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4 Tricks to Prevent Cabin Fever

Teach your dog fun new skills to prevent boredom (and frostbite!)

There's no doubt about it- tricks are fun to learn and teach! They are also a great way to give your dog mental and physical exercise when it's too blustery and unpleasant to go outdoors. Learning new skills will tire your dog out and reduce stress. So grab a clicker, some treats or your dog's kibble, and try some of these fun tricks:

Sit pretty

Ask your dog to sit, click and give them a treat for sitting. Hold a treat up to their nose and very slowly raise it up in the air and back over their heads. Click when their front feet leave the ground and let them eat the treat in your hand. Once your dog can be easily and fluidly lured into sitting on their hind legs, fade out your treat lure and add a cue. With your treat behind your back, say the cue, "Pretty!" Count to 1, then bring your treat out and lure them into position. Click and treat when they're sitting pretty, and start over again. Start making your gesture with the lure smaller by holding the treat further from their nose, using an empty hand to lure them, or just gesturing with your hand. See how small of a hint your dog needs to complete the behavior on their own.

This trick requires balance, coordination, and core strength, so keep your practice sessions short and go at your dog's pace. A beginner dog may only be able to lift one paw off the ground or reach onto their tippy toes-- this is fine! Click for even a tiny slice of the behavior, and it will eventually build up into a finished "sit pretty."


With your dog in a stand, use a treat to slowly lure them 360° around. Click once they've turned completely and give them a treat.

If your dog is having trouble with this, trying moving the treat slower and clicking and treating several times around the "clock" to let them know they're getting it right. So, with the dog's nose starting at 6 o'clock, click and treat at 3 o'clock, 12 o'clock, 9 o'clock, and again at 6 o'clock. If your dog is sitting down when you move the treat, you might be moving it too far up in the air. Try to keep the treat parallel to the ground and at the level of their nose for the whole time.

Once your dog is spinning around easily, you can add the cue and fade the lure. With your treats hidden, say "Spin" and count to 1. Bring your treat out from behind your back and lure them into a spin, click and treat when they do. Begin fading out the lure by decreasing the size of your hint. Instead of luring them the full 360°, lure them just 270° and let them finish the behavior on their own. Then try 180°, 90°, and eventually your dog will spin when you say "spin."

You can teach them to "twirl" by going in the opposite direction. Choose either clockwise or counter-clockwise to start with, then introduce the opposite direction when your dog is already doing well with the first.

Ring a bell/ Turn on a light

This trick uses a process called shaping, which is a lot like the "Hot-Cold Game" you played as a kid. Shaping requires a dog to think and problem-solve on their own, which is a big mental leap and a perfect way to tire out a bored, antsy dog! Pick an object, such as a bell or a touch light, for your dog to target with their paw.

Grab your clicker and a supply of treats (I like to use their dinner kibble rations for shaping) and find an open space with minimum distractions. Set the object down on the floor and keep your eyes on your dog. If they walk towards the object, click your clicker and toss the treat a few feet away. They'll run after the treat, turn around, and walk towards the object again. Click when they approach it and toss a treat away.

Your dog will figure out that the clicks are happening whenever they do something related to the object. Then you can start holding out for more! So if your dog is predictably approaching the object, hold off on your click for a second and see if they'll sniff it. Click and toss a treat. Then see if they'll nudge it with their nose-- click and treat. When they're nudging it, hold out for a touch of their paw-- click and treat. Through this process, your dog will figure out which behaviors are warm, warmer, and hot! You slowly shape their behaviors into what you want.

Once they're reliably pawing at the bell or turning on the light, you can add a cue. Toss a treat to get your dog away from the object. When they're approaching it and likely to hit it with their paw, say your cue. "Ring it!," "Check please!," or "Lights!" are all good options.

Shake/High five/Wave

This is a great trick to teach, because it's actually three in one! If your dog is naturally "pawsy," this might go quicker for you. (If not, try doing the paw targeting exercises above, first!) Resist the temptation to swipe your dog's paws with your hand. It's important for the dog to figure out on their own what you want from them. It's easy to sit back and let someone else do your homewor for you, but that defeats the purpose!

With your clicker and a supply of treats, ask your dog to sit. Hold out your hand with a treat closed inside at nose height. Let your dog sniff and snuffle at it, and wait to see if they'll try using their paw to get it. Have your other hand out, ready to catch their swiping paw as it falls. As soon as they make contact with your hand, mark that movement with a click or a verbal marker (Yess! Good! Right! Ding!) and give them a treat.

This might start as baby steps with minor paw movement. Once your dog catches on that the movement of their paw is what's being paid, they'll offer more movement and more confident handshakes.

When you have a hearty handshake, getting a high five or a wave is easy. Simply flip the position of your hand to point your fingers up for high five. Not much difference to the dog, and you've got a cute new trick!

Catch a wave by putting your hand out as if you were going to high five, but fake them out at the last second so they don't make contact with your hand. Mark or click when the dog's paw is in the air, and eventually you'll have them raising it up on their own!

There are lots of cute cues you can use for these. My dog's cue for wave or raising one paw is, "Who's the best dog?"

Want to try them all?

Our "It's Tricky!" intermediate class starts February 4 at 7PM. Learn these tricks and more while having fun with your dog! Open to graduates of Beginner Good Manners or an equivalent with permission. Sign up HERE


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