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Bernese Mountain Dog Hazy (owned by Stacy Slade), English Toy Spaniels Cedric and Aslan (owned by Meghann Belser), Rottweiler Phoenix (owned by Tracy Francis), and English Toy Spaniel Arthur (owned by Jessica Freni, Cottage Charlies).

Editor’s Note: Beginning June 1, 2020, dogs under the age of four months may not receive a title for AKC Trick Dog or Canine Good Citizen in order to emphasize AKC STAR Puppy and socialization. Once puppies reach four months old, they are free to participate in Trick Dog!

What’s a dog to do while waiting out the pandemic? With training classes, dog sports, and playdates currently off-limits, AKC is inviting pups and their owners to work toward their Trick Dog titles during the lockdown. Tricks can now be assessed via video, creating a win-win-win for housebound dogs and owners as well as AKC-approved evaluators who have been impacted by the economic pause.

How Trick Dog Training Can Boost Your Lockdown Lifestyle

There’s no dog too young or too old to enjoy tricks and earn their Trick Dog title. Just ask Rottweiler puppy Phoenix. As a trainer to the Rottweiler puppies bred by her family in Gardnerville, Nevada, owner Tracy Francis had already started Phoenix on the road to becoming a confident, relaxed puppy before bringing her home at eight weeks old. Trick Dog training has strengthened the bond between Tracy and Phoenix, while adding structure to family life during the lockdown. “I love training dogs, and I love working with them,” Tracy says, “so it’s really nice for me to be able to take fifteen minutes a few times a day to focus on something that’s really fun, and they love it. It creates a really great bond.”

Phoenix walking a balance beam.

Bernese Mountain Dog breeder Stacy Slade agrees: Trick Dog training is fun. “It’s a fun relationship with your dog,” she says. “You can train them for something fun where you aren’t necessarily married to the outcome. In Obedience, people tend to get a little serious about what they’re training, whereas with the tricks, it’s just fun to see them accomplish them.” Stacy—who runs the Bernese training and information channel SitStay on YouTube—has been trick-training 4.5-month-old Bernese puppy Hazy and both of her parents, who also live with Stacy. Hazy now has her novice and intermediate titles, and five tricks toward her advanced title.

Aside from giving Stacy a training goal to work toward during the lockdown, Trick Dog has given her a greater sense of community during this period of isolation. Her extended network of dog lovers has come together on social media to discuss the Trick Dog challenge and post their submissions, creating a sense of shared purpose and camaraderie. “What I like about it is it’s not competitive with each other,” Stacy says. “It’s something fun we can all accomplish.”

Meghann Belser, who manages an animal hospital full-time in New York, finds herself working 50-hour weeks or more during the COVID-19 crisis. Since the pandemic, began, she has found the time to put four different Trick Dog titles on her dogs. Just shy of five months old, English Toy Spaniels “Arthur ” (Enchanting Cottage Arthur Pendragon TKN, owned/bred by Jessica Freni, Cottage Charlies) and littermate “Aslan” (Enchanting Cottage Through the Wardrobe to Accio! TKN, owner Meghann Belser, co-owner Jessica Freni) would have been getting ready to start showing this spring. Due to COVID-19, they are instead taking advantage of the new AKC video submission option to earn Trick Dog titles at home

“It’s a great opportunity to keep puppies learning and engaged when opportunities for classes or competitions are not possible,” Meghann says.

And these pups are not the first in their family to enjoy the chance to show off their silly, clever personalities, Their uncles “Momo” (CH Cottage ES Don’t Step on the Mome Raths CGCA TKA RATI FDC RN CA) and “Jabberwocky” (CH Cottage ES VI Impossible Things TKN) along with half brother “Cedric” (Enchanting Cottage Why Not Take A Chance @ Accio! CGC TKI) have achieved trick titles too!

Cedric, Aslan, and Arthur. Photos courtesy of Meghann Belser.

Meghann, who started in the dog world with French Bulldogs, became involved with English Toy Spaniels starting in 2018. “They have my heart!” she says.

Trick Dog Training Tips from the Experts

So what does a Trick Dog training routine look like? Stacy, Tracy, and Meghann are training their pups in bursts of a few minutes, peppered through the day, between working from home, going into work, or caring for young children. This kind of activity can give a quick energy boost for humans, engage dogs mentally and physically, and be a fun diversion for the whole family. Better still, those minutes will add up to a tangible achievement by the end of the isolation period.

If you’d like to start trick training with your dog, but don’t know how, all three owners advise working with your dog’s existing behaviors. “If there’s something that your dog just naturally wants to do,” Tracy says, “see if you can mold it into a trick. Even speaking. If there’s a dog that does uncontrollable barking or howling, you can work that into a command and make it speak, which is one of the Trick Dog checklist commands.” Stacy adds that Hazy learned to high-five after she started pawing at her during a different training exercise. With a quick pivot on Stacy’s part and some positive reinforcement, Hazy soon had a new trick under her belt.

Hazy enjoying her wobble board.

Both trainers note that for very young pups, some tricks might be less suitable. Jumping, for instance, can damage developing joints, and the coordination needed for advanced tricks can be a challenge for such youngsters—though that hasn’t stopped either dog advancing through the Trick Dog titles.

And don’t be afraid to improvise if the pandemic makes accessing props difficult. Phoenix is now expert at ringing a Christmas jingle bell instead of a doorbell, since Tracy didn’t have one of those on hand.

These days, high-five is one of Hazy’s favorite tricks, along with hugging and backing up. Over in Nevada, Phoenix is fond of playing the piano, walking a balance beam, and even riding a skateboard. In New York, Aslan is perfecting weave poles and “spin!” While the outside world is on hold, these young pups are improving their skills day by day, growing into charming, smart, and playful canine citizens.

For information on how to enter for a Trick Dog title virtually, visit the Trick Dog information page.

Stuck at home with a new puppy? Training your dog during COVID-19 can be difficult without access to normal training classes. That’s why we’re here to help you virtually, through AKC GoodDog! Helpline. This live telephone service connects you with a professional trainer who will offer unlimited, individualized advice on everything from house-training to behavioral issues.

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