Jump to section
Congratulations on your puppy and kudos to you for getting started early with training your puppy easy tricks. You have made a choice that will serve you for the life of your pet - the more training you do with your dog, the faster he will learn and the more he will look forward to your training time together.
Mental stimulation is important for a balanced dog. In addition to enjoying a more tuckered out puppy at the end of the day, you will find that regular training sessions will improve her focus on you - after all, she never knows when you might pull out that bag of treats for a fun game that she always seems to be winning!
This guide offers three easy tricks to train your puppy: ‘Stay’, ‘Spin’ and ‘Shake’. Once you have learned how to teach these tricks, you will have gained some training skills that will allow you to move on to more advanced behaviors and tricks. Enjoy the journey!
In this guide, we will use the term “mark/reward” to indicate when you should give an audible signal to let your dog know she is on the right track, followed by a small food reward. If you are using a clicker to train your dog, this is when you will click then reward. If you aren’t, just decide on a unique sound or word that you will only use for training. For example, say “Yesssss!” in a special tone, followed by a reward.
For your food rewards, you can use a combination of your puppy’s regular rations of dry kibble, but mix in some special food such as cooked chicken or bits of hot dog to keep their attention. You only need a pea size tidbit for a reward.
You will use food rewards to train your puppy easy tricks, but after they learn them you will then fade the food rewards over time. You can do this by selecting only the best examples of the behavior you ask for, chaining several different tricks together before rewarding, and switching to other rewards such as praise or giving your puppy a favorite toy.
Before you get started, be sure you are following some basic guidelines to keep your training sessions fun and effective. Here are some pro tips:
Make time for several short sessions throughout the day and keep each session between 5-10 minutes. If you go too much longer, your puppy will get bored and frustrated and come to view training sessions as work rather than play.
Think of training as a game and your goal is to help your dog “win” rewards as often as possible. This will keep her engaged and excited to learn.
Start teaching any new behavior in a familiar environment where there are not distractions like other pets or people. After he knows the behavior you can take it to new places to continue to strengthen the behavior and improve his focus.
Learning a new behavior in a training session is never the time for punishment. That will only make your puppy dread training with you. Instead, focus on rewarding success and ignoring failure. Only after your puppy has fully learned a new behavior should you add a direct consequence for failure.
The Stay Method
With your puppy right in front of you, say “Staaaaay” in a drawn out tone, and hold up an open palm to give the hand signal. As long as she does not move for one second, mark/reward.
If she is still staying, mark/reward 3 times, each within a few seconds. If she has moved from her spot, just say “Too bad” in a disappointed but not angry tone, and start over.
Say “Okay!” and then toss a food reward a few feet away from your puppy so she will break the stay and go get it (you don’t have to mark it with your clicker). Then, repeat alternating the stay (with a few rewards) and then releasing for another reward. This will be the pattern for all of your stay training.
Increase the duration between mark/rewards during the stay gradually. If your puppy is failing more than once every 7-10 tries, you are expecting more than she is able to deliver. Back it up and give her some room to learn. .
Increase the distance you stand during the stay, starting with barely shifting your weight. Over the course of many sessions and lots of practice, your goal is to be able to walk all the way around her, even briefly into the next room. Progress only as fast as she seems to understand what is expected.
Practice stay with the release
Always remember to practice the release along with the stay. Every time she breaks the stay without being released, it will weaken the stay. Once she is staying for up to about 30 seconds, stop mark/rewarding during the stay as much, but make the reward at the release really count.
After your puppy is at least 6 months old, and has tons of stay practice under her belt, you can add a consequence to breaking the stay. Usually a few minutes of time out in the crate the first several times after you institute this punishment will be enough for her to reconsider breaking the stay.
The Spin Method
Lure a circle
Hold a treat in your hand and let your puppy know that you have it. Lure him around in a circle slowly. When he reaches a full circle, mark/reward. Repeat 5 times.
Fade the lure
With the same hand motion, but no food in your hand, repeat the above step 5 times, this time rewarding after the mark from your pouch.
Abbreviate hand motion
Start to abbreviate your hand motion over the course of the next 10 repetitions, gradually. Your goal is to quickly reduce it to a simple finger in a circle.
Continue to repeat your practice over the course of several short training sessions, always starting a step behind at each new session for a warmup.
Add a verbal cue
Once you have the behavior reliable and where you like it based on your hand signal, start adding a verbal command at the same time. With enough practice, your puppy will spin like a top from either a verbal or non-verbal cue.
The Shake Method
Start on the floor with your puppy in front of you in the sit position. Gently lift her paw and immediately mark/reward.
Repeat the above, setting her paw down in between, 10 times.
Wait for it...
Extend your hand as if you want a shake, close to her paw and wait a few seconds. Chances are she will volunteer a shake, but if not, gently take her paw in your hand and mark/reward.
Repeat the above step, pausing before taking the paw on your own. Eventually she will volunteer the paw, at which point mark/reward and heap on the praise to keep up the momentum. Immediately go again, and wait until she volunteers that paw.
Add verbal cue
Practice with just the hand movement until she is immediately giving you that paw. At this point you can start to add a verbal cue along with offering the shake. “Nice to meet you!” is one idea for a verbal cue. Practice often, and use this trick to be the standard greeting when she meets new people.
By Sharon Elber
Published: 03/23/2018, edited: 01/08/2021