How to Become a Better Dog Trainer Through Tricks

Mr Snitch Pushing a Button to Open the Door

Want to be a good dog trainer?

I’m not even talking about training other people’s dogs, or training lots of dogs; I am talking about being a good dog trainer for your own dog!

I think trick training is crucial for good dog training!

Sounds silly right?

Dog training is all about obedience right?

Not necessarily!

Dog Training is All about COMMUNICATION

Some people and some dog trainers think that dog training is all about control.

And, sometimes they think control comes with physical manipulations and physical corrections (commonly known as leash corrections).

But the days of yacking leashes, and pushing dogs into sits and downs are slowly fading away.

Because the truth of the matter is that pushing your dog’s rump into a “sit” takes 3 times as long for him to learn how to do it himself than actually luring him into a sit or capturing a sit and rewarding it.

If your dog does the behavior by himself; then he realizes he doesn’t need YOU to do it for him.

If you force him into a sit, or a down or into doing whatever you are trying to teach, he is going to wait for you to physically manipulate him and do your part in his command.

The old ways of force and correction are out of style and rely on the dog either making a mistake, or waiting for a command before showing appropriate behavior.

For Example

Waiting to Be Placed in Car.  Thanks for the Photo

Waiting to Be Placed in Car.
Thanks for the Photo

Police Dog Showing His Athleticism

Police Dog Showing His Athleticism

I can’t tell you how many dogs I see that don’t jump into the car.

It is not that they CAN’T jump into the car; the problem is that the owner started picking up the puppy and putting it into the car and if they are lucky this then turns into lifting the rump up in the car.

I swear I wrestled a 140 # Rottweiler into a client’s car the other day!  I wonder what she does without me (her and her husband are in their 60s).

The dog doesn’t understand he can jump into the vehicle because no one has taught him to; instead he is picked up and forced into the vehicle and then this becomes habit.

He doesn’t understand that he needs to jump.

And, bad habits are hard to break.

But simply putting his meal in the car and waiting for him to jump in will teach him that he can jump into a vehicle unassisted.

Why Tricks Matter

Tricks require good reward and good timing!

And tricks are much more difficult to force!

Let’s Say I Want You to Teach Your Dog to Spindv413023

Let’s say I want you to teach your dog to spin in a circle both to the left and to the right on hand signal.  Now some dogs are natural spinners when they are excited; but most don’t do it for no reason.

But the good thing is you probably can’t grab your dog’s head and spin it toward his rear-end (good for him that is because it would probably scare and/or hurt him) and teach him to spin this way.

Most of us use a treat and a clicker and lure the dog around (more on luring in a moment); and we click once the dog has come full circle.

Click too soon and your dog won’t finish his circular pattern and click too late and your dog is probably doing something else.


Capturing a behavior is waiting for the behavior to occur and then rewarding or clicking that behavior.

So if I was teaching my dog to lie down, I would wait until the moment his elbows hit the floor and then I would click and reward.

The dog learns to continue the behaviors he was clicked for in order to continue being rewarded.  This is totally hands off!

You simply wait and reward behaviors you like.  This is also the quickest way (as proven by science) for dogs to learn.


Thanks Not in the Dog House for the Picture

Thanks Not in the Dog House for the Picture

Luring is using a treat placed at your dog’s nose and teaching him to follow it in order to get the food.

For example:  if I was teaching my dog to sit, I would put the treat up to his nose and then bring the treat up and back so that his rump would hit the ground.  When his rump hits (that exact moment), I would click and reward.

Luring isn’t quite as effective as capturing because your dog is still relying on you to some degree, however some behaviors must be lured because the dog does not show these behaviors: like spinning, or sitting pretty.

He learns to balance himself while “sitting pretty” or “begging” because he is attempting to get to the treat in your hand.

Now imagine physically manipulating your dog into a spin, or into a “beg” or “sitting pretty” pose where is rump is on the ground and his feet are in the air.  Can you imagine how hard it would be for your dog to figure out how to do this and balance himself on his own without your manipulation or help?

Eventually he might figure it out, but I think it would be very difficult.

Timing is really important in trick training.

And, yet if you screw up the timing during trick training or the trick… it isn’t as horrifying as rewarding a bad behavior or teaching your dog something detrimental to his regular obedience.

Training Service Dogs

I got really, really good at my timing while training Service Dogs.

That is not to say that I don’t occasionally click too soon or too late or confuse the dog.  We all make mistakes in our training and these help teach us better timing and technique.

But Service Dog tasks are like “tricks”.

  • Turning on and off lights
  • Opening Doors
  • Finding the Phone
  • Retrieving
  • Jumping on Objects
  • Crawling in Objects
  • Pulling a Wheelchair
  • The list could go on and on

And, although they are not “tricks” because another person relies on these tasks for independence; they are kind of hard to FORCE and they all require good timing!

So If You Want to Be a Good and Successful Dog Trainer

If you want to become a good dog trainer teach your dog some tricks.

Not only is it fun (because no one is getting yelled at or corrected for making a mistake) for both of you; it is crucial to learning to become a team and communicating effectively.

And, who doesn’t like a great trick?

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  1. Susan Murray says:

    I am really enjoying your email tips on dog training. When i ordered them i was expecting to get a young dog but as life turned out, i adopted a shelter dog that someone had already trained to a fare-the=well. She still needs some training in ignoring distractions, (I am convinced she was a complete city dog) and other things country life offers. How anyone could have turned her over to a shelter I cannot imagine but she is one of God’s gifts to me.


  2. Tricia says:

    Chet, this might be one of my favorite articles I have read on this site! I am definitely using this. This will benefit the training if my dog Stu and make my job lots easier. Do you have any articles on how to get your dog to pay attention longer? Because that would be great for Stu! Thanks Chet!


    Minette Reply:

    search my articles for eye contact and focus and patience!


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