Other Fun Stuff
You've spent lots of time teaching your small dog its manners to make your life easier at home and in your travels. Mastering obedience commands was your dog's mandatory education, but teaching dog tricks is like recess — it's just for fun. Like any training, your dog will learn when you reward it for doing what you want it to. If you want Bruiser to fetch, for example, you'll praise him like crazy and give him a treat when he brings back the ball or toy. Your happy attitude is vitally important in teaching tricks, so try to shape the dog's behavior with positive reinforcement only — no loud and crabby “No's,” please. This is playtime. Learning tricks and playing games are not mutually exclusive. They both make use of your small dog's keen intelligence, and provide enjoyable downtime as well.
Practice the tricks described in this section two or three times a day, and perfect only one trick at a time.
To teach him to shake hands, your dog will first need to know the “Sit” command. Gently take his paw and give the command you have chosen, offering the treat with the other hand. Repeat this a few times to make sure he gets the message.
Use simple one-word commands like “Paw” or “Shake” when you want the dog to shake hands or “Dance” when you want him to stand up or twirl around on his hind legs. The more you babble on when instructing little Badger, the less he will understand.
If your dog is one who loves to jump up on people, it will be easy to teach him to dance. When he gets excited and stands up to get to you, hold his paws and tell him “Dance!”
Praise him, offer a treat, and set his front feet back on the ground. Once he masters standing without you holding on, use the treat to get him to turn in a circle. Most small and toy dogs have no trouble standing up, so this is a cute trick for them to learn.
Another appealing trick is bowing. You can teach it by slowly moving the treat down to the floor in front of your dog. He will follow it and when his head is down to the floor, give the “Bow” command. Eventually your little trickster will be bowing on command like the little ham he is, treat or no treat.
Small dogs love to announce their presence through barking, so the “Speak” command is a natural. Get Spunky excited — you know how — and give the command, rewarding him for barking.
Playing games with your dog is fun too. The most basic one involves hiding a favorite toy and asking him, “Where's the toy?” or telling him, “Get the toy!” Make it simple for starters, letting him see you hide the object under a pillow or blanket. When he returns it triumphantly, make a big happy fuss.
If your little dynamo is led around by his nose, he can play tracking games right at home. Make him sit while you hide a tasty treat in the next room, then tell him to “Go get it!” Play the game some more when you're out in the yard, making him sit while you hide treats in the grass, behind the shed, or on the porch. Make finding the treats increasingly harder so he'll have to tap into those ancient hunting instincts to find the object of his search.
Hide-and-seek is another fun game. At first, hide yourself in an obvious place, like under a blanket where he can see you, and call him with “Where's Mommy?” He will dig under that blanket with his nose and paws to find you, so have that treat ready to reward him. One of your children can hide in another room or somewhere in the yard, and he'll have to use his scenting and tracking abilities to find them, much to everyone's delight.
Dogs love the thrill of the chase, too. But since chasing people or children might encourage unwanted aggression, it's better to have them chase a squeaky toy, ball, or stick, and to get a reward and lots of praise for bringing it back. This can be tied into the “Fetch” command.
Small dogs are highly intelligent. They can learn to ring a bell when it's time to go potty, put their toys back in the toy box, get their own leash when it's time for a walk, balance cookies on their noses, give a kiss or a hug, shake their heads “Yes” or “No,” and go wake up the kids in time for school. They can even be taught to chime in when you sing “Happy Birthday.” The happy reaction these tricks and games generate will be its own reward for your little crowd-pleaser.