How to Teach a Dog Tricks

Dogs, young or old, love to learn. Include a reward and these four basic rules and you’ve got a recipe for successful dog tricks! Learn how to teach dog tricks like roll over, stay, or heel by starting each lesson with a: cue, reward, practice, praise.

Petfinder: Roll Over

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4 Basic Rules to Master All Dog Tricks

  • Cue: To communicate to your dog that you want him to be in position, you will teach him either a voice, hand signals, or sound marker cue (such as using a clicker). For example, if your dog is hand-cued, he will sit when you have a treat in a closed fist that you raise slowly above his head so that he gently sits as your hand performs the motion.
  • Reward: Your dog’s favorite treat will help you train him to do many types of tricks or learn new behaviors. You can use your dog’s kibble or dog treats to motivate them to learn, have fun, and get the results you both want. Include kibble pieces, bits of chicken, deli meats, or treats made for dogs in the training.
  • Practice: Cut out 15 minutes each day for training and then divide the time slot into 5-minute-only sessions that you spread throughout the day. Perhaps you want to try a 5-minute morning, lunch, and early evening session, or early morning, mid-morning, and early afternoon lesson. Whatever sequence you choose, consistency is the key to letting your dog know when training is in session.
  • Praise: Rewarding your dog’s good behavior is an important part of success. Give him heaps of good boys/girls or yes feedback and scratches or belly-rubs, as well as an occasional treat. More important than rewarding your dog for doing as you ask, is staying positive and calm when he doesn’t follow through on a routine you’re teaching. Never use physical correction or punishment or yell at a dog.

Lesson 1: How to Teach a Dog to Roll Over

For dogs that already have a few tricks they’ve picked up, teaching them to roll over will be easy. If this is your dog’s first lesson, it’s not a difficult trick to master.

Using the rules of reward-based training and the four basic rules of dog tricks, even novice pups get the hang of it in the first few tries. Practice these steps to teach your dog to roll over.

  1. Cue your dog to sit by holding a treat in a closed fist and moving your hand straight up.
  2. As you make the motion, say sit.
  3. When your dog is sitting, give him a treat immediately and lots of praise.
  4. Hold a treat in your other hand while he is in a sit position and lower your treat hand slowly to the ground and between his two front paws.
  5. Most dogs naturally go down to sniff the treat in your hand. Do not open your hand yet.
  6. Gently place your free hand on your dog’s neck between his shoulders.
  7. Move your treat hand to your dog’s shoulder. His snout will naturally follow.
  8. When he lays on his side, open your hand and give him the treat and lots of praise. Try it again a couple of times.
  9. Once he has mastered laying on his side, gradually move your hand with a new treat across and over him so that he rolls.
  10. Treat him and praise him and then repeat the same move. Practice will eventually get him to roll over through only your hand signal, but you can use voice signals for this move too.


Lesson 2: How to Teach a Dog to Stay

The stay lesson is useful when you need your dog to wait for food, or visitors coming through the door and it’s an easy lesson for beginners to pick up too. Practice these 9 easy steps to teach your dog to stay.

  1. Begin your dog in a sit position. Praise him and give him a treat.
  2. With your other hand, have a treat pinched between your thumb and index finger and hold the treat a short distance from his nose and say stay.
  3. Count to 3 (to yourself), release him from the position with good boy/girl or yes, give him the treat and lots of praise.
  4. Repeat this exercise again, say stay, holding a treat pinched between your fingers in front of his nose.
  5. Count to 4 this time, release him with praise, and giving him the treat again.
  6. Repeat the lesson until the end of this 5-minute training.
  7. On each repetition, hold the treat a little further away, say stay, and count one number above the last until you reach 10 or session time is up.
  8. Always end by giving him the treat immediately and praise.
  9. This is one trick you’ll both master in no time, and eventually, your dog will only need your command to hold the position.


Petfinder: Stay

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Lesson 3: How to Teach a Dog to Spin in a Circle

Bonding is a really important part of training and building the relationship between you and your dog. While this trick has no other benefit than simply fun, keep in mind that when you teach a dog to spin or twirl, limit the lesson to less than the usual time.

Dogs may get dizzy or feel nauseous twirling for too long. Try this trick for a fifth of the time of your usual training session and then move onto another type of trick or command. To teach your dog to spin follow these instructions.

  1. Hold a treat in your closed fist and allow your dog to sniff your hand so he knows it’s in there.
  2. Your dog is likely standing in front of you, so move your closed hand slowly in a circle around and behind your dog, saying spin!
  3. His nose will follow until he reaches his original position and is facing you again.
  4. Open your hand and let him have the treat, praise him and tell him what a good boy/girl he or she is, or simply say yes.
  5. The next time you try this trick, move your hand in the opposite direction, the other way around, repeating steps 2-4.
  6. Practice this lesson a couple of times to avoid making your dog dizzy or sick, then move on to another lesson.
  7. Your dog will get the hang of learning to spin quickly and soon you’ll be able to try it using only your hand movement and without treat – but always lots of praise.


Lesson 4: How to Teach a Dog to “Salute”

It is important to set goals of what you want your dog to do when he hears the word salute. My definition of “salute” is that the dog has to touch above their eye. The easiest way that I have found to get your dog to do that is with tape. I use very lightweight tape like transparent tape.

  • Tear off a small strip and place it on their eyebrow.
  • When your dog makes a motion to take it off, reward them with a “good salute” and a treat or other reward.
  • Do this exercise a number of times until they associate the behavior with getting a treat.
  • Now it is time to add the cue or command word. The second your dog picks up his paw to get the tape off, say “salute.” Then praise and reward with food or a pet.
  • Do this exercise over and over until your dog is responding to the word “salute” immediately.

Now it is time to take away the tape. Try to do this in the same training session. Remove the tape and say “salute.” Give your dog a few seconds to respond. He is thinking about what you want and how to get that reward.

When he finally does put his paw over his eye, praise and reward with a “good salute” and a treat. Keep it fun and positive. Tricks are a great thing to teach your dog and keep the learning fun.

Petfinder: Wave

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