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How To Turn Cute Behaviors Into Tricks


Dogs do cute things all the time, it’s one of the reasons we love them. Some tilt their heads when you talk to them, others rest their head in your lap, use their paws to brush off their nose, and almost all dogs play bow at some point.

Image source: @r0sss via Flickr
Image source: @r0sss via Flickr
Image source: @tarotheshibainu via Flickr
Image source: @tarotheshibainu via Flickr

With just a clicker and some treats, you can turn these behaviors into fun, adorable tricks that are sure to entertain next time you have guests over.

Since many dogs do the adorable “head tilt,” I will use that as the example. But remember, you can use this method for pretty much anything your dog is doing that you want to turn into a trick.


So, What’s the Trick?

The trick is to “catch” your dog doing whatever is you want to turn into a trick. In dog training, we call it capturing. Capturing is a method of training where you wait for your dog to offer the desired behavior and then mark it (with the click or a “yes” and then reward with a treat, toy, praise, etc.) so your dog will be more likely to repeat it.

For example, the head tilt. As soon as your dog tilts that head, you are going to “click” or say yes, and then reward.

It’s that simple! The hardest part is actually catching the behavior. In order to do this, you are going to have to:

Pay attention to when your dog does this behavior. For the head tilt – does he do it when you talk in a certain voice, or he hears a certain sound – like a squeaky toy? Notice when he does the behavior and try to recreate the scenario for your training sessions.

So, for example, if talking in a high pitched voice causes your dog to tilt his head, get your clicker and treats ready and then talk to your dog in that fashion. Click/reward the head tilt. Do this a few times, then stop talking and see if your dog still offers a head tilt. If so, click/reward. If you wait a few seconds and nothing, repeat the squeaky voice and then click/treat when he does the behavior.

If it’s a behavior he does completely randomly, such as sneezing, then you are going to have to “be ready” to click/reward at any time.

This means:

  • Carry the clicker with you (putting it on a wrist coil helps)
  • Have rewards handy – treats in pockets or in cups throughout the house, carry a toy with you, and of course praise is always handy!
  • Pay attention. Most dog preform behaviors quickly, so be attentive. If you are hoping to catch a behavior, don’t get caught up binge watching a show – you’ll miss it!
Image source:

Adding A Cue

So, how do you add a cue and make this a trick? Once your dog realizes what he is getting rewarded for, he is going to start offering it more, even without the original trigger (i.e. you talking in a squeaky voice).

That’s when you know he is ready for you to add whatever cue you want (hand signal or verbal) to his behavior. To do this, just say your cue while your dog performs the behavior. Do this several times and then try saying the word or giving the hand signal before your dog does the behavior.

Image source: @TommiVirtanen via Flickr
Image source: @TommiVirtanen via Flickr

If he performs, you know he has paired the word/hand signal with that trick. If not, just keep saying it as he is doing it for a few more times. And then test again.

Both you and your dog will be surprised at how fun and easy it is to turn cute behaviors into tricks. Happy Training!


Written by Kristina Lotz
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