Ask someone to teach their dog to “Heel” and we’re talking serious obedience training. Stern voice, repetition, and sometimes even frustration when we can’t get it right. Ask someone to teach their dog to “Shake Hands” and the mood lightens. It’s hard to be serious when you’re teaching your dog a trick.
Guess what? It’s ALL tricks!
You read that right! Even an obedience “Heel” is a trick as far as your dog is concerned. Whether the behaviour is important to you or just for fun, your pet is relying on you to give him clear information to help him succeed. He is using that information to figure out what behaviours will lead to fun things happening for him, and when he figures that out he will try it more often! That’s how learning works.
So why do we like to get our panties in a twist over our basic “obedience” behaviours?
We don’t have to, and indeed we are likely to see better results if we lighten up. By relaxing, being clear, and having fun, we are likely to be more thoughtful when training our pets. A training failure is a puzzle to solve, not a serious offence, and we can work towards a training goal in partnership with our dog rather than trying to drill a behaviour into his muscle memory.
In the training classes I instruct or assist with, I like to give owners a trick to teach their dog. The dogs always learn the trick faster than any of the “serious” stuff. Why? I think it is because the owners have no preconceived idea as to how to teach a trick, while they probably have taught sit, drop, or stay a certain way in the past. Without the baggage people are free to try teaching without force, and they see the results quickly. If the owner is having a great time, their dog is usually loving training too.
The important “tricks” vary from owner to owner as well. When Wilbur joined the Treat. Play. Love. family one of the first things i taught him was “Shake Hands”. Why? Because i had never owned a dog who could shake hands, and i’d always wanted one! That mattered to me. For someone else sitting at doors or retrieving may be more important, or perhaps that awesome down-stay. It’s not a matter of whether a behaviour is a “trick” or “obedience”, what really matters is if it is important to you, and that you and your dog enjoy the learning process together.
Train smart, not tough!