How to Teach Your Dog Tricks in Just a Few Minutes a Day

Zoe the Pug puppy snorts and stamps her feet impatiently as I talk with her owner. We have worked a bit on Zoe’s greeting manners, but she clearly wants more interaction. Our goal is to shake up her training regimen to keep her impressive brainpower humming, so I dig deep in my training bag and pull out a plastic clicker and a handful of yummy treats. I hand both of these to Zoe’s owner. She makes the click sound and then dispenses a treat.

This is the first step toward a more creative canine. Clicker Training, also known as Operant Conditioning, allows the dog to self-teach, since the dog performs proactively to score the reward. With a cheap plastic clicker and a handful of treats, you can train your dog to do tricks in just a few minutes a day.

Try these tips when you’re training:

Take advantage of the appetite

A pooch with a pre-dinner appetite is a big plus, so cut up oodles of meaty treats in small pieces. Nature’s Recipe Training Treats are the right size and nicely priced, too. Click just once and immediately dispense a treat. You are showing her that the sound of the click means a treat is coming. Do this ten times. Now you have her full attention.

Wait it out

This is the hard part for most of us. Say and do nothing. Just wait and see what your dog dishes up. Most dogs will run through their laundry list of commands and tricks to make that wonderful click noise happen again. Mark the first thing that pleases you with a click and then pop a treat in her waiting mouth.

Time it just right

Once your dog figures out that performing an action makes the click and treat happen, her speed and desire will increase. Be sure you click as soon as the action occurs. Don’t talk just yet; the click is motivator enough, as evidenced by your dog staring holes in you between clicks.

Add to the challenge

Now increase the behavior by withholding the click sound until your dog does something else. Zoe the Pug was already doing a fast Sit and getting the click and treat, so I withheld that reinforcement. Zoe became frustrated and pawed the air to beg for it. Click and treat! I waited again and she offered up a paw in the air. Click, treat, and now we have a Wave skill.

Zoe now sits at attention and snorts happily when the clicker comes out. She’s offering up some cute tricks, and with a little coaching, her owner learned how to prompt these new behaviors with cue words and hand signals. Her owner proudly reports that Zoe’s expanding skill set is the life of every cocktail party.

Let’s see some photos or video of your dog doing something cute, and tell us how you did it. I’m learning from you, too!