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  Performance Art (Tricks)

The trick to teaching tricks is to look at some of the things your dog does naturally, then build on it. For example, my dog Tanith would break a *down-stay* command by crawling. At first I tried correcting it. Finally, I decided to teach her to crawl on command. (If you want to understand to logic of that take a look at the theory of extinguishment). Tanith loved to show off by crawling when asked - and had a much easier time not crawling when not asked. My sister taught her dog to sneeze on command by giving the command and a reward each time the dog sneezed (which it did predictably often). You can teach rather complex things by building the behavior in small increments.

You might be surprised to learn that this incremental process is how tracking dogs are taught to track, and search and rescue dogs are taught their job. It is how the higher levels of obedience are achieved and all the rest of the dog related activities. The really neat thing is to watch the change in your dog as it learns to think.

You may find that the dog that is resistant to more formal activities really does enjoy learning tricks. I know that is so with my dog Oso. He is easily bored, and prefers short and showy. Unlike some other doggie activities he is not merely willing, but he is eager to show off his "roll-over" (both directions), and jumps through a tiny hoop, and crawls, and shakes hands and we are working on more. I keep each "show" very short - about three tricks - then move him around for petting, then some more and so on. He grins.

Sometimes whether something becomes a trick or an annoyance depends upon your attitude and how you handle it. My Tsuki learned to sit up (some people call it "sit pretty" or "sit up and beg"). He taught himself because I rewarded it the first time I saw it. That behavior could have become an annoyance. But as soon as Tsuki got the idea of doing it when asked I completely ignored him if he did it unasked.- but give him a glimer of hope and the boy is dancing. No I mean he really dances - up on his toes. He learned THAT because the process of extinguishment usually involves the dog trying harder before it gives up. So when "sit pretty" stopped workiing he tried harder and up on his toes he went. To not have a pest I still had to allow the behavior to extinguish. But later I let him do it again and rewarded him and presto I had the dancing dog.

You might not have heard of " clicker training" but I'd bet you use something like that method at least sometimes. You don't have to use a "clicker" to use that method. All you have to understand is that you can get eager, happy repeatable behavior if you can learn (a) timing, (b) marking the behavior you do want, and (c) a bit of patience to build a solid foundation. When you first introduce clicker training it seems like a really slow way to train. It also lacks the assertiveness that most of us are used to. Still it is a very powerful tool to understand how it is done. Technically it is "operant conditioning" and it works by understanding that behavior that makes us feel good tends to be repeated. To teach any behavior, including tricks, means not jumping directly to the end result but building understanding one step at a time. Once the dog understands the process it moves much more quickly. Most of my training is done using this method. I am not what is called a "positives only" trainer, but I like the results of this method very much. This method however, takes a bit more effort in the beginning, and many people aren't "rewarded" enough to keep trying. See it works with people too. No reward early in the learning process makes us quit trying. So to get over that hurdle I recommend getting some books and videos and giving it a try with trick training. The success rewards will come a bit faster and turn you on to this method.

For some really great tricks training links check out:


A very nicely done site with good graphics and short easy to follow instructions. This one starts with laying a solid foundation. It is well worth taking the time to follow the steps even if you think you have things well in hand.

How to Train Tricks -
More Tips on Training Tricks -

Two great sites for explaining the training process and offering some fun ideas. Authored by Makes it all sound fun and possible.

Dog and Cat Tricks
The instructions are nicely broken down into steps, and possible problem areas are mentioned. An important help to understanding are the videos hosted on You Tube.



This site is currently available in German, although it is certainly better illustrated than most. The site owner says: Unfortunately my site is yet only in german. But I do have very nice videoclips of dogtricks. Under topic tricks, there are "Anf?nger" = beginner, "Fortgeschrittene" = advanced and "K?nner" = pro. Really great Video, the one I like most is "stehlen" which you can see under "K?nner"

Dog Tricks for Kids


Star Pets Animal Talent Agency


Games to Play with Your Dog
Mental exercise for your dog, and great bonding too.


Clicker Training

Clicker training is great for teaching tricks as well as agility, obedience and much more.

Great site. Lots of articles and real information on behavior and different methods of dog training. Includes articles addressing ideas for training tricks, and specific concerns like crate training. Maintained by Dr. M. Plonsky.

Love your dog - Teach your puppy a trick a day!

This is a blog that provides lots of ideas, but you probably will need to understand trick training to use them. The instructions on teaching the trick are brief.


Bow Wow Videos


Books and Video on Tricks Training

From more on Tricks
Mind Games for Dogs - Dogwise Solutions

Tricks for Better Thinking Skills DVD

The Best Dog Tricks On The Planet: 106 Amazing Things Your Dog Can Do On Command

Getting Braver: Tricks & Games for Your Fearful Dog
101 Dog Tricks: Step-by-Step Activities to Engage, Challenge, and Bond With your Dog Mind Games for Dogs - Dogwise Solutions

Tricks for Better Thinking Skills DVD

The Best Dog Tricks On The Planet: 106 Amazing Things Your Dog Can Do On Command

Getting Braver: Tricks & Games for Your Fearful Dog
Tricks for A Great Bond DVD        
Tricks for A Great Bond DVD        
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