Trick Dog Titles: The Hamilton of Dog Training

By Mary R. Burch, PhD
AKC CGC and Trick Dog Director

Many years and many pounds ago, I was all about ballet dancing. I loved ballet and at that time, had no use for tap, modern dance or jazz. I was a dance traditionalist and couldn’t see the value in a dance form that didn’t involve the discipline and rigor of ballet. Years went by and somehow, I eventually opened up my traditionalist, closed mind and embraced all forms of dance.

Then a few years ago, I nearly lapsed back to my former closed-minded self when I heard about a new show on Broadway called, “Hamilton.” In Hamilton, dancers hip-hop and rap their way through the American Revolution and the life of America’s founding father, Alexander Hamilton. My first reaction to hearing about the Broadway show, Hamilton, was to scrunch up my nose and say, “I don’t get it.” And then I took a closer look. Hamilton is one of the most successful Broadway shows ever. The show quickly sold out with some people spending as much as $600 for a ticket. Hamilton had unprecedented ticket sales and won 11 Tony awards including the Best Musical. And perhaps the best part is because of Hamilton, young people started flocking to Broadway—this was an entirely new audience that had never participated before.

So what has this got to do with dog training, you ask. We have just launched the AKC Trick Dog titles. While there are many fans who are so excited they can’t see straight, there are also a small number of traditionalists who don’t see trick dog trainers as real trainers.

Teaching tricks to a dog can actually make one a better trainer. How do you get a dog to jump through a hula hoop? It’s easy, of course. Just put the dog on one side, hold a treat on the other, and call the dog through. But let’s up the ante and make the trick harder. How about this task?  Now put the hula hoop on the ground. How do you get the dog to flip the hoop up with no help so it is standing and run through before it falls?

When I saw Tess Starr teach her Australian Cattle Dog, Layla, this trick, I realized I was witnessing the behavioral concept of fading at its finest. The secret, as Tess so capably demonstrated, was to start with the hoop upright and gradually lower it to the ground in repeated trials, until the dog lifts it with one edge 6 inches off the ground, then 4 inches, and eventually the hoop will be flat. 

You can use a clicker to mark behaviors or small soft food rewards such as Tricky Trainers treats are also excellent for teaching skills.

The ability to understand and use behavior procedures such as shaping, fading and chaining correctly is one mark of a good trainer. Teaching tricks will teach a trainer how to think about solving a training puzzle.

Trick Dog is brand new to AKC and already, we’re hearing from instructors who teach children and want to know about AKC Trick Dog titles. We're hearing from dog owners who never had anything at all to do with AKC training – they are calling to ask about Trick Dog titles.

Tricks Dog titles offer a whole new area for training one’s dog. In some ways, tricks might just be the Hamilton of dog training.