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Have you ever seen the small dogs at the circus? They jump through hoops, push baby carriages, dance with one another, and perform all sorts of fun tricks? If you have, you may have seen a Chihuahua among them. Teaching your puppy tricks can be a lot of fun. Not only are your puppy's tricks fun to show off to friends, but regularly teaching your puppy how to do things can improve your relationship with one another, stimulate your puppy's brain, give him something purposeful to do, exercise his body, and even serve as practical assistance to you, depending on which tricks you train. It can be a great way to stimulate your own brain, and improve your own timing, communication, and creativity as well.
How long that it takes to train your puppy will depend on many different factors. It will depend on your puppy's temperament, his intelligence, willingness to please, attentiveness, motivation, and energy level. It will depend on what you are teaching. Teaching your puppy how to 'touch' your hand is, of course, a lot easier than teaching your puppy how to do a handstand. It will depend on your own skills as a trainer--how good your timing, communication, and consistency are. It will also depend on how often you practice the trick. The more often you are able to practice, even for short sessions, the quicker your puppy will learn.
While your puppy is young, be careful to only teach your puppy tricks that are not too physically demanding. Until the age of one year, most puppy's bones are still growing, and the growth plates have not closed yet. This makes your puppy more prone to injuries, such as joint problems and broken bones.
Because your Chihuahua is young, expect his attention span to be shorter. You may need to have more frequent, short sessions, instead of fewer long ones, to keep his attention and not to overwhelm him. The more tricks that you teach him, and the older that he gets, the better his attention span should become. Also, remember to be patient with him. He might get easily distracted, or act silly while training. Remember to just enjoy the process with him. After all, tricks are supposed to be fun!
To get started you will need your reward, such as treats or toys. You might also want to use your dog's own kibble as a reward. You will need a way to keep your treats close by, such as a treat pouch, a Ziploc bag placed into your pocket, or small containers of treats placed close by. Depending on what trick you are teaching, you might also need props, a certain type of environment, assistants, a leash, harness, collar, or a similar item. No matter what trick you choose to teach, you will need a positive attitude, good communication, patience, good timing, and a willingness to have fun with your puppy.
The Lure Method
Choose the reward
To begin, choose your puppy's favorite treats. If your puppy is very food motivated, then you can also use less exciting rewards most of the time, like your puppy's dog kibble, and save the tastiest treats for the hardest tricks.
Show your puppy a treat, then use the treat to encourage your puppy into the position, or into doing the activity, that you are training your puppy to do on command. For example, if you are teaching your puppy to go through a tunnel, then place treats in front of and inside the tunnel, to lure him into the tunnel. If you are teaching your puppy to 'stand', then when he is sitting, touch a treat to his nose, and then move the treat away from him slowly, so that he will stand up to follow the treat.
When you encourage your puppy into the position, or into doing the correct activity, then when he begins to do the correct thing, tell him the command word, and then right when he completes the command, praise him and reward him. For example, if you are luring your puppy into a 'sit', when his bottom begins to lower toward the floor, tell him "sit", and when his bottom touches the ground, praise him and offer him a treat.
When you have successfully lured your puppy into doing the correct activity or into the position that you are teaching him, repeat the process until your puppy begins to offer the behavior or position as soon as he sees the treat, as soon as you begin to lure him, or as soon as he hears the command.
Phase out lure
When your puppy is doing the correct thing on his own, before you have lured him completely, then begin to phase out the lure. To phase out the lure, make the same motion with your hand or body that you did before when a treat was in your hand, but this time do it without a treat there. When your puppy has completed the behavior by following your motion without a visible treat, then reward your puppy with a treat from your other hand or from somewhere hidden, such as the treats in your pocket.
Practice without the lure, until your puppy can consistently do the activity or position without it. If your puppy is struggling, then give him a hint by luring him again with the treat after you have let him try without it for several seconds, or lure him again after you have tried for multiple times in a row. Do this until he does not need the lure at all, in order to perform the trick.
Phase out extra props
If you are using props such as physical objects, your hand, arm, or something else, to help your puppy perform the trick, then when he is physically capable of doing the trick on his own, understands the trick well enough to perform it when given the command, and is not afraid of any part of the trick, phase out the props as well. To phase them out, you can gradually remove them, or remove them all at once, and then put them back for just that trick attempt, after letting your puppy think about what to do for a few seconds, if your puppy needs a hint. You can do this until your puppy no longer needs any hints in order to perform the trick.
Phase out hand signals
If your puppy is still depending on a hand signal that used to be a lure motion and you wish to remove the hand signal, so that your puppy will only respond to the verbal command, or if you wish to teach your puppy to respond to both, then you will need to phase out the hand signal. To do this, give your puppy the verbal command, then wait five to ten seconds before following the command with a hand signal, to give him a hint if needed. Do this every time that you practice with your puppy, until he will do the command before being given the hand signal. When he does this for the first time, reward him with extra treats. Practice until he can do it consistently.
Practice and have fun!
Once your puppy has learned a new trick, keep practicing that trick often to help him improve even more, and to keep him from forgetting it, or from losing the balance or muscle strength that he may have developed in order to accomplish that trick. For example, if you are teaching your puppy how to limp, then the more you practice, the easier it will become for him to balance, and to not fall over while lifting up his leg while walking forward. Once he has developed this balance, you do not want him to loose it. Be sure to also make trick performance fun every time!
The Capture Method
To begin, place treats or other rewards into an easily accessible location. Options include: a small Ziploc bag in your pocket, a treat pouch attached to you, or multiple small containers in convenient locations through your home.
With your puppy nearby, pay careful attention to him throughout the day. Watch him to catch him doing whatever position or activity that you are trying to put on cue as a trick.
Whenever you see your puppy begin to do the behavior that you are watching for, tell him his command word, and when he does the behavior completely, praise him and offer him a reward. For example, if you are trying to teach your puppy to lie down, when you see him begin to lie down, softly tell him "down", and when he lies all the way down, so that his chest touches the ground, praise him and immediately offer him a reward.
Reward your puppy every time that you capture him doing the behavior that you are trying to train him for. Do this at least twenty to thirty times over the next few days or weeks, depending on how frequently he will do whatever the behavior is.
After twenty or thirty repetitions, test out whether or not your puppy has learned the verbal command, by giving him the command again, right after he has finished doing the behavior on his own. If he does it, then praise him and reward him with multiple treats, one at a time.
If your puppy will not do it, then go back to capturing the behavior when he offers it on his own. After you have rewarded him at least ten more times for doing the behavior, then test him again, to see if he will do it when told. Repeat this process until your Chihuahua will do the trick when you give him the command.
When your puppy will do the trick again when given the verbal command, after he just did the behavior on his own, then have him repeat the trick again, every time that he does the trick behavior on his own. Do this at least ten times.
Use just the command
After you have practiced telling your puppy to do the trick again at least ten times, then try telling your puppy to do the trick without prior prompting. To do this, give him the command when was not already doing the behavior. If he does the trick, then praise him and offer him multiple treats in a row the first time he does it.
When your puppy can do the trick when simply told to, without any other prompting beforehand, then your puppy has learned the trick! At all is left is to practice, so that your puppy will improve. Remember to have fun together!
The Positioning Method
To begin, choose treats or toys that your puppy loves, to use as rewards. Keep your rewards close by while you train him.
Help your puppy move into the position that you are trying to teach him while telling him the command, or show him how to do the activity that you are training while telling him the command. For example, if you are teaching your puppy how to 'shake' hands, then tell him "shake", and gently grab his paw and give it a gentle shake. Praise him while you are doing this and then give him a treat.
Show your puppy how to do the activity, or move him into the position, while you tell him the command. Do this at least thirty times over the course of the week. Reward him every time that he allows you to show him. When he begins to move into the position or do the activity himself, as soon as you reach toward him to show him, then he is ready for the next step.
Use just the command
When your puppy begins to do the activity or move into the position on his own, when he sees you moving toward him, or when you first touch him, then work on teaching him how to respond to just the command. To do this, give him the command, and then wait at least seven seconds to see if he will do it. If he does it, then praise him and offer him five treats, one at a time.
Show him again
If your puppy does not do the command during the seven seconds, then move him into the position, and praise him and reward him with one treat, like you did before. Practice telling him the command, and then waiting seven seconds before moving him. Do this until he will do the activity, or move into the position, before you begin to move him.
Practice until consistent
When your puppy will move into the position or do the activity that you are trying to train, when you give him the command without moving him, then practice the trick until he can do it consistently.
Practice makes perfect!
When your puppy will consistently do the trick when you only give him a verbal command, then he has learned the trick! Now all that is left is to practice it to help him improve, and to show it off to your family and friends. Have fun!
By Caitlin Crittenden
Published: 02/20/2018, edited: 01/08/2021