Some people don’t like teaching their dogs “tricks”. Somehow, it’s just doesn’t seem dignified or worth putting in the effort to teach these frivolous cues that have no value. Or do they?

Whether something is considered a trick or a useful cue is really all a matter of perspective. Something that seems like a useless trick to one person can be a very valuable cue to another. Take service dogs for example. Teaching your own dog to turn on and off the light might seem useless to you, but to someone not able to easily do that herself, the “trick” might be very valuable.

From the dog’s perspective, it’s all tricks, really. If it gets a treat, does your dog really care if you ask for a sit/stay or a rollover? He might, or he might just be thrilled to earn a tasty treat. He might actually prefer the tricks because you have more fun doing it, and therefore so does he. It’s not so much “work” as it is having fun and spending time with you when you’re not so serious.

I taught Romeo at an early age to retrieve or fetch. At first, it was partly for fun and partly because it was something I wanted him to be able to do in case I had use for it later. Turns out fetch is actually quite useful. When Romeo was going through his adolescent stage of stealing things he should not have in his attempt to initiate a game of chase, I turned the tables on him. Rather than chase him to retrieve the forbidden object, I asked him to bring it to me. It made my job of getting the item back much easier, as I just had him bring it back to me in exchange for a treat. He never took up stealing just to get treats, but I was able to get items back with very little effort on my part. Great “trick” huh?!

Recently (April 2012), I was able to use his retrieve in another useful way. The other week, I was out on the deck trying to get the mud/dirt off my shoes before putting them on. I whacked one shoe a bit too hard on the edge of the deck, and it fell to the ground. In order to get it back, I could have walked off the deck in my socks, through the dirt and rocks to get it. I could have gone back inside and put on another pair of shoes to go get my other shoe. OR. . . I could chose the option with the least effort on my part and ask Romeo to retrieve it for me. He brought my shoe right to me.

Then the other day, I was sitting out on the deck with Romeo, Jahzara, and an adolescent dog who is boarding with us this week. I had my shoes off. When I looked at the boarding dog out in the yard, I realized he had stolen one of my shoes to use as a toy. Again, I chose to engage Romeo’s retrieval services. I asked him to bring me my shoe, and he did. Problem solved. With little effort on my part.

Trick or useful service? You decide!