Teaching your pet tricks is easiest when you work with their nature, not against it. Most dogs are eager to please and respond enthusiastically to rewards. Teaching tricks is often as much a matter of simply using those rewards to direct or build on a spontaneous behavior as it is teaching an entirely foreign one.
Watch for spontaneous behavior close to the one desired. A dog will sometimes crawl on its belly for no apparent reason. It may be scratching, it may simply be having fun. If this is a desired trick, watch for the beginnings of the behavior, then be prepared to associate it with a hand gesture and voice command, then reward immediately.
Teaching the basic ‘sit’, ‘come’, etc commands is usually simple. A few repetitions with a treat or verbal praise and the dog learns rapidly. Teaching tricks can sometimes be as easy as expanding on the basic behaviors. ‘Come’ can easily be transformed into ‘walk in a circle’. Abbreviate to one word, such as ‘circle’ or ‘spin’ for example.
At first it might be helpful to use treats to encourage wanted actions, but don’t overdo it. Diets spoil easily, and ultimately you want the dog to respond to verbal command and praise without food rewards. After the command-behavior pair becomes automatic, treats can be withdrawn.
Favorite toys are a good way to encourage certain tricks. Take a short rope the dog loves to play tug with and encourage a jump by moving it rapidly up and down, just out of reach. Then, after the command-behavior pair is established forgo the rope and just use your hand.
Hide-and-seek is another game easily taught using a favorite bone or chew ball. The dog’s sense of smell is keen not only close up but at surprising distances. Take advantage of it by hiding the toy under a box a few feet away, then lengthen the distance, remove the box to another room or place it up on a table. Proceed in stages.
Dogs’ affection is a useful trick training aid. Many spontaneously want to offer a paw to express themselves. Put the dog in a ‘sit’, then kneel down in front of him. Hold up your own ‘paw’ and give a command ‘five’ (for ‘high five’ or ‘give me five’ or ‘paw’, whatever works).
Sometimes the paw comes up right away, for others you may have to gently pull it up using the voice command at the same time. Praise anyway, once you’re in position. Put the paw back down and try again.
Extending tricks is easy, too. Start with one ‘high five’, then extend into ‘sit pretty’ by taking the paw and lifting gently. The other will often come up spontaneously. Hold both and praise and reward. When sitting at the desk and I want mine to sit pretty, I often pat my chest and up he comes followed by lavish praise.
Training tricks should be fun, both for you and the dog. Other training is for safety, control, discouraging property destruction, etc. Tricks are strictly to give you and your friend something to laugh about. Enjoy!