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Dogs are awesome sources of companionship. They accompany their owners on walks, snuggle up during movie time, and are great at reminding you to get out of bed at the crack of dawn on lazy weekends. All things considered, it’s not difficult to see how dogs earned the moniker of man’s best friend.
Training your dog to perform tricks is another entertaining and enriching activity for both humans and canines. Teaching your dog tricks, in addition to those all-important foundational obedience behaviors, helps Fido become more attentive, relaxed, and is a great way to burn off a little excess energy when you can’t get out for a run. While we all know about the basics such as giving paw, playing dead, or fetching the paper, a lesser known and more challenging command for dedicated owners is teaching your dog how to dance. Intrigued? Grab your matching tutus and treat bag and read on!
Just as human dancing is made up of many different types of steps and styles, teaching your dog to dance will involve training a number of different commands. Doggie language isn’t exactly the same as humans so just telling Spot to “dance” probably isn’t going to get you very far. Instead you’ll be asking your pooch to move in various directions, over or around objects or otherwise perform specific skills that give the appearance of dancing. Advanced users can eventually link these individual commands together into complex routines of several actions. Yes, your dog really can learn that much!
Before you get started teaching your dog to dance, you’re going to want to stock up on your training treats, and plenty of them. It’s a good idea to put together a selection of tasty morsels of varying types and values. Having different types of treats on hand accomplishes a few different things. First, your dog won’t be at risk of getting bored by the same old reward item. A bored dog finds other items, people, or activities to pay attention to, which can interrupt training sessions. Having different treats with different values of yumminess also allows you to reward your dog with a “bonus” for especially good behavior. Consider small, bite-sized pieces of snacks your dog likes and grab a treat pouch to keep your hands free. You’ll need them when selecting and training one of our three methods for teaching your dog to dance.
The Teaching 'Spin' Method
Lure Fido with a treat
Starting off in a low-distraction area such as your house or yard and show your dog that you have a treat in hand. Holding the treat in front of your dog’s nose, encourage him to follow your hand as you guide your dog to turn in a circle. At the end of the circle, release the treat and praise.
Raise it up
Repeat the guided spins numerous times over many training sessions. When your dog is used to moving in a circle, raise your hand up above his head. Continue to guide him, but try to wean them towards a motion, more than guiding them, by making the circles smaller and higher above him.
Remove the treat
After your dog is readily turning in a circle when you make a hand gesture, remove the treat. Continue making a circular motion with your hand, slowly making the circle smaller while still treating and praising only for your dog spinning around.
Add in a command
Once your dog is spinning reliably using a hand signal, it’s time to add in a command. Be careful which word you choose here. While “spin” is certainly good enough, you may want to use “right” or “left” or “spin right” or “spin left” instead, to help train directional spinning (see next step) later on. Say the command with your hand signal and repeat numerous times.
Remove the hand signal
After you’ve used the hand signal in combination with the verbal cue multiple times, start phasing out the hand signal. You want to thoroughly cement the behavior so be sure not to remove the hand signal too early. If your dog doesn’t perform on the cue alone, go back and repeat step 4 a few more times.
Now reverse direction
While turning in one direction is great, being multi-directional is even better for dancing. Once your dog has learned to spin either right or left, start back at step one and train the other direction. The second time through should progress much faster, but remember to move at your dog’s pace.
Switch it up
Once your dog has mastered spinning in both directions, try mixing it up. Tell your dog to spin multiple times or work in right, left, then right again. You and your pooch will be dancing in no time.
The Teaching 'Weave' Method
Having a person or other animal stepping over their bodies doesn’t come naturally to most dogs. To get your dog to weave through your legs, start by taking small steps over and around him when he’s relaxed. Be sure to give plenty of treats and praise.
When your pooch thinks having someone step over him is no big deal, start out teaching the weave. Stand with your legs wide enough apart to allow your dog to pass through. Take a treat in your hand and use it to lure him under your legs. Repeat this multiple times, slowly closing your legs so that there is just enough room for your pooch to pass through.
Add a hand gesture
After your dog has gotten the hang of being lured through, begin phasing out the lure. Use a hand gesture to indicate your dog should go under your legs. A pointed finger or swiping gesture often works here. Always treat and praise for a job well done.
Perform on cue
After you’ve cemented the hand gesture, start adding in a verbal cue. “Under”, “through”, or “legs” are good options here. Say the word at the same time as you make the hand gesture and repeat numerous times.
Practice and repeat
You should practice with your dog weaving between your legs in multiple settings and with an increasing level of distractions. Try changing it up by getting your dog to pass through at different angles or combining it with you stepping over Fido to make the behavior look more like a dance move.
The Teaching 'Stand Up' Method
While jumping up isn’t something you want to encourage in a dog, teaching your dog to stand up on command is actually useful and can help discourage him from jumping when not asked, a bonus for this fun dance move. Start out by encouraging your dog to place his paws on you or your arm or jump up in general. A tasty treat held over the head should do the trick here.
When your dog is jumping up with a treat lure, start encouraging him to stay standing for longer periods of time. Some pets may need your arm or body for support.
Adding hand gesture
Pick a hand gesture that will trigger this behavior in the future. A flat hand, palm up, raising from waist to mid chest is often good choice, but any clear gesture will do. Make the hand gesture as you lure your dog up with a treat.
Once your dog is comfortable with the hand gesture and is jumping up on command, choose a cue such as “up” or “dance.” Say the command along with the hand gesture, slowly phasing out the use of the treat as a lure. Be sure you’ve practiced with the gesture and bribing along numerous times so that your dog can make a solid connection.
Increase the length of time between your dog jumping up, treating, and praising. This will help teach your dog that they should keep “performing” until you give the release command. Standing up, even with support, is taxing on muscles so help your dog train physically as well as mentally by working slowly and building up their strength.
Start to "dance"
After your dog is comfortable with being on their legs for some time, start moving slowly with them, encouraging them to step while they are standing. Take slow steps towards and away from them, supporting your dog when necessary. With a little practice, you and your pooch will be doing the cha cha before you know it.
By Amy Caldwell
Published: 11/14/2017, edited: 01/08/2021