Most dog trainers love the process of teaching dogs new skills as much as they love the results. That’s why so many of us have dogs who are better than a résumé at showing what we can do. Our dogs sit, lie down, heel, stay and come on cue; wait patiently at the house or car door until told to proceed; or back away from food on the floor rather than scarf it up. The love of training also means that dog trainers are particularly inclined to teach their dogs tricks.
Many people consider dog tricks completely frivolous, or at least think that time spent training dogs to do them could be better invested in teaching useful skills. But if people realized the practical value of tricks, they might be willing to engage their dogs in learning a few. Many tricks offer more than just charming performance opportunities; here are eight that fall in that category.
Crawl. I used to ask my dog to do this when I lived on a farm in Wisconsin and he got muddy walking through the fields. Depending on the season, I would have him crawl through snow or over grass to clean up a bit before we went inside.
Shake. I ask dogs to present a paw on cue when cutting their nails, or at the vet to make a blood draw easier. It’s also useful for checking for pad injuries or just toweling off wet paws after a walk.
Belly up. This cue tells dogs to lie on their backs with their legs in the air. Most often, I ask a dog to do this to get a belly rub, but it can also help a vet perform an examination more easily.
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Beg. This is another way to get a dog to expose the belly, and I like to ask a dog to beg when I need to pull off burrs or seeds. If a dog’s balance is good, “beg” can also be a way to position a dog for a quick brush of the belly fur.
What? This is a cue to cock the head, which makes photos of dogs especially endearing no matter what position they’re in. The less time you spend trying to get dogs into specific poses, the more likely they are to have a nice expression on their face.
Bow. Having a dog perform a play bow on cue is more than just a cute trick; it can also help dogs who are a bit awkward or nervous around other dogs. The play bow is a social signal that means “What follows is playful in nature,” and performing one near other dogs can mean that social interactions start off on the right paw, easing tensions caused by confusing or unexpected behavior.
Up. I use this as a cue to jump or step onto something; it’s a great way to get big dogs to stand on the vet’s scale. It is even more useful when combined with a solid stay, but that’s not always essential.
Dry off. This cue, which tells dogs to shake their whole body, is a way to have dogs shake off excess water before coming inside after a walk in the rain or a bath.
Being able to ask a dog to perform a behavior makes many situations less anxiety provoking. If our dogs need to perform a certain behavior, either for medical reasons or to further that fruitless, endless pursuit of cleanliness, it’s better to be able to communicate what we want than to physically manipulate them. Even if we have their best interests in mind, our dogs have no way of knowing that. Rather than grab them, lift them or push them around—however gently—it’s advantageous just to be able to tell them what we want and have them do it on their own. Tricks involve dogs putting their bodies (or at least parts of them!) in all sorts of positions, and that variety of movement and behavior is what gives tricks their practical value.