A Trick a Day Keeps Boredom Away

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
2-minute read

Bored dogs can't go on Facebook or break out the sudoku. So they find dog-brain-friendly ways to pass the time, such as foraging (= nabbing food), exercising their jaws (= chewing your shoes), and surveying the perimeter (= barking at everybody who passes by the house). But hey, there are only so many hours in the day. You can crowd out "undesirable" (to us!) activities by tiring your dog's brain and body so she spends her free time napping instead.

Why am I focusing on trick training, rather than general manners training? Because for many of us, manners feel like high-stakes training. Tricks are just for fun. Low stakes means less pressure on both the dog and the person. And -- big secret here -- from your dog's point of view, there's no difference. Manners? Tricks? If you teach with a light heart and plenty of rewards, it's all tricks to her. Have enough fun and it'll all be tricks to you, as well.

Here's one easy but slightly uncommon trick: backing up on cue. You'll need a clicker and a good supply of tiny, tasty treats. Oh, and a dog.

To teach your dog to back up, start with her standing in front of you, facing you.

  1. Lean forward, or take one step forward.
  2. As you do so, look for your dog to shift her body weight back or to take a step back.
  3. Catch that movement with a click (or a "Yes!") and immediately give your dog a treat.
  4. Repeat about half a dozen times, till your dog is confidently taking a whole step back as soon as you start to lean forward. Click and treat each time.
  5. Now, when your dog takes one step back, don't click --  wait her out for a count of 5. She'll probably take a second step back. Click and treat!

As you practice, start holding out for your dog to take more steps backward before you click and treat, until she's backing up as much as you want.  You can add a cue at this point -- like, oh, "Back up." Say your cue just before you lean forward. Your dog will learn that the sound "Back up" predicts that you're about to lean forward and that she can earn treats for backing up. Practice in several places and with you and your dog in different positions, so she can learn that "Back up" means the same thing no matter when she hears it.

For more, check out Mary Ray's nifty little book Dog Tricks. And here are some trick-training videos you might like: Ride a skateboard Wipe your feet (for once, the YouTube comments are helpful!) Double dutch (no, really)

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).