Tricks are the perfect sport for keeping your dog engaged, whether they’re new to trick title competitions or are a seasoned competitor. No matter what the weather is or where you are, you and your pup can practice skills anywhere — even in a small area like your living room. While you can buy or make elaborate props (and at the higher titles you do need to include props) tricks do not require large or elaborate equipment.
Tricks also help keep your dog’s mind and body conditioned during times of the year when you might otherwise be a little more sedentary and not able to make it to as many of your usual dog-related activities or sports.
AKC Trick Titles, like other sports, become an official part of your dog’s registered name, so they are a good use of your time. As you and your dog begin to explore tricks, make sure you understand the rules and procedures for trick dog titles. As with any new sport, it’s always a good idea to read the evaluator’s guide so you have a clear understanding of what you and your dog will be scored on, and what is and isn’t allowed.
All dogs of any breed or mixed breed can earn trick titles — they just need to be AKC registered or have a PAL or AKC Canine Partner number. Currently, there are five trick dog titles available: Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, Trick Dog Performer, and Trick Dog Elite Performer. Any CGC Evaluator can also review and approve trick dog titles. Starting in 2020, CGC Evaluators are now also able to review and approve Elite Performer titles for your dog (or you can send a video to the AKC directly to review).
You’ll also want to make decisions about how you are going to test your dog. Your pup can earn trick titles either at a dog show, or in a private session with an AKC CGC Evaluator (you can also teach via a DMWYD CTDI, which can be grandfathered over to AKC trick titles). Your local dog training club will be an invaluable resource for finding out information about upcoming shows that offer trick titling, as well as getting you connected with CGC Evaluators in your local area. You can also search online for CGC evaluators near you.
Play to Your Dog’s Strengths
Does your dog already know some tricks? You can absolutely use those as you are earning your titles. Your dog will likely be learning new tricks at each title level, but there’s no need to teach all new tricks as you begin your competitive trick journey. Review the trick levels and start selecting tricks based on what you think will be fun for you to teach your dog and that they will enjoy. You can also select tricks that work well with your longer-term goals for your dog with other sports, or that build similar skills. For example, your dog knowing the trick of putting her toys away is a great early step towards her learning how to play basketball.
Even though you need to start with your dog’s Novice title, it’s a good idea to review all the title levels and the trick options so that you can get a better sense of what is to come at the higher levels. This way you can start building towards those more complicated tricks even before you are testing at that level. Like any other sport, the key to success with your dog and tricks is to stay motivated and set challenging yet reasonable goals. The great thing about tricks is that they are fun to teach and practice. You don’t have to dedicate hours a week to going to classes — you can fit trick training and practicing into your daily life a few minutes at a time as you engage with your dog.
If you are diving into trick training this winter, it can be helpful to set a daily schedule of when you want to train every day, which tricks you want to practice, and how you want to train them. For example, you could set the goal of teaching a new trick each week. Remember that as you teach new tricks, you should always go back and continue to work on previously learned tricks to ensure they stay polished. Additionally, try to work on those new and existing tricks in new environments, starting with the least distracting — like your home — and building up to more distractions like when you go to training classes, the pet store or other dog-friendly locations.
Soon enough, your dog will be ready to earn their trick titles!