Teaching your puppy or an old dog new tricks isn’t just fun – it also strengthens your bond, provides mental and physical stimulation, and teaches obedience.
We’ve put together a handy guide to teach your dog a new trick every month for the whole of 2021, so by the end of the year you’ll have twelve cool tricks, and a closer bond with your furry friend.
1. January: Sit
Hold a treat above your dog’s nose and move your hand in an arc towards their backside. Their backside will instinctively go onto the floor as their head follows the treat.
Make sure to say the “sit” command and reward them as soon as their bottom touches the floor to ensure they associate the correct action with getting a treat.
2. February: Lie down
Once your dog has become the Sultan of Sitting, you can now teach them to lie down. When they’re sitting, show them a treat and slowly move it towards the ground. As your pup slides down to the treat, reward them.
They may not slide all the way to the ground on the first few tries, but you should still reward them so they start to understand what’s expected.
3. March: Stay
Give your dog the “sit” command then put your hand out and give the “stay” command. Repeat this a few times so they learn to associate the command with the action.
Once they’re able to stay, take a few steps back and try again. Your dog will likely follow you, at which point you should repeat the command and not give a treat. If they stay, give them their treat and praise – but make sure you time it correctly so you’re rewarding them for staying, not for following you.
Each time you practice, take another step back – and each time they stay, reward them.
4. April: Their name
A dog knowing to come to you when you call their name is vital – not just as a trick, but also for their own safety (for example, if they get too excited and run off in the doggy park).
With a new pup, you should be saying their name to them at least 10 times per day. When they look at you, mark this with a treat or reward. Over time, move further and further away and practice calling them to you.
5. May: Leave it
Like knowing to come when you call their name, this command can also be a lifesaver if they pick up something toxic.
Place a treat on the floor and cover it with your hand. As soon as your dog stops trying to get the treat, offer them a reward – but make sure not to use the treat on the floor.
You want to teach them that leaving it will lead to an even better treat; it’s not about eventually getting the item you were hiding.
6. June: Refuse food from strangers
This is vital training if your dog is outside or guarding your home, as incidents of dog poisoning are sadly far too common in South Africa.
You can pick up where you left off with the “leave it” command, but instead of telling your dog to leave a treat that you’ve put down, you’ll need to enlist the help of a friend or family member to toss your dog a treat or piece of food. Then you’ll use the “leave it” command as they go to smell it.
This might be difficult for some pups, so if your dog doesn’t respond to “leave it” when faced with tasty treats, keep them on a leash for this training – and make sure your reward treat is even better than what they’re being tempted with.
Over time, you’ll move further and further away (while still being able to keep an eye on the action) and yell the “leave it” command from far. You want your pup to think you’re always watching, even if in reality, you aren’t home.
7. July: High five
The first step is to hold a treat in your closed fist. When your dog paws at your fist, praise them and reward them with a treat from your other hand. Like the previous trick, you don’t want your dog to connect the treat to your closed fist (this becomes important when you open your hand for a high five).
Keep repeating this and add the command “high five”. Once they understand how to get the treat, reshape your hand into the open position and keep repeating.
If your pup gets confused, it may be because they don’t understand they’ll still get their treat regardless of whether your hand is open or closed – so take it back to the first step and start again if you need to.
8. August: Spin
Watching your dog chase their tails is one of the great pleasures of being a pup-parent, and now you can teach them to do it on command! Unlike the other tricks, you’ll need a prop for this one: A touch stick used for target training.
Using the stick, guide your dog around in a circular motion. When they make one full turn, reward them with a treat. Keep repeating this, then add a hand signal (a circular motion with your index finger) and the “spin” command.
If your dog doesn’t respond to the touch stick or gets distracted, you might need to tempt them with a better treat or teach the trick somewhere with fewer distractions.
9. September: Speak
In a country like South Africa, where many people get dogs for safety, teaching your dog to bark when someone enters your driveway or garden can make you and your family feel more comfortable at home.
Start the training by getting your dog to bark. For example, if they always bark when there’s a knock on the door, have someone knock and reward your pup with a treat when they bark. Once they understand how to get the treat, add the “speak” command.
If you want your dog to bark in certain situations to alert you to intruders, have your accomplice carry out the actions (e.g. pull into the driveway, enter through the garden, etc.) and give your pup the “speak” command. When they obey, give them treats and praise.
10. October: Quiet
If you taught your pup to speak a little too well, you may need another command to quiet them down.
Create a situation (or give a command) for your dog to bark. When they do, briefly acknowledge it by checking out the source (for example, look out of the window or door). If you’re teaching your dog to bark for safety, it’s important that you consistently check out the source before you end the command.
Once you’ve done that, get your dog’s attention with a toy or treat and give it to them once they stop barking. Repeat this a few times, add the “quiet” command, and keep practising!
11. November: Walk backwards
Wind down the year with an easy trick that serves absolutely no purpose except for being adorable and fun (which is purpose enough, if you ask us).
Stand facing your dog and walk towards them. When they take a step back, give them praise and a treat.
Okay, there’s a little more – keep taking steps towards them, and when they take multiple steps back, give them another treat. Keep doing this repeatedly and add the command “back” or a hand signal (you can wave your hand in a ‘shoo’ motion).
Once your pup has learnt these tricks, you’re ready for the final trick of 2021!
12. December: Dance
What else would the December trick be?
Teaching a dog to dance isn’t actually a single trick – rather, it’s made up of a number of other tricks in a choreographed way. You can use the Spin and Walk Backwards commands as part of the routine, but there’s one move to end all other moves: The standing dance!
First, you’ll need to train your dog to stand up on their back legs by holding a treat just out of reach. This will be easier for some dogs than for others, so be gentle on their little legs. They may only be able to make it a portion of the way up or lose their balance quickly, but reward them for encouragement.
Once they can stand for up to 10 seconds, work on leading your pup around in a 360o circle with a treat. For every lap around, reward them.