As a field, we’ve done a pretty good job of teaching dog owners that they need to give their dogs physical exercise. However, we haven’t been as good about teaching people how important mental exercise – often called brain work – is for your dog. I have worked with many dogs that get a decent amount of physical exercise, but still get into trouble around the house on a regular basis. This can manifest in a number of ways, including barking, destructiveness, and constant bids for attention (jumping, mouthing, stealing things, etc.). It can even contribute to more serious issues like aggression and separation anxiety. (If you think your dogs have these issues, please consult with a qualified behavior consultant before trying to address it on your own – we are happy to help you with any concerns you have).
In many cases, one of the missing pieces is lack of mental stimulation. Many in the field refer to this as giving your dog a “job”. It wasn’t so long ago that many dogs spent most of their days roaming free around the neighborhood. This provided physical exercise, yes, but also all kinds of mental and social enrichment. We need to make up for the loss of that ability to explore by providing our dogs with opportunities to use their brains. There are many ways to do this and I wrote a blog post awhile ago on a number of strategies for reducing your dog’s indoor energy levels – please check that out here. Today I want to focus on the benefits of training tricks.
Why I Love Tricks
I love tricks for a number of reasons.
- They are fun which relieves a lot of the pressure that comes from other training. If your dog doesn’t stay when asked and jumps on your guests instead, it causes stress and that can bleed over into your training. If your dog doesn’t spin when asked, it’s not the end of the world. This puts less pressure on both you and the dog and allows training to be simply fun. For the record, I think all training should – and can be – fun, but it’s easy to keep it “light” when working on tricks!
- Many tricks are relatively easy to teach – both to owners and to dogs. This means that human and dog can start off easy, get results quickly and get lots of reinforcment to build motivation before moving into more challenging tricks.
- There are other tricks that are much more challenging. This always gives you something new to work on and really adds to the mental enrichment for your dog. It will also make you a better trainer (and your dog a better learner) which will also help with other more “serious” types of training.
- They are a great crowd pleaser! It’s always nice to be able to show off your dog and tricks are a great was to do so. Again – lots of positive reinforcement for both the dog and the owner.
- They can be beneficial for dogs with aggression, fear and anxiety issues. Tricks can build confidence which can be very beneficial to dogs that are shy or fearful. You can also use tricks to keep a dog busy and focused on you so that they are less likely to notice/react to other scary or distracting things going on around them. Finally, as I mentioned above, increasing brain work can also indirectly (or sometimes directly) help with a number of behavior issues, including aggression. (Again, if you’re having major issues with your dog, please contact us for more direct help with this issue).
What should you do if you are interested in learning to teach your dog tricks? If you are local and your dog is able to take group classes, please check out our classes page for upcoming tricks classes. We are also in the process of putting together an online class for those who are unable to get their dog to class for one reason or another. Here are a couple teaser videos to get you started! Trainers and behavior consultants – please feel free to share these with your clients!
What tricks to you love teaching your dog? How have you used tricks to enhance your and your dog’s life? Answer in the comments below!
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