I’ve always loved watching social media videos of dogs doing fun tricks! Hero the Border Collie and Secret the Aussie are two of my favorites! It’s not only fun to watch, but amazing to see the intelligence of the dogs and the relationship between them and their humans!
Both June Bug and Kona Bean have their AKC Advanced Trick Dogs titles, of which I’m very proud. But even more than the ribbons, I have LOVED training them to do tricks because of the ways tricks training has improved our relationships. Tricks training provides a mental outlet for my smart dogs, reinforces puzzle solving and using their brains, reinforces impulse control and focus, and teaches them to trust in me when I’m asking them to do things that aren’t necessarily normal dog behaviors.
The mental outlet provided by tricks training has been a game changer for my girls! While physical exercise is very important, this mental exercise keeps the edge off their abundant energy. Working their brains by learning tricks drains their energy just as well as a long walk or game of fetch. And on rainy days, when we don’t have many other options, tricks training often helps me keep my sanity when they’re suffering from cabin fever.
In addition to the mental outlet, I honestly believe that tricks training has made my dogs smarter. It forces them to think through their behaviors and puzzle out if/then situations. My dogs often offer trick behaviors even when I don’t ask for them because they are trying to earn treats or my attention and have learned that “waving” or “sitting pretty” or “rolling over” are possible answers. It’s fascinating and rewarding to watch their minds working in that way.
The development and maintenance of focus is also rewarding in itself! When I’m engaging with my dogs – asking for certain behaviors and rewarding their efforts – they learn to focus on me instead of their environment. Essentially, through tricks training, I have become more valuable to my dogs than many environmental distractions. They are more focused and calm when out in public because we have practiced tricks not only at home, but around the neighborhood, at the park, and in our local Home Depot. Tricks training with distractions is an awesome way to reinforce impulse control!
All of these things lead into the best, most valuable benefit of tricks training, which is that it helps you build a foundation of trust in your relationship. Most tricks that we teach our dog aren’t behaviors that dogs would naturally do. As such, when you reward them for getting out of their comfort zone (and then nothing bad happens), they learn to trust that behaviors that aren’t necessarily natural or normal for them aren’t so scary. June does not like when things move under her feet, but now she can push a skateboard! Working through these things also reinforces that staying focused on you and offering desired behaviors means more treats/attention!
If you haven’t tried any tricks training, there are some great resources online. If you’d like more guidance, you can schedule a lesson with your local trainer to get started! There are also many different titles you can pursue, such as AKC’s CGC and Trick Dog Titles. It doesn’t take much to get started and the benefits are absolutely worth the time!