We all know that Fox Terriers are very fun-loving, active, intelligent dogs. As you may have read elsewhere on our website, more and more people are introducing their Fox Terriers to sports such as Agility, Flyball, Rally, Earthdog, etc., and our foxies are showing the world that they can excel in these competitive events! Some of us have work/family/life commitments that prevent us from devoting the time necessary to participate in these sports, but we’d still love to spend quality time with our Fox Terriers in ways that engage them both physically and mentally. The answer for some of us is teaching our dogs tricks. Many tricks are easily taught in a stepwise manner based on natural or learned behaviors which can be modified or shaped to obtain the desired result. You will be delighted with your dog’s achievement, his self-esteem will soar, and your family and friends will think your dog is the coolest, smartest dog on the planet! It’s great fun for both of you!
The secret to working with Fox Terriers, of course, is making it fun. For a food-motivated dog, the yummy treats that appear whenever he performs the desired behaviors are the goal. Playtime with favorite toys can also be used to reward appropriate behaviors. Some tricks are not only fun, but they can be used to put your pup into a happy, calm state. With tricks such as “bang” (lie on their side) or “play dead” (lie on their back), the dog learns that lying down calmly results in treats. A trick such as “beg” or “sit pretty” teaches a dog that sitting up politely yields more tasty rewards than barking, jumping or pawing.
Tricks are great for dogs who have physical limitations which prevent them from participating in activities like running or fetching balls. Tricks can combine slow, calm, repetitive activities with mental exertion, which together can really dispel some energy! Nosework type games (“find it”) utilize the dog’s innate sense of smell and are a great low physical stress activity. Anyone who has played this type of game with their dog can attest that their dogs are exhausted by the time they finish, simply because of the mental activity involved.
One of the best parts of teaching your dogs to do tricks is that the training is often most effective when you divide it into several short sessions a day rather than one long one. A 30-minute block of time may be difficult for some of us to fit into our day, and many of our terriers will get bored with the activity in that time frame. But most of us can manage to work in a couple five- or 10-minute sessions a day, and our dogs are less likely to lose interest in the game in that amount of time.
Some Tips for Trick Training:
- You can use the dog’s regular kibble as treats. Instead of feeding his meal in a bowl, use the same measured amount of food divided into as many training sessions as you plan to do in a day. You can provide a lot of reinforcement for the right behaviors in a short period of time; i.e., the training can be repeated 10, 20 or more times in the course of just a few minutes. If you use treats to motivate your dog to learn, break or cut them into small, kibble-size pieces. Keep in mind that treats should compose no more than 10% of a dog’s calorie allotment for the day. If you end up using a lot of treats for training rewards, try to make them healthy because you’re going to have to cut down on the amount of food you give him at mealtime to help him maintain a healthy weight.
- You sometimes need to start rewarding or luring behaviors that look very different from your ultimate goal. When the dog is good at the first step, you’ll start rewarding behaviors that are closer and closer to the goal behavior. In other words, you’ll be shaping behavior through little mini-steps. That way you and your dog are always successful and even the most laid-back learner will be able to accomplish the steps.
- Once the final step is learned, train the cue word so the dog can perform the trick on cue. Don’t attach a word to the trick until the trick is actually learned. Otherwise, to the dog, the word will be just another random noise we humans make.
- As additional steps, you can switch to other rewards besides food. You can also train the dog to perform the trick multiple times in a row without needing a reward each time.
- Many trainers advocate the use of a clicker or a happy, enthusiastic “yes!” to mark the correct behavior. You need to let the dog know immediately that he has performed the correct behavior—often faster than you can deliver the treat/reward to him. The clicker or “Yes” cue, sounded immediately when the dog performs correctly, lets him know that he did something right and a treat is coming.
- There is no one correct way to teach a dog a trick. We plan to offer tricks from many of our FTN members, and most of us are not dog trainers. You know your dog better than anyone. You know what motivates him, which tricks he’s likely to enjoy and which he will find utterly ridiculous and not worth his time and energy. Our goal is to share what we’ve learned and most of all, to HAVE FUN! Check this page regularly for updates on new tricks and games to try with your Fox Terrier.