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Any dog can learn and perfect new tricks, and trick training is becoming more popular with both pet owners and experienced dog sports competitors. AKC Trick Dog is a great way to bond with your dog and provide your pet with mental and physical exercise.

One of the best parts is that you can even earn titles from home. But what is an AKC Trick Dog competition, and how can you start competing with your dog?

What Is Trick Dog?

Dogs perform individual tricks to earn a Trick Dog title. At the highest level of performance, Trick Dog routines tell a story. Tricks are categorized by their level of difficulty, and the higher the level of competition, the more difficult the tricks that your dog will need to perform.

Australian Shepherd puppy giving a high five outdoors.

You can earn AKC Trick Dog titles at home, and AKC Canine Good Citizen (CGC) evaluators will judge the video submissions. Many dog shows and clubs also offer opportunities for competitors to earn AKC Trick Dog titles in person at their events.

From puppies to senior dogs, all dogs can learn tricks, and there are tricks for all sizes of dogs, too. Teaching your dog tricks is a great way to prevent boredom by providing mental and physical exercise for your dog.

History of Trick Dog

Dog trick training started to gain recognition in the 1920s, as Rin Tin Tin began performing in silent films. As movies grew more popular, animal actors like Lassie (first portrayed by “Pal” in a 1943 film) became household names, since their tricks enabled them to “act out” scenes in movies.

“Pal” originated the title role in the TV series Lassie in 1954. As television sets were introduced into homes, more canine actors like “Pal” made appearances in America’s living rooms. Rudd Weatherwax, the dog trainer behind “Pal,” skillfully taught the Collie tricks using positive reinforcement methods, the same way that we do today, and captured the hearts of viewers around the world.

Lassie and Tommy Rettig, 1956
Public Domain

The American Kennel Club began offering AKC Trick Dog as a title-earning sport in 2017. Since that time, AKC Trick Dog has become extremely popular with many different kinds of dog owners.

AKC Trick Dog Titles

To earn AKC Trick Dog titles, dogs must be at least four months of age. However, you can start working on teaching your puppy tricks that count toward their titles at any age. AKC Trick Dog titles can be earned by purebred dogs who are registered with the AKC, as well as All-American Dogs enrolled in the AKC Canine Partners Program. There are five different Trick Dog Titles that dogs can earn: AKC Novice Trick Dog, AKC Intermediate Trick Dog, AKC Advanced Trick Dog, AKC Trick Dog Performer, and AKC Trick Dog Elite Performer.

AKC Novice Trick Dog

To earn each Trick Dog title, your dog will have needed to complete any previous titles, so they must be earned in order. All titles require 10 tricks, except for the first title, AKC Novice Trick Dog (TKN). If your dog already has their CGC, they can show documentation of this title to perform five tricks instead of 10. Since tricks are part of passing the CGC test, they have already demonstrated their knowledge of foundation skills and tricks when they pass. So if your dog already has their CGC title, they’re already halfway to their AKC Novice Trick Dog title!

AKC Trick Dog titles require doing these tricks successfully with different sets of rules, and the examples of eligible tricks change with every title level. Tricks that can be done towards the AKC Novice Trick Dog title include spinning in a circle, shaking hands, and kissing. At this level, a handler can use lures to guide dogs into performing tricks. Treats and toys can be used to lure dogs into position and reward dogs when they finish each trick.

AKC Intermediate Trick Dog

After they’ve gotten their Novice Trick Dog title, your dog can now earn their AKC Intermediate Trick Dog title (TKI). They must perform 10 tricks at the intermediate skill level without being lured with food or toys, except for tricks in which luring is allowed specifically in regulations. Examples of Intermediate level tricks include catching, going to place, jumping through their handler’s circled arms, and waving hello.

AKC Advanced Trick Dog

To get their AKC Advanced Trick Dog title (TKA), dogs must have earned their Novice and Intermediate Trick titles, and then they should perform 10 tricks that are at the Advanced level. Some examples of Advanced tricks include weaving through their handler’s legs as they walk, bowing, and balancing a treat on their nose. At the Advanced level, treats or toys cannot be used as a lure to move the dog into position. Treats and toys can be used to reward a dog after they have completed their tricks.

AKC Trick Dog Performer

Pembroke Welsh Corgi sitting up on its hind legs begging outdoors.
©_DeingeL_ -

In addition to three Performer-level tricks, the remaining seven tricks should be at the Intermediate trick level or higher, and they can’t have been submitted as part of any previous titles. Of the ten tricks a dog completes to earn their Performer title, three of those tricks should involve the use of props. At the Performer level, agility or obedience equipment can’t be used. While earning their Performer title, the tricks can be done as part of a story or be unrelated tricks.

AKC Trick Dog Elite Performer

The AKC Trick Dog Elite Performer title (TKE) is the highest trick dog title a dog can earn with the AKC. In order to earn the Elite Performer title, dogs and handlers must work together to perform a routine made up of 10 tricks. This trick routine should have a scripted story and be the kind of routine that could be performed for an audience. When the Elite Performer title was first released, an audience was required. However, as a result of COVID-19, dogs and handlers no longer need to perform the routine for an audience.

Five of the 10 tricks the dog performs must be at the Performer level. In addition, five of the tricks need to utilize props of some kind. As part of the routine, music can be used. The story must be told as part of the routine, whether the handler or someone else narrates. Dogs are not permitted to wear costumes while doing their Elite Performer routine.

Getting Started in Trick Dog

You can start trick training with your dog at home. The AKC Trick Dog Evaluator Guide provides all the information about specifics for how to complete each titling level. There is also additional information in the guide about how to develop an Elite Performer routine.

©American Kennel Club

Once your dog knows some tricks and you’re ready to go for their Novice title, all you need to do is show your dog’s skills to an evaluator. If you’re involved in a dog training or breed club in your local area, you can ask if the club has a CGC evaluator who can review your trick dog title submissions. You can also check the CGC Evaluator finder to locate an evaluator.

National Trick Dog Competition

In 2019, the AKC began a National Trick Dog Competition to celebrate the creativity and skill of dogs performing tricks. This competition brings together dogs who have earned Elite Performer titles and their handlers.

Performance criteria for the performances are similar to those required to earn the Elite Performer title. Each routine must tell a story and involve props. Judges determine overall winners, finalists, and other outstanding performances. In addition, there are specialty awards given for the top competing dog from each breed. There are also special awards for Junior Handlers who are competing with their dogs.

Details of the 2023 National Trick Dog Competition will be available by June 1 on Entry forms will be posted by August 1, and the deadline for entries is October 2.

Related article: How to Create Your First Trick Routine
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