Throwback Thursday: Starting Tricks

I’ve been training tricks with Rugby for several years now.  He knows several very well, and we always have new ones that we’re working on from time to time, to give him some new challenges.

I’ve owned and lived with dogs my entire life, give or take a few years when I was in-between dogs, but the vast majority of my life has been shared with a dog or dogs.  Rugby is unlike any other dog I’ve owned, and I’ve done things with him that I never did with other dogs.  One of those things is tricks.

Truth be told, I think I was a bit of a “trick snob.”  I always did a big eye roll when dogs performed tricks.  I never could see a value for having a dog do silly things like Shake Hands, Roll Over, Bow, Sit Pretty, or Spin in a Circle.  Why care?  Why waste my time teaching those things, when “real” things can be taught like Sit/Stay, Down/Stay, Heel, Place, Come, Stand/Stay, etc.  Commands are life saving, important things every dog should learn and know well.  Tricks are just silly nonsense, aren’t they?

Well, as I’ve learned in the eight years I’ve shared with Rugby, he’s had a different way of looking at things, and he’s opened my eyes to new things more than once.  I’ve been able to enjoy many happy accidents along the way, all because of a fur covered hot mess of speckles and spots named Rugby James!

One of those happy accidents has been tricks!  Oh my do I love to train tricks to dogs!!  I can’t believe I waited so long to give them a try!  If it hadn’t been for Rugby, I think I never would have ever tried them!  He’s the sole reason that I started training them, and it’s because he was naughty all evening long.

When Rugby was newer in our home, we hadn’t quite figured out how much exercise he needed to wear him out.  The honest truth is that in the early days, we simply couldn’t wear him out.  End of story.  That puppy had more energy than three dogs put together.  And we just didn’t quite know what to do with all of his energy, and because of that, he caused some naughty behavior at home…just as we were trying to relax.

He often did something I call “shopping.”  He would wander around the house, looking high and looking low…for something to get into!  He would be like a Ninja….swooping and stealing….with stealth!  And then he paraded in front of us with his stolen goods, just tempting us to come get it!  Someone was always saying, “Who left their shoes out?”  or “Who didn’t put the remote control away?”  Rugby turned the hours of seven to nine pm into his naughty playground virtually every single night.

Well I didn’t spend my days training other naughty dogs to come home and scold my own every night!  So I knew I had to get that dog busy doing something.  He already knew his basic commands, and performed them with ease day in and day out!  He was bored working the same old commands all the time, and his behavior while we worked was quick evidence of that.

So I finally decided that I was going to have to break down and try some tricks.  Anything to keep Rugby busy for a couple of hours to wear him out so that I didn’t just allow him to form habits of behavior that I knew I didn’t want.  He already had plenty enough of those!

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So I really just started out messing around with him.  I didn’t have any books about trick training, and I didn’t have a clue really how to do it.  So I just started out messing around with him.  Rugby loved to jump, so I tried to do things that tied in with his love of jumping.  However, he was still a young dog, so I was very, very careful not to stress his hips or shoulders by jumping anything high, although I did teach him to jump into my arms and let me catch him, and also up on my shoulders to go for a shoulder ride.

I started out sitting on the floor, my back to the sofa.  I lured Rugby to jump over my legs with a treat and he jumped right over and gobbled up the treat.  Then I bent up my knees a bit and taught him to crawl under them, again, just luring him along with a treat.  I kneeled down on one knee and Rugby would jump over the bent knee, turn around and crawl right back under that bent knee.  He loved doing this stuff, and stayed focused for as long as I was working with him!

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Over time, I added other simple tricks, Spin in a Circle, Twirl meant spin in the opposite direction.  I added jump over a stick and jump through a hula hoop, held low to the ground.  He quickly learned shake paws, high five, and touch with his nose.

And the rest, I suppose is just history.  Rugby loves tricks.  He loves work of any kind.  He enjoys the challenges of problem solving, which is why I love tricks and puzzles so very much.  They have been wonderful tools in our home, and the memories of time I’ve spent with Rugby learning things is priceless to me.  I really think much of the trust Rugby learned with me, he learned from doing tricks and puzzles.

I’m so glad I had a naughty dogger who just wanted me to expand my horizons and be open minded enough to learn some new skills and give him the fun and work that he wanted all along!

005 (Click on this link for a short video)




  1. says

    Oh gosh, I used to be a "trick snob" just like you! I thought having dogs do tricks was purely a way to entertain the humans! When we took Luke to a private trainer to reinforce his basics, we decided to try clicker training for those things, but in the process ended up learning just how smart he was and that helped me decide to try tricks. It was one of the best decisions ever, because now both Luke and I have so much fun with it!

    I love the leg weaving - I think I might give that a try. My hubby thought Luke was too tall for it, but one time Luke went right through my legs on route to somewhere, so I think it might be possible. If not, I can still have him just go around me like you were also doing with Rugby. "Crawl" is also something we haven't tried yet. There's really no end to the things they can do, right?

    • Sally says

      Hi Jan!

      Thanks so much for taking time to read the blog and comment!

      I'm glad to know that I'm not all alone with my old "trick snobbery" attitude! I can't tell you the number of dogs I have trained who simply LOVE to do tricks!! I really think the primary reason is that it gives them opportunities to problem solve, and dogs are so very good at that!

      Rugby had a tough time with the leg weaving, and it took us a long time to get the kinks worked out. Spin, Twirl, Crawl....those are super, super easy tricks to start with if you're still a bit new to them. I like having new ones to start....ones we're refining....and ones he knows super well. Our newest trick is "HUG." Rugby is catching on to that one super quick, so it's not going to take very long at all to master!!

      I'm so very glad to know that you and Luke have fun together! That's worth all the dog snacks in the world!! Those moments and memories with your pooch are what matter most!! Belly rubs to your crew!! <3


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