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  • Betsy Peets
    Betsy Peets

    Trick Dog: A Title for Everyone

    Some of us, author included, just can’t help themselves, we love titles and strive to accumulate as many as we can with our smart Cairn Terriers! 

    Most suffix titles (e.g. CD, NA, CAA, RN etc.) are done in an environment where only spectators are lucky enough to view the well-matched team of dog and handler.  Now you can train skills, get a title and show your trained Cairn off to your friends, family or anywhere!  I can’t tell you how many times Happy has performed his “Dead Dog” trick or Oz has done his “Leg-weave” trick and received shrieks of laughter and applause! The AKC Trick Dog title is perfect for everyone; kids, Grandma, Mom or Dad. 

    Cairns are little sponges and love to learn.  Some are driven by food, some by toys but ultimately they love to please (if there’s something in it for them).  Training is a great way to bond with your dog, no matter what their age. You can train anytime, anywhere; on your couch with a handful of “high value” treats in front of the TV, in the kitchen before you hand over their meal or in the hallway heading for bed the list is endless.  One or two (5-10) minute sessions a day for 2 maybe 3 days will give you a great start to a novice level trick like “shake”.  No pressure, great treats, upbeat high pitch training voice will make your pooch excited for these quick training sessions.  

    Start slow, tricks begin with a basic move like “Sit” or “Down”.  If you use a clicker fine, if not, select a marker word so they know a reward is coming.  My marker is “yes”, it isn’t a huge part of my normal vocabulary (just ask my kids and grandkids) and it is quick. 

    Consistency is the key, don’t keep repeating yourself (Fido sit, sit, sit) — that just teaches them that after the third or fourth command you’re serious.  Time your marker word or click well, right after Fido’s butt hits the ground in a nice sit “YES” and treat.  Some trainers don’t introduce a command until the dog has the trick down, I introduce the command in the beginning, before I mark and treat.

    I avoid words that are used a lot like “down” or “cookie”, Down is ok for Obedience or Rally ring for lay down but when you’re trying to get your dog to stop jumping on Grandma, “Off” is better.  If you do or are planning on doing agility, “Splat” works great and it puts smiles on people’s (and judges) faces.  It means “pull your front legs out from under you and put your belly on the floor as fast as you can”.  When I trained “Splat” it was very fun to teach both dogs side by side, they turned it into a contest and created a very fast “Splat”. 

    Be patient, make sure you are not over-feeding or over training, both will get you into trouble fast.

    If Toto already has a CGC (Canine Good Citizen) title you are half way to a TKN (Trick Dog Novice) title!  I bought a book, “Dog Tricks for Dummies”, it gives you step by step instructions for many tricks, if you get stuck just try another method.   

    We were at a dog show in Idaho one year and a class of kindergarten children and their teachers were walking by our grooming set up.  They stopped to look at the cute Toto dogs and asked some questions.  Before they went on their way I brought my boy, Oz, out and he put on a show they absolutely loved.  Oz loved doing it, he loves the attention and praise, well, and the treats.  

    Training tricks, or any type of training can, with supervision, also help children learn how to build a positive relationship based on empathy, shared communication, and trust. For example, there is a group here in the Portland, OR area that works with domestic violence shelters. The dog/human teams work with at-risk youths through classes in positive dog training.  The Little Dog Laughed works closely in support of behavioral therapy professionals in their effort to nurture empathy and non-violent problem solving skills. Check out their website:  https://www.thelittledoglaughed.org/ Personally, I would love to see this program go nationwide. 

    AKC’s Program has 4 levels:  Novice (TKN), Intermediate (TKI), Advanced (TKA), and Performer (TKP).  To earn a tricks title you must find where an evaluation is being held.  A good place to start is to check your local canine events listing.  We had one locally in Ridgefield, WA at the Greater Clark County dog show in December.  A local Tricks evaluator (she is also an agility judge) brought all the props and charged $10 per title at this show.  Three day total titles achieved was 175. 

    Follow this link to find out more about this wonderful program:  http://www.akc.org/about-trick-dog/

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