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Tanya Lee
Gryffindor and his owner, Tracy Dulock, perform an Elite Performer routine called “Hairy Pawter and the Sorcerer’s Bone" in 2018. Their entry into the 2019 Virtual Trick Dog competition was titled "Surfin' USA."

Did you know your dog can earn titles for showing off fun tricks? In fact, at the top level of AKC Trick Dog — AKC Trick Dog Elite Performer — you and your dog are required to perform a routine of tricks strung together into a story or script using at least five props.

But do the performers get as much joy out of trick training as people get out of watching the final result? From Hollywood to Hogwarts, meet five talented AKC Trick Dog participants who all agree that teaching a dog to do tricks provides many benefits to both the dog and the handler.

Celtic – Who You Gonna Call?

Pamela Marie Nemec describes Celtic, an American Staffordshire Terrier, as her heart and soul. “Celtic is very sweet and laid back but has drive when asked and will not give up until he succeeds.” He loves to do tricks in front of a crowd, especially children.

Celtic (left) and his Sire, Sonic, are American Staffordshire Terrier AKC Trick Dogs.

Pamela and Celtic’s Elite Performer routine, called, “Who You Gonna Call? Paws Buster” is all about detecting ghosts and spirits. Even though it involves many complicated behaviors, the best part of trick training for Celtic and Pamela is having fun. Plus, Pamela says it taps into Celtic’s drive and willingness to please. “It keeps him occupied and gives us both a feeling of accomplishment.”

For anyone looking to get into AKC Trick Dog, Pamela advises believing in yourself and in your dog. “Be patient and make it fun for both of you. Reward them for even a little bit of effort toward what you want to teach them.”

Ruby-do – Hunting for a Job

Ruby-do, the German Pinscher, has been learning tricks since she was only 12 weeks old. Her owner, Carrie Eicher, says, “It is such a positive beginning to teach a dog how to learn and how to be part of the team.” But strong-willed Ruby-do has her own ideas about how things should be done, so Carrie breaks down tricks into small pieces to help Ruby-do learn. Carrie credits that challenge with making her a better trainer.

Ruby-do and her owner, Carrie Eicher, perform a routine where Ruby-do looks for a job.

One of Carrie’s favorite parts of AKC Trick Dog is watching her dog figure things out on her own. She also appreciates how trick training changes the relationship between dog and handler into a partnership. An added benefit is that with her head so full of positively-taught behaviors, Ruby-do seldom has time to get into trouble.

Ruby-do does best with visual cues, so Carrie has incorporated a lot of fun props into their Elite Performer routine where Ruby-do looks for a part-time job. To really engage the audience, Carrie lets them decide which job they should interview for. Of course, Ruby-do has a mind of her own and a clownish side, so, “no matter how much we practice, she may choose to improvise.”

Sully – May the Force Be With You

Monica Jones says her coated American Hairless Terrier, Sully, is always excited to try something new. He’s undertaken almost every sport except dock diving (he hates getting wet!), and his biggest challenge is how much he loves training. “He needs to be reminded to settle down and think instead of throwing every trick he knows at me to get the cookie.”

Sully and his owner, Monica Jones, perform a routine based on Star Wars.

Monica’s favorite part of AKC Trick Dog is figuring out how to shape behaviors into a trick. Although Monica believes that figuring out new behaviors is good problem solving for Sully, Sully’s favorite part of training is the treats. Monica also appreciates how any dog can participate in AKC Trick Dog. “Trick Dog gives owners something to do where they can work within the boundaries to create something totally tailored to their dog.”

However, their Elite Performer routine is tailored to Monica. It’s based on the Star Wars movies, and Sully will be switching on a toy lightsaber among other force-related tricks. Monica hopes the routine, which allows her to celebrate her inner nerd, brings the audience some laughs.

Sailor – Lights, Camera, Action

Sailor, the Shetland Sheepdog, is an extremely energetic dog who loves to be active every minute he’s awake. No wonder he loves doing tricks. His owner, Linda Unger, is grateful for the relationship she has developed with her Sheltie. “I love the wonderful bond that is built with our dogs when working with tricks.”

Sailor’s owner, Linda Unger

Sailor and Linda’s Hollywood-inspired Elite Performer routine is about a girl and her dog exploring the set of a movie studio. They do tricks from different types of movies, and Linda had a lot of fun creating the story.

Linda loves having an activity that she and Sailor can do together, and she thinks the benefits go beyond bonding. Through AKC Trick Dog, Sailor has learned to be creative and to offer behaviors to Linda. And that has helped their Obedience performance too. She encourages everyone to take a tricks class with their dog. “You will be amazed at the fun things you can do together.”

Gryffindor – Wizardry at Hogwarts

Gryffindor, a Golden Retriever, has a wonderful sense of humor, and his owner, Tracy Dulock, says his athleticism is a bonus with some of their tricks. Tracy started trick training Gryffindor when he was just a puppy. “When the AKC founded their Tricks titles, it seemed like fate.”

Gryffindor’s owner, Tracy Dulock, says just one or two training sessions of a few minutes each is enough to make progress.

Tracy believes there are many benefits to trick training, such as mental and physical stimulation, a strengthened connection with her dog, and the satisfaction and pride both her and Gryffindor feel when they have added a new skill to their repertoire. Just as important, trick training is something Tracy can manage even when she’s having a difficult day due to her chronic struggles with Lyme Disease. “I find it very uplifting to be able to accomplish something so tiny on a bad day.”

Performing tricks puts a smile on Tracy’s face, and her dog frequently makes her laugh out loud. “I’m pretty sure Gryff was a circus dog in another life.” Entertaining audiences is just icing on the cake for this duo. And their Elite Performer routine, called “Hairy Pawter and the Sorcerer’s Bone” will definitely be entertaining as they re-enact a scene from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.