Why Teach Tricks
There are so many reasons to teach tricks.
1. Your dog doesn't know the difference between a trick and any other training task. To your dog, “sit” and “stay” are no more important than “shake hands”. So teaching tricks gives your dog more practice in how to learn. It makes teaching the important tasks easier due to this history.
2. If it makes learning easier for the dog, it also makes you a better teacher simply by providing more practice in training the dog. Hopefully practice improves technique and creates more efficient results.
3. The really neat thing is that when you train tricks you are usually happier and less stressed than when you are reprimanding all the time. Bad behaviors are just a lack of communication and when shaping tricks and wanted behavior into your everyday life...well, the sky is the limit of what you can teach your dog in a minimal amount of time. A relaxed, calm you…smiling and patient is so much nicer to learn from than the frustrated (and maybe yelling) “no this, no that” you.
4. Time spent training tricks is invaluable time to create a connection between human and dog. If this time is positive and rewarding for both participants, this is an investment in a positive relationship. The same is true of time spent frustrated or resorting to punishing techniques. This depletes the relationship bank balance.
5. Training tricks stimulates your dog’s mind and is one way to provide stimulation. It’s part of providing an enriching environment for your dog and reducing problem behaviors that result from boredom. Dogs who are satiated don’t have such a pressing need to amuse themselves.
6. Dogs who can’t exercise due to illness, poor exercise tolerance or anxiety benefit greatly from the time spent teaching tricks. It fills a void and can be a way of providing carefully monitored and safe exercise.
7. Teaching tricks using positive reinforcement can open up a wonderful world of communication between you and your dog. Communication your dog is empowered to initiate.
I emphasize the way training takes place because using techniques involving aversive stimulation, which are unpleasant things, results in avoidance or escape. They seldom lead to increased motivation to interact. Dogs will usually only do the minimum required to escape punishment or avoid pressure. In contrast, dogs taught with positive reinforcement of desired behaviors tend to continue to offer behaviors with increased vigor compared to just offering enough to remove pressure and bring back the status quo.
Communication is a two-way street. It requires interaction between both parties. That’s why a dog who has learned to interact with fun methods and then chooses to interact spontaneously is well on the way to communicating.