Lately, I just happened to come across some posts and videos about training your dog to do tricks and other possibly useless behaviours. Some of these posts were new and some had been around for a while but it seemed like there is a population who have decided training certain things are not appropriate, such as silly circus tricks.
Everyone has a right to do what they want for their dog as long as it’s humane. I just happen to believe that teaching your dog to do tricks has made dog training more fun for many people who would not normally train their dogs at all. Not only that, most silly circus tricks can be quite practical when it comes to behaviours your dog needs to know and keeping your dog in shape.
An example of this is the “paws up” trick where you dog learns to put his paws up on an object but not jump up on it. I taught my dogs this trick as part of the trick dog title requirements from the “Do More With Your Dog” Association.
I used this trick to get my dogs to assist me in getting them into the van. At one point 4 out of six dogs needed help and the three that are left still do this. Specifically, Emmett who has cruciate ligament issues which we are trying to heal (and it is working), cannot jump into the van without worsening the injury. So I get him to put his front paws on the bottom step and wait until I lift his bottom into the van.
This has been working amazingly well.
So, why don’t I just teach him to put his paws up on the van in the first place without teaching him a silly circus trick?
Three main reasons.
When I taught him this trick he didn’t need to be lifted into the van. He was young and we were having a good time training different behaviours. Teaching a default behaviour of “paws up” BEFORE it might be needed is easier than trying to teach your dog something when there is a problem.
A default behaviour is one that the dog learns so well that when he sees an object his training propels him to go over to it and do the behaviour of “paws up”. Yes, sometimes this can get annoying if your dog is doing paws up on everything just for a reward. The key to training this is to put the behaviour ON CUE, which means that your dog won’t do it unless he is cued to do so. But the desire is still there to put paws up.
Emmett really enjoyed going for vehicle rides. So much so that he would initially try to jump in the van even when injured. At the beginning of this training, I had to hold him by the collar to prevent him from jumping in. But soon he understood to wait until I was ready to lift him. Then without jumping, he walks into the van on his front legs while I hold up the back one until he is in.
Also, I think that teaching dog tricks is fun and more enjoyable than always trying to be practical. As I said before, certain people turn away from training their dog the basics because it is boring. Training practical circus tricks is one solution for some people.
And finally, many trick behaviours are good for conditioning your dog. The “paws up” trick actually helped Emmett build muscle in his back end – one of the things that veterinarians suggest to help with cruciate issues. As the leg muscles get stronger they are able to hold the knee together better resulting in less pain and possibly healing of the injury.
If you want more information on training practical circus tricks you can check out my YouTube playlist on that very subject. We’re just getting started!