Tricks are both enjoyable and extremely useful. Really, dog tricks are not much different from a person performing gymnastics, doing algebra, dancing, sinking a putt or playing the piano – all learned physical and mental skills, practiced to perfection. Similarly, dog tricks are no different from basic obedience commands. Although a lot of dogs perform obedience exercises more reliably than tricks, and a lot of dogs have more fun performing tricks than obedience commands, it need not and, indeed, shouldn’t be that way. Tricks should be as precise and reliable as obedience commands – as precise as scoring a perfect 10. And basic obedience should be as much fun as performing tricks – as much fun as dancing.
The good thing about tricks is that everybody smiles, laughs and giggles — the best reward of all. In fact, in no time at all, performing the trick becomes the reward in itself, i.e., the trick becomes self-reinforcing. And the trick becomes a reward for other exercises. Asking the dog to “Give us a hug” is a great reward for a good down-stay on greetings, and allowing the dog to jump through our arms becomes a rewarding finale for a lightning recall. But how many times do we see highly trained dogs performing ultra-precise heels, recalls, sits and stays — machine perfect but without sparkle — working with owners who give ‘praise’ that could freeze a frog in Florida? Hey! No one died! Wake up you Scrooges! This is life! Enjoy it! No warm-up laps, no reruns. Have fun with your dog. Now!