By Pat Engel, CPDT-KA
Certified Trick Dog Instructor & Owner
Co-Pilot Dog Training
Seventeen years of teaching beginning obedience classes was taking a toll on my enthusiasm. That’s not to say I don’t love owning my own training business—I do. I am grateful every day to have a vocation that I’m passionate about. But teaching classes had admittedly gotten a little stale, and I was looking for a way to add some fun to my teaching repertoire. Tricks classes sounded like the perfect thing.
That was two years ago. Since then, being a tricks instructor has delighted me in every way I imagined it would, and in some unexpected ways as well!
More motivated students
The first difference I noticed about tricks classes was the natural enthusiasm of the students, both two and four-legged. How many times has an instructor been faced with a student who progresses slowly in an obedience class, because they don’t practice at home? In tricks class, students are motivated to practice, because they enjoy it. One of the reasons students enjoy training tricks is that their dog is more animated and engaged when learning them. The enthusiasm between dog and owner is definitely contagious!
Training tricks makes people better trainers
Training tricks is undeniably fun, but it is so much more. All those happy, motivated students are busy honing the same fundamental training skills that they first learned in obedience class. The student who is training ‘take a bow’, intently waiting to mark that first dip of their dog’s elbows, is improving their training skills of luring, shaping and timing. The same is true for ‘spin’, ‘roll over’, ‘sit pretty’, ‘shake’— the list goes on and on.
Learning tricks makes dogs better learners
Ask people why they have signed up to take a basic obedience class, and it’s often about getting their dog to stop doing something: stop jumping, stop pulling, stop nipping.
From day one of tricks class, the question is: what do you want your dog to do, and how can you motivate them to do it? Now, often for the first time, students are focused on getting their dogs to be active, willing participants in the learning game. No wonder dogs love coming to tricks class!
Tricks add a bit of fun to any class
In addition to teaching beginning and intermediate tricks classes, I’ve added a little tricks training to my obedience classes as well. Puppy kindergarten students practice a trick or two. Beginning obedience students learn ‘touch.’ Intermediate obedience students are reminded that teaching tricks strengthens their foundation training skills. And, when the students show off their tricks at graduation, their classmates reward their efforts with laughter and applause!
Tricks training nurtures the human-animal bond
As a professional dog trainer, the focus of my business is helping people and their dogs enjoy each other more. What kinds of things promote a healthy relationship between a person and their dog? Having fun together, clear communication, trust, and responsiveness—taking a tricks class fosters all of these.
The owner who likes to train tricks has found a lifelong activity they can enjoy with their dog. It’s not uncommon for students to re-enroll in tricks classes, even multiple times. After all, the list of tricks a dog can learn is virtually endless.
Great, you’re thinking, I’m sold! But, I don’t have any experience teaching tricks. How do I get started?
Well, the first thing I did was fill a treat bag, grab one of my own dogs and take a tricks class! I practiced the weekly homework with my second dog as well; the more different dogs you train, the better trainer you become. Need more canine students? Volunteer at a local shelter to teach the dogs tricks. Be sure to let the staff know when Max can ‘roll over,’ or Bella knows ‘shake.’ Nothing breaks the ice faster with a would be adopter than having their potential adoptee shake their hand.
I chose to become a Certified Trick Dog Instructor through Do More With Your Dog®. My certificate was earned at a weekend workshop that my dog and I attended together; we learned 64 tricks in two days! You can also submit your certification exams by mail.
Do More With Your Dog® also awards tricks titles in five levels, from novice to champion. Some owners really appreciate the additional motivation of working toward a specific goal. It’s a very prideful moment when your certificate arrives- it says to the world, “My dog and I did this!”
For more on tricks titles and instructor certification, go to www.domorewithyourdog.com.
“The great and unexpected bonus”
By far the best benefit I’ve seen from tricks training is when owners observe a fundamental shift in their dog’s personality. Shy dogs become more confident outside of class. One woman’s dog was very reactive in basic obedience class, but in tricks class her dog was so happily engaged that her reactivity to the other dogs completely disappeared.
Then, there is the experience of my friend Olga. Olga is also a professional dog trainer. She adopted Beckett, a Terrier mix, from a local rescue when he was about a year old. In Olga’s words, “Beckett has had dog reactivity issues for most of the time I’ve owned him, and his rehabilitation has been a constant struggle for both of us. The great and unexpected bonus to tricks training was that it became a way for Beckett and I to bond. We began to find a joy and sense of fun together that had been sorely missing. Through tricks training we tapped into a very positive side of Beckett’s personality, and he gains more confidence with each new accomplishment. Trick training has honestly saved our relationship!”
So, what are you waiting for? If you don’t already know the joy of teaching tricks, I hope I’ve convinced you to join the fun, and give tricks training a try. You and your students have everything to gain.
Pat has been an animal lover all her life. Not surprisingly, her favorite species is Canis familiaris.
Since 1997 Pat has been helping owners understand and train their dogs in ways that respect and nourish the canine-human bond. Pat believes that your dog should be an equal and willing participant in the learning process – your training co-pilot.
This article was written by a CCPDT certificant and does not necessarily represent the views or opinions held by the CCPDT. The information in this article should not be considered official education or advice from the CCPDT. Our organization works to support our certificants and believes in giving a voice to professionals in the community who wish to express their viewpoints.