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How to Teach Your Dog to Do Tricks in 5 Easy Steps

Cholee has been training her dogs for years using these exact same methods.

Ready for training

Ready for training

Training a dog can be hard work, and training a puppy can prove to be even harder. With this five-step guide, you can learn how to teach your dog in a fast and easy way. Everyone wants a well-behaved and obedient dog. However, training schools can be expensive and a major time commitment. If a dog can learn tricks, they can learn obedience and manners from you as well.

Not only will these steps work for simple one-word commands like "sit" or "stay," but they work for teaching your dog complex multi-step tricks like catching a frisbee or playing dead. This guide can also be used to teach obedience, boundaries, and eliminate unwanted behaviors (such as jumping).

Before starting with these five steps, remember to train your dog when they are in a calm state of mind and ready to focus on a certain task. Try not to train right after feeding or while your dog is in a high-energy state of mind. Set realistic goals that will help set the pace for learning and keep you and your dog from getting frustrated or bored. Every dog is different, and these steps will not work for every dog. They may have to be altered slightly depending on your dog's temperament. It's up to you to discover what works best for you and your pup.

Always maintain dominance and ensure that your dog knows who the boss is. In order for training to work, you need to maintain your position as a pack leader so your pet will follow you and your commands. Below you will find each of the five steps laid out with descriptions, ideas for how to implement these steps, as well as tricks and other obedience training ideas to try with your furry friend.

Step One: Be the Pack Leader

If you show yourself as the pack leader, your dog is going to show you more respect and in return listen to what you tell them. A positive and firm pack leader gains respect and obedience from their dog. If you allow your dog to assume the role of pack leader, you are ultimately setting yourself up for failure and a lifetime of disobedience and destructive behaviors.

Dogs generally do not become dominant overnight. This tends to happen over several weeks if not months. It's important to watch for dominant behavior from the beginning so you can eliminate it and show the dog that you are indeed the alpha of the pack. Some behaviors such as growling and biting are common amongst alpha dogs, however, there are also many other uncommon behaviors that dogs will use to show they are dominant not only over other dogs, but humans as well.

Common attempts at showing dominance include:

  • Sitting on furniture or other high places: By sitting taller than you, they have the ability to look down on you and show their dominance. Sitting on furniture when not allowed is also a sign of disobedience and a way for them to show they are trying to be the alpha in the pack.
  • Begging or demanding: This can be seen as trying to become dominant. Dogs should not be given the opportunity to demand or beg for anything. Giving in to their wants shows them they can get what they want with a simple look. The more you give them what they are asking for the more dominant and demanding they will become.
  • Guarding specific people: Most of the time people tend to find this reassuring and "protective" behavior, but in actuality, this kind of behavior means the dog believes he owns the person. By not allowing other people to approach or get close they are taking over whom one can interact with.
  • Trying to take lead on a leash/going outdoors first: Never allow your dog to do either of these things. By taking lead whether that be on a leash or simply walking through a door, your pet is showing that you must follow them and therefore are less dominant than them.
  • Sitting on you or your feet, or insisting on sleeping on you or your bed is also a sign that they feel they are superior to you.

Dogs are not born leaders. However, if given the chance, many will become dominant and assume the role of pack leader. It is important to look for signs of dominance and stop them immediately. If these kinds of behavior are left unchanged, you will have an alpha dog that is almost impossible to train, handle, and even care for.

Ceasar Millan has some great resources on how to determine if your dog has submissive or dominant tendencies as well as how to deter certain behaviors. If you find yourself having trouble becoming the pack leader, I highly recommend trying out his guides and following his advice to become the alpha of your pack.

Step Two: Maintain Patience and Consistency

As a pack leader, you need to show respect and patience to your dog. A short-tempered pack leader will lose respect from their dog and the dog will be less likely to respond in the way you want. Keeping the training time consistent will help your dog understand what is expected of them at certain times of the day.

Rewards should also be given in a consistent manner as well. This also goes for any type of reward. If you are going to use treats, stick to the same treats and vary that treat from other treats you give for other reasons or just because.

If you find your pet not listening take a look at how you are portraying yourself. Are you calm, nervous, uncertain, angry? Dogs can read the energy one is emitting and will take action based on that energy. In order to have a successful training session, one needs to be calm but assertive. Any form of nervous energy and a dog that is trying to be the leader of the pack will feed on that energy and take over.

Step Three: Keep Sessions Short

Much like children, dogs have short attention spans and get bored easily. If training lasts too long they can become antsy, unfocused, and irritated. Keep sessions 10 to 15 minutes long to keep your dog's attention on the task at hand. With the sessions being short, you can create up to three mini-training sessions daily. Although the sessions are short, make sure to keep the sessions fun and exciting to keep your dog engaged.

Mini sessions are ideal, because repetition helps increase memorization, and makes learning go faster. Having up to three sessions can also create a sense of purpose which is very important for certain breeds.

Training is not going to happen overnight, but by having multiple consistent times throughout the day you can shorten the amount of time overall it will take for your pet to grasp the task at hand.

Step Four: Use Hand Motions

Dogs respond highly to hand motions and quick noises like clicks and whistles. By incorporating them into your training sessions you can help your dog learn faster. For example when teaching your dog to sit, rather than just saying sit; use your hand to gently help your dog sit as you say the word sit. As you get farther along in training, you will even be able to forgo speaking and use simple hand gestures or finger snaps to tell your dog what you want them to do.

I like to incorporate little whistles, clicks, and signs into my training sessions, by having each whistle or click mean something different. It helps the dog to understand that each different noise they hear stands for something else and makes it easier for them to know what is expected. I find that these types of noises and hand motions keep my dog's attention and helps them learn faster.

  • "Sit": A closed fist works great for this command.
  • "Stay"/"Come": I like to start with a closed fist (makes the dog sit and more likely to stay), then I slowly open it while saying stay. When I've walked a few feet I slowly rotate my hand (so the palm is facing me) and motion for the dog to come while saying "come."
  • "Lay Down": An open, flat hand with a motion towards the ground works great for this command. After your dog has mastered this command, you will not even need to tell your pet to lay down. All you need to do is a simple hand motion and they will go lay down on their own.
  • Yard boundaries: I like to use little clicks or a series of whistles to keep my pet within certain boundaries. We have a "bathroom" section of our backyard where all the dogs must go to relieve themselves. Sometimes this can be hard to train, but generally, dogs will use the same area by nature. However, I find that when they forget, a simple whistle brings them back to the area they are supposed to use. I use the same idea for when my dog is walking too close to the property line. A simple snap of the fingers or click of the tongue and she's back where she belongs.

You can incorporate any type of motion or sound you like into your training as long as you are consistent about what you are choosing and when you are using them. In the beginning, it's a good idea to have a certain hand motion or sound for each individual trick or behavior you are trying to accomplish. This will ensure your dog understands exactly what you are trying to say.

Step Five: Give Constant Praise

Get excited and always praise your dog for doing what you wanted them to do. For dogs that are food-oriented, rewarding with treats or even a simple piece of dog food, is a great way to get them to continue doing what you ask. After about a week or two, your dog should be able to do the trick without the treats.

Dogs that are not food-driven will do well with "good boy/girl", or head pats. The important thing is to reward and praise right away. Dogs live in the moment and they need to be reassured they are doing the right thing in the moment as it happens. They will not understand praise or discipline after the fact.

Easy-to-Train Dog Breeds

All dogs are capable of learning and being taught obedience and tricks, however, certain breeds tend to be easier to train. Working, herding, and hunting breeds are some of the easiest dogs to train due to their intelligence and high energy. This is not a complete list of easy-to-train dogs, but rather a scratch on the surface to some of the most popular dog breeds owned today, that in my opinion are the easiest to train.

  • Retrievers: Golden and Labradors are both sporting breeds and are very intelligent. They are easy to train but tend to get bored easily and enjoy new challenges. Train these breeds with firmness, consistency, and rewards. These dogs also benefit from praise and constant exercise.
  • Poodles: Non-sporting, however, they have one of the highest intelligence levels of any breed of dog. With a personality of wanting to please their owners coupled with their high intelligence, they are extremely easy to train. Train poodles with firm confidence or they will assume a dominant role and take over the pack.
  • Shepherds and collies: Australian and German Shepherds along with Border Collies are all herding dogs. These breeds tend to be stubborn so socialization and training should start when they are puppies for best results. Stubborn dogs tend to be more dominant and require a firm and calm leader. These dogs are smart and responsive and need to be mentally stimulated to be happy. They react well to training and love learning new things. Train these breeds with firm confidence, consistency, and rewards.

The key to training any dog is patience and consistency. If you can prove to be a great pack leader training will come easy to both you and your dog. When first starting to train your dog stick with a common place so you and your dog know it's time to train whenever you go to that place.

Later in the training, you can move to parks and other places so your dog will perform their tricks where ever you go. Most dogs are eager to learn and please so training will be easy once you establish yourself as the pack leader and have a consistent time for training sessions. A well-trained dog is a happy dog.

© 2012 Cholee Clay


Cholee Clay (author) from Wisconsin on April 11, 2012:

Thanks Robin. My puppy was housebroken within a day too:) But we had my fiance's dog to help train her. I love German Shepherds, they are smart yet can be stubborn. A unique set of personalities for sure.

Robin Edmondson from San Francisco on April 11, 2012:

This is great information for the new dog owner. We have a German Shepherd that is incredibly smart but was hard to train. In a lot of areas she was easy, e.g., she was housebroken in one day, but she was incredibly willful. I think she was too smart and knew when she couldn't be controlled (off leash.) She was, however, always submissive to us and the kids that were around and incredibly sweet - thank God! She's older now and I can't imagine having another dog.

Cholee Clay (author) from Wisconsin on April 09, 2012:

I completely agree cardelean! Sometimes those kids can be a handful. Dogs aren't always the best behaved either. Thanks for stopping by and commenting:)

cardelean from Michigan on April 09, 2012:

Great information. Reminds me a little of training kids! :)

Cholee Clay (author) from Wisconsin on April 08, 2012:

Thanks for stopping by and commenting Josh Tucker.

Cholee Clay (author) from Wisconsin on April 05, 2012:

Thanks for stopping by and commenting Teresa Coppens. Hope your sons find it useful!

Teresa Coppens from Ontario, Canada on April 05, 2012:

Awesome hub. I will pass the info on to my sons who love to work with their dog.