove right69
Pushing a Doll’s Pram71
Baring of Teeth73
Jumping through a Hoop77
Stop the Thief79
Jumping into Your Arms82
Balancing on a Ball83
Sit up and Beg85
Stand up and Beg87
The Spanish Step87
Putting Bottles in a Crate90
Skipping with a Rope95
Slipping on the Leash97
Opening a Box98
Closing a Box99
Switching on the Light100
Stealing Money101
My Dog Can’t Do this106
Final Refinements107
And what Do I Do with all these Great Tricks?107
Too much Nonsense107
Thank You109

This book is suitable for both beginners and advanced tricksters. The easier tricks are explained in great detail, starting with the handshake, and working towards more difficult tricks such as balancing objects on the behind. Those of you who are already gripped by ‘trick fever’ will find some new ideas in this book. Some of the tricks require accessories, most of which can be found in any household, or can be rearranged with a little ingenuity. Many tricks, such as switching on the light, originate from routines designed for the training of support and assistance dogs for the disabled. Your dog too could become a service dog, a little helper with your household chores. In recent years, human interaction with dogs has undergone a positive change: No longer having to function solely as a working dog, your dog can now be a partner, friend and companion. A very desirable development indeed!

Initially, the basic requirements for learning tricks are time, dedication and patience. It should be easy to motivate your dog with the help of some tasty treats. Every one of us surely remembers our school days: the best conditions for learning are a relaxed environment without any stress or pressure. Turn off the television, take your time preparing the trick you want to practise, pick up the treats and then call your dog. Please don’t practise at times when you’re in a bad mood, irritable or impatient for whatever reason. Your dog will sense your mood, he will start feeling insecure, and the atmosphere will be tense and unpleasant for him.

There will always be situations where you can’t seem to be able to make any progress with a particular trick. Don’t keep trying with grim determination and clenched teeth, and above all never blame the dog. Take a break, take your dog for a nice walk, do something enjoyable and pleasant. Forget about this trick for a few days, and practise something else, before trying again.

It is helpful to have a video camera running during training sessions. Even if it does feel a bit funny at first, it helps you notice any mistakes, which you can then avoid the next time round.

As for all the jumps described in this book, you should first make sure that both dog and owner are healthy and physically capable of carrying them out. They should always be done on a soft surface – lawn or sand are very suitable. If your dog generally has trouble jumping, if he lands on his front or hind legs at an angle that is too steep, if he has a physical impairment or isn’t fully grown yet, you should avoid all tricks involving jumps. Always remember that your dog’s safety has to come first, and that he won’t take any precautions himself. That is your responsibility.

The video is only meant for self-checking. (Photo: T. Stens)

Conditioned reinforcement

Dogs do things because they are worthwhile. A behaviour is only worthwhile, if it is reinforced. A behaviour that is worthwhile will therefore be repeated frequently. For instance praise, food or being played with are all great incentives for a dog. All these are unconditioned (primary) reinforcements. ‘Unconditioned’ because you don’t have to teach the dog that these things are brilliant; he knows that they are worthwhile for him.

If the dog shows a desirable behaviour, you could reward him with a treat straight away. For this to work, the dog has to be very close to you at the time. The reinforcement of a behaviour displayed some distance away from you would thus be impossible. Of course you can still praise your dog by using your voice. Unfortunately, experience shows that during an average day, most dogs get so many ‘text messages’, they hardly pay any attention to us talking to them any more.

In this scenario, conditioned reinforcements come in very handy. Following a certain signal (a click, a tongue click or a signal word), you immediately give the dog a treat. The dog learns that the signal equals the promise of a treat. To achieve this, you need to repeat this routine again and again; every time the dog hears a signal such as a click, a tongue click or a signal chosen by you, he is rewarded with a treat. You should condition your dog to react to only one specific signal at first, otherwise things will get too confusing for him.


The clicker really is a most useful accessory for dog training. The method of affirming an animal’s action with a sound signal has become wellnown through dolphin training. It quickly turned out that this way of training could achieve staggering results with other animals too.

It is important that the dog has learned the meaning of the ‘click’ beforehand, that he actually knows that ‘click’ means: ‘Well done, you’ll get a treat now.’

This way, you can individually encourage and shape a particular behaviour in an animal. If your dog usually has a good stretch after getting up, you can affirm the moment of the stretching and reward the dog on the spot. As most dogs will repeat worthwhile behaviour very soon – the best example is begging at the table – this way you can very easily teach your dog to take a bow.

The best thing about using a clicker is that there are no penalties. Wrong, or rather undesired behaviour is ignored, and only desired behaviour is affirmed. This encourages dogs to experiment, because they can work and try out new things without fear of reprimand.

But don’t worry, if you haven’t worked with a clicker yet, all tricks can be taught without a clicker as well. Having said that, I bet that once you have tried the clicker, you will not want to do without any more. It’s not just that all of a sudden teaching new things becomes much easier, but it also improves the communication between dog and owner. It is marvellous to see how clicker-trained dogs offer actions, and then 11 Basic Requirements glance at their owner as if to say: ‘Shall I do it like this? Is this what you wanted to see?’

Tongue click

If your dog often does something nicely, which you would like him to do on command as well, then you should think about conditioning your dog to react to the tongue click. Clicking with your tongue is easy. The advantage over a clicker is that you always have your tongue with you, and you will be able to affirm your dog’s displayed behaviour at all times and in any situation. The conditioning is done the same way as with a ‘normal’ clicker. Another advantage is that you have both hands free.

You can also decide on a combination of both: to use the clicker for normal practice sessions, and the tongue click for spontaneous actions outdoors. A dog who has been conditioned to react to both will not be confused at all.

Words of praise

An enthusiastic ‘Yes!’ can also become a conditioned affirmation, which will show the dog the exact action for which he is being praised. To achieve this you must always try and use the same tone of voice, and of course the same term of praise. Don’t say ‘Great!’ on one occasion, ‘Fantastic!’ the next, and ‘Super!’ the third time. Of course your dog may be able to sense your enthusiasm from the tone of your voice alone, but you’ll make it that much harder for him to learn. Decide on one single word, a short one would be best, and stick to it. Condition your dog to react to this word and only use this particular word, when you want to praise him during practice for doing things the right way.

One step at a time

Taking a cursory glance at this book, you may quickly get an idea of what you would like to teach your dog first. Please pick only one exercise a time, take your time reading about the trick, and work out which basic commands you will need. If your dog hasn’t mastered these yet, start with the basic commands or choose a different trick. If you require accessories, such as treats, clicker, target stick, have everything laid out ready for use, before you get the dog to join in.

Most of the tricks in this book are subdivided into small steps. Even if it is tempting to do more, please take only one step at a time. Some tricks are very complex. In order to be reliable and repeatable, the basic elements have to be in place first. It is very important to make sure the individual tricks are developed slowly and on a solid foundation. Please don’t practise more than one trick at a time, as doing so would confuse not just the dog, but often the owner as well.

Don’t expect too much of your dog at once. (Photo: T. Stens)

Be patient with your dog and don’t give up. Should you fail to get to grips with a particular trick altogether, give it a few weeks’ break, and practise something else in the meantime.

Sometimes a trick will work surprisingly well when you return to it after a pause. And if it still doesn’t work, then this may just not be your dog’s sort of trick. Not every dog has to be able to do everything, and each dog has his strong points and his weak points. The art is to recognise these, and this will enable you to work successfully with your dog.

By basic commands, I don’t mean ‘Sit’, ‘Stay’, ‘Heel’, or similar terms. These are certainly very important commands, which your dog has probably mastered already, but in this case I mean commands that will be needed for your dog to carry out the tricks described in this book. I am talking about recurring commands, which you can use for a huge variety of tricks and everyday things alike.


The command ‘Take’ is supposed to prompt the dog to take in his mouth an object chosen by you. With many dogs, this is a simple matter: they have a favourite object such as a ball or a soft toy. Put the toy next to the dog and encourage him with a ‘Take’ to take it in his mouth. If he does so, give him instant affirmation with a click, a treat or a praise word.

Once this works well with a toy or a ball, start using everyday objects such as handkerchiefs, socks, empty cigarette packets etc.

Once this works without any problems, try your hand at more difficult things, such as bank notes, keys or similar things. Many dogs are reluctant to take metal objects in their mouths, for example keys. Make it easier for your dog by attaching a lanyard keychain to your keys, or a key fob that is easy to take hold of.

Luke has learnt to take various objects in his mouth on the command ‘Take’.

(Photos: A. Maurer)

If your dog doesn’t want to take the object up in his mouth, you will have to be creative. Make the object exciting, make sure it smells nice. Play with the object, but without taking any notice of your dog. Do this with such exuberance that your dog is bound to become really keen to play with it too.

Don’t use any objects which you are very attached to. If you want your dog to take a telephone in his mouth, don’t use your newest mobile for practice, but use a very old or defective phone. A flea market can be a treasure trove for objects to practise with.


When asked to ‘Touch’, the dog is supposed to touch objects with his paw. There are various methods for teaching this to a dog. One is with the use of a target stick. The target stick is something you may remember from geography lessons at school: a telescopic indicator stick whose length can be adjusted like an old-fashioned car aerial. For training with a clicker there are special target sticks available, which have a slightly enlarged rounded tip. Using a fly swatter works just as well. Show your target stick to the dog, and let him examine and sniff it. If the dog uses his paws for this, affirm this behaviour.

This dog is very interested in the target stick. Here, you can see clearly how he lifts his paw in order to examine the stick more closely.

If affirmed correctly, the dog learns very quickly,what his owner is after.

(Photos: A. Maurer)

At first, affirm every use of a paw, and then begin only to affirm those actions which involve the dog hitting the tip of the target stick. Introduce the command ‘Touch!’ for this. With the target stick you can lead your dog to the objects you want him to touch, and then prompt him with a ‘Touch!’ to put his paw exactly on the desired spot. It should then prove quite easy to gradually wean the dog off the target stick during the individual exercises.

Instead of the target stick, another option would be to use a sticky dot. This works best, when you attach a sticky dot to your hand first, and then have the dog put his paw on it. You gradually move the sticky dot, for example onto a finger or onto your arm. The next step could be to stick the dot on the floor. Once the dog has understood ‘Touch!’, you can attempt more difficult tasks, such as switching on the light. For this you simply stick the dot on the light switch. As the dog has already learnt that he must put his paw onto the dot, switching on the light is only a small step. Following the same principle, you can stick the dot on a drawer in order to teach the dog to close it.


On the command ‘Nudge!’, the dog will touch objects with his nose. The simplest way to develop this is by holding your hand in front of the dog’s nose, and to give affirmation as soon as he touches your hand with his nose. You can also shape the ‘Nudge’ command with a target stick or a sticky dot, in the same way as ‘Touch’.