Four Ways to Improve Trick Training

It's National Train Your Dog month and it's also time for another positive training blog hop! The timing couldn't be better. With the cooler weather of winter, many of us are grasping at straws for ways to have some fun with our pups while remaining cozy near the fire.

When learning new tricks, the poodles and I have a few recommendations of things to keep in mind to maintain a fun and relaxed atmosphere.

1. Choose your treats wisely. Some tricks don't require anything too fancy, a few kibble will do. However, other, perhaps more challenging, tricks require something a little more high value. For example, recently Teddy learned 'touch' with the aid of clicker and a few kibbles. He picked it up in 5 minutes.The next day we tried 'spin' and he kept wanting to roll-over instead (I've since changed my approach with this to avoid confusion). When he realized he wasn't getting it, he would get bored/frustrated and start to walk off. When I switched to real grilled chicken breast, he was more motivated and focused on the deliciousness in my hand.We're getting there, slowly by surely!

Teddy doing 'touch'.
 2. Stop before you both get frustrated. Sometimes these things take time. If you find yourself starting to feel frustrated, switch gears and do a few tricks that your dog does successfully. Dogs can get 'frustrated' too and lose focus, so don't push it to this point. Walk away and come back later. Leave the training session on a positive note, not a negative one.

3. Try a clicker. If you aren't already familiar with clickers, I encourage you to read-up on them. They help to reinforce the correct behavior, as we are able to click at exactly the correct timing to indicate reward. When used in conjunction with treats, it helps your dog to know they're on the right track. Clickers aren't expensive, but if you want to save a few pennies you can use a jar lid instead.

Try a clicker!
4. Chose tricks that meet your dog's needs. This one is especially relevant if you have a special needs, or senior dog. D'Art, for example, is good with tricks that require sitting, standing or lying down. I wouldn't ask him to turn off a light switch (what we call "hit the light"), because he wouldn't be able to stand on his hind legs comfortably (he is 11 after all!) Teddy, on the other hand, is full of bouncy energy and will happily jump through hoops or stand on his hind legs.

D'Art doing 'shake'.
Have fun trying a few new tricks with your dog! You'll be amazed at how satisfied you both feel, even after a brief 5 minute training session.


  1. Ditto! Excellent tips. I can't use the clicker anymore, because Zoey is now afraid of it. When Scout saw her reaction, he decided it couldn't be trusted either. *sigh*

    We've been working on "take it gently." And this year, my goal is to get Zoey and Scout into nose work.

  2. Thanks for the reminder to keep training sessions positive and always end on a success! I have abandoned behaviors I wanted to teach for months because the method I had learned to teach it was not working. Eventually, after a little research, with a new trick or two up my sleeve, a positive attitude and the right motivation (treats!) the dog learned the trick faster than the time it took to fail at it before. I am so glad you all are keeping busy with training this winter! Thanks for joining the hop.

  3. Thanks for joining the hop! I have to be careful to make sure Mr. N doesn't get frustrated. He doesn't like being wrong.

  4. Great tips! A clicker gets the point across so much faster than a marker word for my dogs.

  5. Great tips! That first one... It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure that one out, but once I did, it revolutionized our training. Being able to whip out something spectacular when needed rather than using the good stuff for regular training, the boys' motivation was easier to capture.

  6. One of the first things we learned when we took Luke to a trainer was the importance of high value treats! We like to mix them up a lot now too, high and low value together, and that works great for him.
    Luke is a whiz at clicker training, but his older sisters are not so much; so I also learned how different each dog can be! These are all excellent tips!

  7. Great suggestions! I recently started timing my clicker sessions and try to keep each session to 1.5 minutes (but do lots of sessions in a day). It's great for both me and my dogs - no one gets bored or frustrated!

    I have one dog for whom high value treats almost never work. He gets so obsessed with the treats that he can't think straight or learn anything. He's a unique one - that's for sure!


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