A new bag (of tricks)
March 20, 2008 10:58 AM   Subscribe

This dog needs a new trick.

"I've seen a look in dogs' eyes, a quickly vanishing look of amazed contempt, and I am convinced that basically dogs think humans are nuts." - John Steinbeck

I'm looking for suggestions for a new trick, you know, for my dog. We've done all the standard ones, sit, etc. She even knows a couple of commands in other languages, just to add confusion. But I can tell that she is bored of all those tired, banal commands. Her eyes plead to me, 'Please teach me something new'. Either that or she needs to be walked.

What I'm looking for is something different. Routine? No. Practical? Possibly. Kitsch? Definitely. Think entertaining, different. I'm not looking to embarrass her at the doggy park and we're not going to enter synchronized doggy dance competitions, at least none that I would admit here.

Any suggestions are more than welcome. She's a 4 year old chocolate lab / german wire haired pointer mix, that is bright and energetic , if that helps.
posted by jazzkat11 to Pets & Animals (30 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: My sister always gets great reactions when she points at her Aussie with her fingers like a gun, yells "Bang!" and the dog rolls over onto her back.
I have no advice as to how to teach that trick, so I hope you were just looking for ideas on what to teach, and not how.
posted by PhatLobley at 11:01 AM on March 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

Yay, I can't wait to see what everyone else has to say! Here are a few I recently taught my dog:

1. Weave: Put right leg forward, dog walks under it (inside to outside). Same with left leg. Repeat. This is easy to teach with luring.

2. Turn around: Dog turns in a little circle. This is great for getting her to wipe her feet--just tell her "turn around" three times in a row while she's standing on the door mat.

3. Circle: Walk in a circle around me.

4. Through: Run in between my legs.

5. Who's your mama? Dog answers this question by laying paw on your leg or pouncing on you.
posted by Enroute at 11:02 AM on March 20, 2008

Best answer: A friend of mine had a dog that he had trained to do the "play dead," but with panache. My friend would do the "gun" with his hand - pointing the index finger and lowering the thumb while saying "bang."

The dog would jump backwards, collapsing on the ground, and begin feigning his throes of death, complete with mournful howls and everything. The dog would continue this, sometimes looking up at us to make sure we were still watching, until my friend would say "Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!" at which point the dog would go still. It wouldn't move until someone said "What happened to JB (the dog's name)?" at which point JB would jump up to delightfully surprise us that he was not, in fact, actually dead.

posted by allkindsoftime at 11:03 AM on March 20, 2008 [20 favorites]

(but I have absolutely no idea how he trained the dog to do all of that, sorry)
posted by allkindsoftime at 11:04 AM on March 20, 2008

Forgot some other ones:

6. Get in bed: Dog gets in its bed

7. Run around the house: I taught her the names of various places in the house and now when we need to burn off energy without going outside (like if it's raining) I tell her "front door!" "back door!" "go in your crate!" "get in bed!" etc., and she runs around to these various places like a maniac.

8. Names of her toys. I say "Where's lion?" "Where's the ball?" "Where's lobster?" and so forth, and she paws the toy. She can reliably choose the correct toy out of lineup of three.

9. Ring a bell to ask to go outside. She could do this at 8 weeks! Smart puppy.
posted by Enroute at 11:07 AM on March 20, 2008

How my dog and I taught each other to catch a frisbee:

Eventually Molly learned to retrieve. She finally figured out that when she brings the toy back, I'll throw it again, and she gets to keep working, which she loves. We eventually switched from the stick to the frisbee. I'd send the disc out, and she'd wait by my side until it hit the ground, then she'd sprint to it, pick it up, and bring it back. Eventually she ran along side it until it hit the ground. Then my wife did this thing where she'd hold the disc right in front of Molly's face, and Molly would snatch it out of her hand.

We then moved on to "teasing" Molly with the disc. Right as we sensed that she was about to lunge for the disc, we'd kinda move it forward, until eventually she was chasing the disc, which was still in our hand, about 3 or 4 feet before she'd snatch it.

Once she got that, we moved on to the next phase. Right before she'd snatch it, we'd let go of it. We're not really tossing it, but it's not in our hand when she grabs it. Then we started tossing it about 6" before she got it. Mind, you this is starting with her sitting beside us, with the disc in our hand. Then we kinda lead the disc out, with Molly stalking it, for about 4 or 5 feet, and then a short little toss.

Once Molly was able to catch the 6" toss, it seemed like something in her brain clicked. Oh yeah, I get it, I can catch this thing in the air. I don't have to wait for it to hit the ground. And oh yeah, I'm already good at running along side it. So now I just need to jump up and grab it when the time is right.

Right after that, I let it rip across the yard. She sprinted along with it, and as soon as it was at the perfect height, she lept up, contorted her body in the air, and caught it. Then we just freaked the fuck out to reinforce the positive behavior. This whole process, from beginning to end, was maybe over 2 or 3 days, about 2 or 3 hours of total play time.

How you throw it is important. Molly taught me that she doesn't like the disc to arc up very high. She likes it straight and fast, and she'll catch it right as it starts to fade.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 11:08 AM on March 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

It is edging close to synchronized dancing, but how about canine agility trials?
posted by Rock Steady at 11:12 AM on March 20, 2008

An awful lot of people seem to have trained their dogs to say "I love you." Obviously it's just reinforcing a particular combination of vocalizations as far as your dog is concerned. Find something less cloying that her growl/bark/utterances can approximate and train her to say to that on command. Preferably without many labials. If your command is the phrase itself, it predisposes your human audience to hear what you want them to hear.
posted by mumkin at 11:15 AM on March 20, 2008

I've always been partial to teaching one's dog to play dead after hearing the phrase "dead dog." As in, "Fido, would you rather learn another trick or be a DEAD DOG?" "Would you rather look like OmieWise, or be a DEAD DOG?"
posted by OmieWise at 11:20 AM on March 20, 2008

Best answer: Oh I like the play dead variety. We taught our dog:

Bang-- falls over
Machine Gun Sound(sounds like weird laughing)-- he falls and wiggles around on his back
Grenade, which is my favorite, where you do the action of pulling a pin out of the grenade, whistle and then lob it on him-- and he jumps in the air and then rolls over and plays dead.

These are real winners in the entertainment zone and the only real training is for the play dead
posted by CAnneDC at 11:36 AM on March 20, 2008

I agree with Enroute, teaching places by name is great. "Go upstairs", "go downstairs", "go to your bed", and so on are useful and great mental exercise. Teach them to pick out people by name, or pick out toys by name. (I know a sheltie who has a hoard of toys that he loves and knows by name. "Get your bunny." yay!!!!! "Get your sheep." yay!!!!! etc.)
posted by Wolfdog at 12:08 PM on March 20, 2008

My favorite new trick my dog picked up accidentally is "Go wake up Daddy," in which he jumps on the bed and licks my husband's face. So much more effective AND less noisy than an alarm clock!
posted by ferociouskitty at 12:41 PM on March 20, 2008

Try teaching her to fetch different things based on different voice commands.

So for instance, you put her leash in one corner of a room, and perhaps a favorite toy in the other. Tell her to get the toy. THen tell her to get the leash, put them back, repeat ad nauseum, adding other items as she learns. Repeat the same item sometimes too, so she doesn't try to follow a pattern.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 12:55 PM on March 20, 2008

CAnneDC: would you mind explaining how you taught him all that? My dog will play dead with a pointed finger, which isn't hard to teach, you just manually roll him over and reward him, but I'm not sure how I'd get him to do all that?
posted by imaswinger at 1:00 PM on March 20, 2008

Best answer: My mom's dog answers the question "What does a pirate say?" with an "Arrrrrrrr" sound. This never fails to get laughs.
posted by hyperfascinated at 1:18 PM on March 20, 2008

We have been trying to teach our chihuahua/min-pin mix to stretch out her neck/ears on command forever. We can't get her to associate it with a command, but she now does it when she wants something, because she knows it pleases us. It's cute, but maddening, as she's learned many other tricks(mostly the standards) with no problem.
posted by owtytrof at 1:52 PM on March 20, 2008

I used to play hide and seek with my late dog. Made her sit/stay while I hid a toy in another room or outside. I'd wander around a bit to spread my scent and fake her out a bit. Then I'd say "Okay!" to release her and she'd race around sniffing while I'd guide her with "freezing, cold, colder, warmer, hot, super hot, you're on fire!" She loved it and would play it endlessly, it taught her a bunch of words -tree, couch, closet, upstairs- and to pay attention to the tone of my voice, and my friends thought she was brilliant.
posted by tula at 2:23 PM on March 20, 2008

Imaswinger at 4:00 PM on March 20 [+] [!]

I'll try my best. Really there are 6 of us who "share" the dog so there was a lot of cross-training.

Well the bang, play dead thing was pretty much achieved by just rolling him over. Once we got that down, it was pretty easy to build on it.

The grenade was basically the hop he already knew which he did when we made the throwing the grenade motion with our hands (which resembled the command for jump and "ballerina" where he spins around on his back legs) and the big KABOOM at the end probably just sounded like "BANG" to him.

The machine gun one was a bit trickier, but it followed from when we taught him how to do an army crawl. So pretty much we combined that, with the play dead, and I guess he already knew how to do the squirmy thing on the back.

The odd thing is that the dog is not that smart... he just REALLY likes positive reinforcement so he'll try his hardest to learn anything, as long as everyone claps and goes crazy after it.

(On a side note: man, is it hard to explain how to train a dog in type!)
posted by CAnneDC at 2:34 PM on March 20, 2008

If your dog is tall enough and you are patient enough, you can teach your dog to switch the light on and off.

There's two parts to this trick: one is to get your dog to rise up against a wall, the other is to move the switch with his teeth.

The "rise" command usually comes pretty quickly. Get him to rise up on his back legs, resting his front paws against the wall, and staying there for a little while (~10 sec). Often just tapping the wall at where you want his snout-level to be will work to initiate the action; if not, hold a treat where you want him to rise to, say "rise," and reward him when he performs the action.

The "get the light" command takes a little longer. Also, you want to practice lower to the ground, without worrying about your dog standing upright while messing with the switch. A quickie Home Depot project: get a light switch, and mount it in a small board or piece of vinyl or something. And then some weeks getting the "get the light" command down. Early on, a bit of peanut butter can get your dog interested in mouthing the light. Start out with low expectations; give positive reinforcement for just putting the switch in his mouth. If he does flip the switch accidentally, go nuts with the positive reinforcement (it'll be natural to flip your shit in joy the first couple times your dog moves the switch on accident). Don't spend too long on it each session--maybe 5-10 min, tops; just work on it every day, once or twice a day. End on a high note if you can. If he starts backsliding, it probably means you're pushing the session too long.

Once he's got "get the light" command down solid, combine it with the "rise" command so that he rises up to the wall, and then flips the light. Eventually, you won't have to voice the "rise" part of the command; "get the light" will be a single command that links to the multiple, linked action of rising on the wall with moving the switch either up or down. Be patient, give positive feedback, and have fun.

Another easier, functional trick for dogs with enough weight is "open the fridge." If he takes to tugging games easily, link a "pull" or "back" command to tugging back on a rope that you're holding. The next step is to tie a good rope to your fridge, and get him to pull on that rope on command; initially you may have to hold the rope at first to tug or wiggle it until he's interested in latching on and tugging back. Get him to respond to "open the fridge," just use the familiar command ("pull!") along with the new phrase ("open the fridge") repeatedly; you can gradually extinct the old "pull" command so that you're just saying "open the fridge."

on preview: replace all the "he"s with "she"--sorry for messing up your dog's gender
posted by neda at 2:40 PM on March 20, 2008

teaching them to balance a biscuit on their nose, which they then toss and catch on command, is pretty easy but fun.
posted by wayward vagabond at 3:44 PM on March 20, 2008

"Crawl" is a fun one (teach by having the dog in a lying down on the floor position and have them come, but have one person hold their belly down on the ground).
posted by starman at 3:51 PM on March 20, 2008

I taught my dog "Get my slippers!" followed by "Get my pipe!" Can't top that for kitsch, especially since I'm a lady and I don't smoke. The trick to this is to always use the same pair of slippers and the same pipe, lay them out the same way in the same place before the trick (works best to put the slippers together sideways so the dog can grab them both in the middle—he has to bring them both together to get his treat), and always ask for them in the same order.

Building on that, my dog can now "Go get something!" He'll run out of the room and return with something of his own choosing moments later. Repeat until exhausted--him from fetching and me from laughing at the stuff he brings.

"Get the paper!" is also a useful trick, but only if you pay for home delivery.
posted by chippie at 4:01 PM on March 20, 2008

"Get your collar" is another useful item in his repertoire...
posted by chippie at 4:05 PM on March 20, 2008

I was really hoping you'd say you have a male dog, and I suppose this won't help you out but maybe some other mefites: I ask my miniature american eskimo "where's your weiner!" and he directs his head towards his back legs, and it looks like he's pointing at it. This impresses me 22 year old male friends, I suppose it's not necessarily family friendly (depending on the family I guess) but it's pretty funny. I just broke treats in half (I don't want him to get chubby over a little training!) and say, in an excited voice, "where's your weiner" and hold the treat by his back leg. Do this a few times, and voila, puppy will be as immature as I am!
posted by whiskey point at 6:05 PM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

I taught my dog to open the backdoor to let him self out to "go potty" and to shut the door when he came back in.
posted by fogonlittlecatfeet at 7:14 PM on March 20, 2008

Let's see...we have a lot of fun. Around here, my pack (3 huendchen) has a mixed bag of commands. Feel free to steal from us note that every spoken command has an alternate hand signal:
Black Border Collie Mix: (genius dog)
basic obedience: komm (come), sitz (sit), plotz(down), aus! (leave the room, must cross the threshold), gib laut (speak), bleib (stay), steh auf! (stand up), upstairs, downstairs, foo! (leave it), get it (go get this thing I'm tossing), fuss (heel), take it (put this in your mouth), bring it (now that it's in your mouth, bring it along), chill it (calm down), crawl, catch it, drop it, jeep UP (get in the car), jeep down (get out of the car) (I used to have a jeep when I first got her.), "crate up" has been replaced by "go in your house"
SAR: left, right, farther, closer, dig it, get it, find 'em!,
Interestingly, "STOOFOO" has become the new command to be quiet. She also used to do agility, but we dropped that.

Golden Retriever (sweetest dog ever)
basic obedience: come, sit, stay, down, aus, shake!, bring it back, upstairs, downstairs, drop it, stand up
SAR: hold it, sniff it, ready, find 'em!

Epagneul Bleu de Picardie (thing english springer but blue. he's awesome.)
basic obedience: come, sit, down, stand up, up up (get on this), close it (close the door), open it (open the door), spot (this is your magic spot) spot again (go stand on your spot), spin (in a circle), through (weave my legs), finish (walk around my right side and finish in a left heel), get it, catch it, with me, leave it, knock it off (calm down). This dog doesn't know "Stay." Any command given a second time is held until I "free" him.
agility: all the standards...tunnel, weave, etc.

Of all these, the croud pleasers are:
border collie: the hand signal for speak is very subtle. She can magically "answer" questions asked by kids if they're yes/no, or do simple math, etc. "Storm, do we like cigarettes?" WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF. "Didn't think so." People also dig the German, which we did so that I can more easily issue concurrent commands to different dogs. The trouble is they've now all learned all of them.
golden: shake gets 'em every time. "Kisses" is fun too, I forgot to mention that one up top. Goldens are so freakin charismatic that she's always a favorite.
spanielkids dig "paw" and "spin". Often when he's keyed up his spin is a jumping twist. Grown ups like spot and up up---but that's because his vertical jump-to-height ratio is like or 4 to 1 w/o running. This is the dog that comes to work w/ me every day.
posted by TomMelee at 8:13 PM on March 20, 2008

Oh jeeze, totally forgot:
2 of the 3 have been taught to drink the running water from a sink or fountain. This is ULTRA handy when you're out, because they can drink from a water fountain or a hand sink, etc, no bowl required. Before anyone freaks out---their tongues don't touch the fauceture--just the water.
posted by TomMelee at 8:14 PM on March 20, 2008

How about the ultimate dog trick?

My wife has a co-worker with a lab. This dog will pull on a towel that is attached to the fridge door, and fetch Mom a beer on command out of the fridge. Now if she could just train him to open it...
posted by azpenguin at 9:55 PM on March 20, 2008

Response by poster: Wonderful ideas - I think these are all 'weiners' in my book.
posted by jazzkat11 at 6:30 AM on March 22, 2008

For my pup we always had the "speak" command which was a loud bark, and "whisper" which was a hushed, rrrbrbrbbrbr. Always entertaining.. I don't know how we actually trained this though....she was pretty brilliant so I think she just figured it out.
posted by pilibeen at 8:38 PM on March 22, 2008

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