Suggestions for brain work, tricks and exercises to do with your dog.
(By M. Tornikoski + other folks on the BELG-L mailing list;
some of the ideas originate from the book 'Min bästa vän'
by Marie Hansson-Hallgren.
Original version created in 1994, last update: 2001-02-21.
I welcome additions to this collection -- please send email to
As we all know, Belgian Sheepdogs are active dogs who need lots of
exercise, both physical and mental. Most Belgian owners are engaged in
various activities with their dogs -- herding, obedience, tracking,
SAR, agility (and lure coursing :-) -- but this is a collection of
things that you can do with your dog when you don't have the time for
'serious' training, or when your dog already seems to have mastered
the 'more serious' things and you just want to have fun with him, or
especially if your dog seems bored with all the things that he already
knows and spends his spare time barking, chewing etc.
I have divided the exercises into five categories:
- Useful Tricks
- Silly Pet Tricks or Tricks Just for Fun
- Problem Solving
- Nose Work
- Balance Work
Remember that the tricks are mainly meant to give your dog some meaningful
activity -- this means two things:
Note added in September 1995 : I have received several requests for some
description of methods of succesful training, i.e. how
to teach a dog to do these tricks, as opposed to what to
teach. This list was initially meant to be a collection of suggestions
for new tricks for bored dogs and handlers, but now I have also written
a short description of general training methods that I use. It can
be read at my not-very-complete dog training page.
- Don't bore your dog with these tricks, only do them as long as you both
are having fun, and when he has mastered one thing, think of something new
instead of just repeating the old routines;
- Some of them may require lots of time to learn. Don't worry, that's
exactly why they are so useful -- in order to master the trick your dog
needs to concentrate very much and use his brain! Progress in small steps
if needed, and don't forget to reward your dog when he makes progress!
Have you already put an obedience title on your dog and can't think of
any new useful tricks to teach him? Here are some suggestions!
- If your dog already knows how to heel on your left, teach him to
heel on your right or to walk right behind you. These may be useful
in crowds, narrow corridors, etc., and heeling on the right is also
needed in Agility. Remember to use a new command for heeling on the
- Teach your dog to lift up each of his feet on command ('right-front'
etc.) This is useful when you clip his nails, or need to wash or wipe
- Are you tired of collecting all of your dog's chew toys, tennis
balls, squeaky toys, teddy bears etc. when your parents-in-law
or your non-dog-loving boss is coming for dinner? Teach your dog to
do it himself! He can learn to pick up all of his toys and put them
into a box on command.
- If you live somewhere where it rains frequently, you probably
already hate the way your dog shakes his coat dry when he is close
to you or your clean laundry etc.? You can teach him to do that
on command so that you can ask him to 'shake!' or 'rock'n'roll!' :-)
when he is standing a little bit further away.
- Is your duty in the family to wake everybody up in the morning --
a routine which often requires lots of time and effort, and is never
appreciated? Teach your dog to do it for you! "Go wake up Jane!"
"Go wake up Daddy!" and your dog licks their faces or pokes them
with his nose until they are awake.
Another version of this (by Derede Arthur):
The dog 'digs' in the morning: on command, she rips back the covers from
around a malingerer and drags them (the covers) back to the foot of bed,
exposing said body to cold air and (ostensibly) motivating rising.
- If you live alone and sometimes fall asleep again after turning off the
alarm clock in your sleep, you can teach your dog to start licking and
poking you at the sound of your alarm clock.
- Everybody's heard of the classical trick where a dog fetches
slippers or a newspaper, but what about letting your dog 'answer the
phone' (lift up the receiver for you), put an empty beer bottle back in
the box, or carry some other things on command? (It's possible to teach
a dog to identify a very large number of objects by names).
- When you go out for a walk, let your dog fetch his own collar and/or
leash. My Belgian Sheepdog Apollo gets his collar from the shelf when
I say "collar!". Some people say that dogs may learn to get their collar
and leash also when _they_ want to get out, without any commands from
humans, but that hasn't happened to us yet.
Apollo can also get his leash with the command "leash!", but I use it
mainly when we are out training. When we finish a training session I
ask him to bring me his leash from where I left it. Some people also
use this in Agility, when they finish their run the dog goes to get
his leash instead of jumping around the handler demanding for more
- (Derede Arthur): Rontu 'finds my keys' (I lose them c. 2x/day, so he gets
lots of practice). Also good for accustoming dogs to metal articles in
mouth for utility work. I got this idea from someone on the list a few
months back, who's dog even brought her her keys through the car window
from the ignition when she'd locked herself out.
Rontu also brings me the box of kleenex when I sneeze.
- (Alicia Marcinczyk adds about the usefulness of teaching a dog to find
One night my dad was trying to put a new set of drum brakes on
our car before going on a roadtrip vacation, and SPROOOOOOIINNNG! went
the brake spring, into the darkness! The only critter with a quick
reaction was ol' Spunky the dog. ... off he ran, and back he came a few
moments later, proudly carrying the brake spring in his mouth!
- (Alicia Marcinczyk also reports about her dog who could balance beer
cans on her head and became a Beer Retriever:)
She liked that particular trick so
well that one day she slipped into the neighbor's yard during their BBQ,
grabbed an open beer that the woman had set on the ground, and ran
straight back to my father with the can in her mouth, beer still dripping
- (Jenny Cole invented a trick which is both fun and useful:) Teach your
dog to stop and look before crossing a road. You can first teach your
dog the directions ("look right" and "look left"), and then combine
the commands to sit and to look right-left-right (remember that Jenny
lives in Britain, continental European dogs will have to learn to
look left-right-left!) before given the permission to cross. (Jenny
uses the command "Any cars coming?" for the entire trick). If you are
consistent with your training, you can possibly condition your dog not
to start crossing the road as long as he sees cars approaching, which
would make this trick also extremely useful.
- (Linda Bergstrom:) I've taught Corey, my 10-year-old Malinois,
to "back up". I can't think how many times he's been in the way when
I've been carrying something or heading through a doorway with a Mal
in the middle of it. With this command, I can give him a simple
command to "back up", which gets him out of the way and also
earns him some praise -- instead of him receiving human "growls" because
he's in the way.
- (Pam Caldwell's variety of the same trick:) When my dogs were young
and played as I hiked on a trail, they would sometimes not get out of
my way. I began to say "hut" when they were in my path, about 2-3
steps before I would be where they were. If they didn't move, I would
let my foot of knee or shin connect with them as I continued to walk.
They would jump and look at me very upset--not hurt, but their dignity
was hurt. Very soon, as soon as I said "hut", they would move right away.
Now I rarely even have to say it--they have learned that "pack leader" has
the right of way! A useful varaition is when you are on the stairs or
a hallway carrying groceries or laundry, "hut" gets them out from
under your feet, not just for a minute but for the whole trip. The
very best use now is in the middle of the night when I need to use the
bathroom. I know they are all asleep on the floor and I say "hut" and
although they are deeply asleep, they will usually stir and I can hear
their tags jingle. Then I know where they are and I can know where to
walk to get to the bathroom without tripping over a dog!
Tricks for Fun
These are not meant to be useful (some of them may be, sometime), but just
fun for you and your dog, or maybe for some neighbourhood kids if you want
to show them how smart your dog is. I'm pretty sure all dog owners have
some special 'silly tricks' that they do with their dogs but maybe never
- "Give a kiss" or "hug" -- your dog gives you (or somebody else!)
a wet kiss or puts his paws on your shoulder. This is great when
you meet someone who thinks that "that dog looks vicious!"
- "Sit up" or "dance" are quite common tricks (dog gets up on his hind
legs), but you can also teach him a more unusual command for this --
for example, ask your dog "What does a CIRCUS-DOG do??" to make him
dance for you!
- "Message Dog" is one of the Scandinavian dog sports not practised
elsewhere, but you can do similar exercises for fun. This can even be
useful in some situations, especially if you teach your dog to actually
carry something with him. The idea is that the dog runs from person A
to person B on command, then back to person B, etc. In the Scandinavian
competitions this always starts so that person A walks away from person
B with the dog, then sends the dog back (in the beginning the dog sees
person B from where he is sent to run, in the more advanced version he
does not). When person B sends the dog back to person A, it is possible
that person A has moved to a new location -- then the dog needs to do
some tracking in order to find person A. You can easily invent your own
varieties of this game, depending on how challenging you want it to be
(in the Scandinavian competitions we have several dogs simultaneously
darting back and forth for distances of several kilometres and with
some shooting in the background!)
- Nodding or shaking head -- you can teach your dog to do these.
These are more fun if you don't ask him to 'nod' but rather teach him to
nod on cue like "I'm so smart and beautiful, don't you AGREE?"
- "Nose-ball" -- teach your dog to push a tennis ball to you with his
nose. This is a great 'living room activity' for rainy days!
- Soccer: Dawn Carla Speer has trained her dogs to play soccer with
people: The fun thing about soccer is that each dog will come up with
a different way of handling the ball to get around the fact that it's
too big to get their jaws around. Dogs learn to use their nose or/and
paws to get the ball moving, and you can have several people playing
the game with the dog.
- Volley ball: If you thought that soccer would be the most advanced
ball game you can teach your Belgian, here's news for you:
Lisa Baldwin has trained their Tervueren to play volley ball with
Ice thinks the game is GREAT fun so we had to come up with some way
to control his impulse to be involved with the game. We taught him
"play outfield" at which he takes off running until far enough out
and we say "swing" and he turns around and sits -- whenever the ball
goes in his area he leaps up and tries to hit it back over the
net!! If it doesn't make it he will push it over to the
other teams side and then run back to his spot and wait for the next
- Pointing at a treat: hide a treat in your hand, hold both hands
in front of the dog and request him to point at the treat, either
with his nose or foot.
- Singing: some dogs "sing" very easily especially if they hear high
tones. Some dogs can be trained to make different kinds of weird
noises, especially the more vocal breeds/individuals. In Finland
there is a famous dog call Gizmo who performs with a symphony
orchestra. He sits on the owner's lap and sings along with their
Dawn Carla Speer wrote: I could get Heike going for a couple of
minutes straight ... I would make different sounds -- sort of like the
range of sounds you could get from a wah-wah pedal for a guitar -- and
she would imitate them really closely. If I told her "Be indignant!" she
would make lower pitched noises, and if I said "Shhhh..." she would just
make the mouth movements with no sound at all.
- "Speaking": many dogs can be trained to "speak" on command, and
they can even be trained to bark loudly or more quietly. Stephanie
Price's puppy owners taught their Belgian, Savana, the following
"Savana, what does a big dog say?" -"WOOF!!!"
"What does a debarked dog say?" -"woof"
- "Teddy Terv / Vicious Terv": Linda Baldwin's husband taught their
Tervueren Ice the following trick:
We kneel down (so theres a lap) and say "Teddy Terv" and he flings
himself on to his back, belly exposed for scratching. Then in the
same normal sounding voice we say "Vicious Terv" and he leaps to his
feet growling and biting (not hard) and being very wolf doggish
(thats what we call it anyway!)... then you say "Teddy Terv" again
and he flings himself in your lap etc etc.
- Many owners play with their dogs games where they hide the dog's
favorite toy etc. under a blanket for the dog to find. Some
people hide other family members under blankets, or simply their
own hand for the "catch the mouse"-game.
Carilee Cole has her own version of the hiding game:
This is called "The Triperooni Game". This can only be played by
a dog named "Trip". You huddle on the floor with your head buried
under your arms and sing, "Triperooni, Triperooni" to the tune of
the Hallelujah chorus, and the Trip will come racing over and
excavate your head out from under your arms using his nose as a shovel.
It's lots of fun, honest... Well, maybe you had to be there!
- Opening boxes -- you can put a treat into a box and let your dog
try to get it out. Start with boxes without a lid, and progress to
freezer box -type boxes with a lid that can be opened by pulling on
the side. (And be prepared to have tooth marks all over the box, you
may even end up with the box in zillion pieces!). This is a good
exercise if you are busy doing something (getting ready to go to
work etc.), because you don't actually need to do anything when the
dog is working on the task.
- Finding the way out: Go to the other side of a fence etc. so that
your dog can't get to you directly but instead needs to find a way
to get to you (without jumping over the fence). (You can also do
this inside, if there's a room with two doors). Don't help your dog
to find his way to you, because then he'll learn to expect help from
you. Naturally you can't do this many times at one place.
- Opening doors: teach your dog to either push a door that is ajar
open with his nose or to use his paws on the handle to open the door.
Note: the dog may scratch the door when opening them; also after
learning this, he may open doors also when you don't expect it!
Nose Work (Scenting)
Dogs love using their noses, and nose work requires lots of concentration
--> these exercises are great for hyperactive dogs.
Some people fear that actual tracking is too difficult or time consuming,
so here are some less elaborate ways of doing basically the same thing!
- You can hide treats in your house for your dog to find. The most
convenient way to practise this game is to teach your dog to sit
still while you go to another room (or several rooms) and hide a
- When you go for a walk with your dog, you can sometimes stop and
hide treats for him. It's easiest if your dog sits waiting while you
hide the treat in the grass, behind a tree etc., and only starts
searching when you give the permission. You can make this more
difficult by sometimes hiding the treats on low branches of trees,
on fences, etc. so that your dog really has to do some work in order
to find and get the treat. And remember that you are doing this in
order to give the dog some work to do, so don't help him if it seems
to take a long time to find the treat (otherwise he'll learn to
expect help from you!)
- Instead of hiding treats, you can hide your dog's favourite toy and
ask him to find it. If you would like this to resemble 'real'
tracking, drop the toy (or treat) on the track where you walk (= on
your footstep) and don't come back to your dog the same route.
This is the way puppies can be introduced to tracking.
- (Sue Mills:) Another variation of the hiding treats to be found is to
hide a favorite toy or ball and reward the dog with a brief game when she
finds it. The next step is to hide similar, and gradually, quite
different objects for the dog to find and retrieve. Lots of fun, can be
practical (if you teach object names :) and teaches your beastie to
carry all manner of strange things for you... (Sue also mentions how
creative dogs get when they learn to find toys hidden in difficult
places like bathroom sinks.)
- You can teach your dog to pick up an object with your scent when
it is among strange objects. You can do with this sticks, stones,
etc. in order to facilitate the availability of non-scented objects.
- Hide and seek -- teach your dog to find a person who is hiding in
another room, behind a tree, etc. (He can use air scenting, or tracking,
or both, depending on where you are practising.) Kids love this.
Everything that is done in Agility could be listed under this category,
but because very few people have the agility equipment at home, this list
consists of tricks that can be done without very complicated equipment.
- Jumping -- easy and great fun, can be practised almost anywhere.
You can do this with young dogs as well, as long as you avoid high
jumps. (Really, you can ask you puppy to jump over a paperback book
in your living room! But avoid jumps higher than the dog's withers
until he is full grown.)
When you make progress, you can ask your dog to
jump over tree trunks, stones, small fences, ditches, etc.
- Climbing stairs, ladders etc. If your dog is afraid of walking steep
stairs, practise this with him -- ask him to walk up and down the
stairs wherever you see challenging-looking stairs. The more advanced
version is to walk up and down doggie-ladders or similar. Remember to be
careful with these exercises so that your dog doesn't get hurt if he is
unsure of himself (support and slow him down especially in the beginning).
- Climbing on an object -- stone, chair, fallen tree trunk etc.
Even though this may be difficult at first, dogs get very good at this
with some practise. You can either ask your dog to stand still or sit
or even lie down when he is up on the desired object.
The Belg-L folks have informed me that this activity has long been
known as 'perching' among the Belgian fanciers, and Belgians really
seem to be skillful in this, perching on ironing tables, fences,
- Balance-walking -- ask your dog to walk on a narrow plank, tree trunk
etc. Start with broader objects and very moderate heights.
- Treat-on-the-nose -- teach your dog to balance a treat on his nose until
you give him a permission to eat it.
- (Alicia Marcinczyk:) As far as balancing/catching food: our old Golden
Lady, could balance one of those plastic butter tubs on her head with a
treat inside, then flip the bowl and catch the treat ... Lady was multi-
talented. She could also balance an (empty) beer can on her head, flip
and catch it.
- (An advanced balance/circus trick by Michelle Lewis:)
I trained my dog (extremely overweight poodle) to jump over an obstacle,
pick up a raw egg (definately not hard boiled! But for practicing,
this is a good idea :-) Jump back over the obstacle and place it down
at my feet. It's not terribly useful, but very impressive. Goes down
well at parties, especially if the jump's big.
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