Most dog trainers pride themselves on having a dog who serves as a resume, and that’s why so many trainers’ dogs know so much. Sure, we teach our dogs sit, lie down, stand come, heel, leave it, wait at the door, to greet properly by not jumping up, not to jump on the furniture or take food from children and a host of other behaviors that make life pleasant. But those cues are really about teaching our dogs to be polite members of society.
The real fun for many trainers is teaching our dogs tricks, and the more creative, the better. Sure, a well-trained dog is likely to know how to crawl, beg, and roll over, but tricks can be a lot more elaborate and showy than that. Tricks tend to come and go in popularity, and a lot of great tricks are “in” right now.
Having your dog retrieve a tissue when you sneeze is always a crowd pleaser. Dogs who are naturally good retrievers learn this trick easily, and those who love the spotlight enjoy the merriment that human observers show when they perform it. It’s better not to teach this to dogs who eat tissues.
A great trick for playing practical jokes is teaching a dog to lift his leg as though he is marking, but not to actually urinate. People get very alarmed when a dog does this in the house, which can be fun for some people.
A great demonstration of fire safety is to ask a dog who is walking or running to do this series of behaviors in sequence in response to a single cue: lie down, rollover, crawl. That way, the dog is showing what to do if caught on fire—stop, drop, roll, and crawl to safety.
One of my favorite demos to do at school programs or career days is to tell a dog, “What happens when you smoke?” to which the correct response is to play dead. The actual cue I used to teach my dog is just the word “smoke” but I always used the whole sentence after he learned the trick.
And a perennial favorite is to teach a dog to put all the toys back into the toy box to one of two cues: “This place is a mess!” or “Tidy up!” It’s as practical as it is charming.