How Can Trick-Training Help You?

If you’re new to the training game, start small, with a targeting exercise, for example.  Targeting exercises can easily be approximated into bigger behaviors, giving you a way to teach the same behaviors in several ways, and teaching your dog an important lesson… that more than 1 behavior gains reinforcement (this mindset is huge!  Old style training (coercive training methods) taught that “if you offer anything but what I’m asking for, you’ll get hurt. "  This training method teaches that “you might get reinforced for a lot of things… or maybe I’m only looking for one behavior… the rest might be rewarded tomorrow.”)  In addition, trick training serves a lot of other purposes:

  • Teaching your dog tricks is an easy way to teach him (and yourself) How to Play the training game, without risking something (behavior wise) important… it lets you practice things like reinforcement timing, methods, schedules and types without sacrificing the “more important” tricks like “sit” and “down” in the process.  For example, if you use loose leash walking to teach your dog the training game (and teach yourself in the process), you can end up reinforcing accidentally some behaviors that you don’t really want to, and then have to work at re-teaching a “cleaner” version of that behavior.  Instead, use something easy like targeting your hand to teach both of you what to expect and how to reinforce, and you’re not “muddying the water” on a behavior that’s more important than “touch my hand with your nose”.  It really is an easier way to get this game going.

  • At the same time, remember that if you DO inadvertently reward a behavior (or not), it's not a big deal, in the grand scheme of things. The teaching methodology is very forgiving in this respect: if you feel you've "messed up", it's very easy to 'go back' and effect a change.

  • Trick training gives you more ways to help de-stress your dog in situations (like the vet’s office) that stress him (and you) out (instead of just “sit” and “down”, you’ll have a whole list of little things that your dog can do to keep himself and you on a more even keel in stressful situations) while you also reinforce benign or even wanted behaviors offered in the process.

  • As your dog becomes more comfortable in performing them, each individual trick starts to take on the qualities of their reinforcers… they become reinforcement for other behaviors (this one is really powerful!!  In fact, it's so powerful that it has it's own name... the Premack Principle).

  • A lot of tricks lend themselves really well to teaching methods like “targeting”… using a stick or a piece of paper  (or your hand, etc.) to teach your dog to touch the implement with their nose or paw, then transferring this behavior to teach them service-oriented behaviors like “turn the light on/off”

  • Become a member of the website to gain access to the step-by-step instructions for teaching these tricks, and more!

Brenda Rushman CCBC