Ask the Trainer: Can All Dogs Learn Tricks?


QOur dog Sparkles is just a bit over one year old, and my kids and I think she’s ready to start learning some tricks. She already knows how to sit and stay, as well as some other basic commands. Are all dogs capable of learning tricks? What are some good basic tricks to start with? Is it bad to use food as a reward?

In other words, you wish to know if tricks are just for kids?! Absolutely not. I’m sure young Sparkles would benefit from some simple trick training. Trick training is good mental exercise for your pup and adds to the goal of teaching your dog the premier skill of focusing and listening to your commands.

As to what basic tricks to start with, consider the breed of your dog. For small breed dogs, it is fairly easy to teach them to walk on their hind legs or to crawl. For large breeds, you may wish to stick to rolling over on command and/or giving high fives.

Food treats are fine for teaching tricks. In fact, most of the tricks I’ve mentioned could be mastered by guiding Sparkles through the mechanics of the trick with a treat in your hand. Be sure and use a hand signal as well as a voice command so she “associates” your signal with the desired action. Almost all dog tricks are simply variations of the core commands of sit, down, stay, heel, and come. If you have taught Sparkles the “down” command, then with some patience, treats, and lots of repetitions, you can teach her to crawl.

Some more general tips: Do not neglect the basic commands of sit, stay, heel, come and down. Reserve the treats for tricks and don’t use treats with the basic core commands. Finally, remember that puppies have short attention spans, so keep the lessons short and fun. Several quick lessons spread out daily over several weeks should give your pup mastery of many tricks.

All dogs are capable of learning tricks! The only difficulty is that not all humans possess the patience needed to teach them.

ABOUT the Trainer: Sanford (Sandy) Finley is the owner and senior trainer at Perfect Manners Dog Training, serving Metro Chicago. Sandy has over 30 years experience in dog training and canine behaviorism. He is an author and lecturer on dog behavior, and has trained dogs for the military, therapy applications, and obedience. He founded Perfect Manners Dog Training in 2006 with the goal of training family dogs to be the perfect canine members of the contemporary household.

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