When I asked Marcia Hayden, a retired teacher, about what surprised her in her training journey to Therapy Dog team with her Golden Retriever Charlie, what stood out to her the most was that when she showed up to their first visit—they wanted to know if Charlie knew any tricks. He didn’t then, but he’s an AKC Advanced Trick Dog now.
Tricks and cues are not just for showing off, they can also help your dog to connect better with the people you visit. Plus, they can make your work as a Therapy Dog team more effective and enjoyable.
Cue or Command: What’s the Difference?
First off, let’s clear up some dog training buzzword bingo and a quick lesson on why you’ll hear me use the word cue instead of command in this post and on Therapy Dog Talk. In short:
- Cue suggests guidance or prompt while
- command implies order or demand.
Using the word “cue” reflects a more positive, respectful and collaborative approach to training, emphasizing clear communication, mutual understanding and trust between you and your dog. I first learned this in the Animal Assisted Counseling Academy where we focused on partnering with our dogs vs using them. Our words matter.
Useful Cues for Therapy Dogs
So, what kind of cues work well for therapy dogs?
One of our guests, educator Heather Best, shared in episode 79 of Therapy Dog Talk that she trained her Golden Retriever, Dolly, to paw a page while listening to children read.
Other helpful cues include “down” to keep your dog relaxed, especially around kids or folks who can’t move around too much, and “leave it” to stop your dog from picking up stuff they shouldn’t.
It’s also good to teach “recall,” “sit,” “stay,” and “watch me” to keep your dog safe and focused, especially when there are lots of distractions.
Tricks Can Make Therapy Sessions More Fun
And let’s not forget about tricks!
Brian Benson told us in episode 69 that his internet famous Labrador, Magnus the Therapy Dog, can touch his nose to Brian’s hand, no matter where he puts it, which he finds helpful on visits.
Helpful tricks for Therapy Dogs:
- High-Five: Encourages physical interaction and creates a positive atmosphere.
- Paws Up: Allows the dog to be closer for better connection.
- Roll Over: Provides a fun, engaging activity for participants to watch or assist with.
- Shake/Paw: Builds trust and interaction with participants.
- Sit Pretty: Demonstrates balance and can elicit smiles from clients.
- Spin: Provides a fun and visually appealing trick for clients.
- Touch/Target: Encourages interaction and can help clients practice motor skills.
- Wave: Entertains and engages clients without physical contact.
Nicole Ellis, CPDT-KA, shared in episode 50 how much kids at the children’s hospital loved performing tricks with her Therapy Dog.
So, teaching your dog solid cues and tricks can really make a big difference. It helps your dog behave well no matter where you go, makes your visits more fun and engaging, and strengthens your bond with your dog.
Sneak Peek into Games-Based Training
If you enjoy teaching your dog tricks, you’ll probably love games-based training.
I first found this way of training in 2020 when I was looking for something fun to do with my own dog, Sunny. We enjoyed it so much that in 2021 I became a Pro Dog Trainer through Absolute Dogs, a training method completely focused on games-based learning.
The motto of Absolute Dogs is “There’s a game for that!” and they’ve created an entire library full of training games to turn your dog’s struggles into strengths. From Cardboard Chaos to Orientation Dash to Tug Listen Tug, it’s a fun way of teaching new skills to your dog by turning training into a game. Not only are you having a blast while making your dog’s learning experience exciting,
I’ve been doubled over in laughter while training this way, but you’re learning how to teach them based on the concepts you know they could use some work on like calmness, confidence and focus.
Get My Free Guide
Curious to know more about games-based training for your therapy dog? Download my free guide, “How to Train Your Therapy Dog with Games!” This guide will show you a fun, and effective, way to help your Therapy Dog thrive while you’re partnering together to help others. So why wait? Make your dog’s training sessions more exciting and rewarding. Happy training!