The other night during week 2 of our first session of tricks class I had a thought, and also came to a realization. Why do dogs do tricks so reliably but struggle with the common cues that we need them to do on a daily basis? The answer is because humans love to give their dogs rewards when teaching tricks, but often times struggle to give rewards when asking their dogs to do things on a daily basis. It's as if we have the mindset that in order to do a trick, we need to reward the dog, but in order to get our dogs to do the things we want on a daily basis, we shouldn't have to reward them, they should just do it. I'm not sure where this mindset comes from, but it certainly hurts the relationship between the person and dog and creates this power struggle.
A dog does what it does because of the consequences it receives. A dog's brain isn't set up to listen to humans by default because they know we are humans and they are dogs. That isn't how their brains work, and it never will be. Dogs are just like any other animal in regards to learning. It comes down to what kinds of consequences they receive for the behaviors they do.
Teaching your dog tricks is a fantastic relationship builder, and it also really gives you some hands-on insight as to how dogs learn. Get the dog to do this thing, then give a reward. The dog is likely to do that thing again. This style can be transitioned right into the real world. You can look at any behavior you'd like your dog to do as a trick. Does your dog jump on the table while you're eating dinner? A fantastic trick to teach your dog is how to hold a down-stay on a mat during the duration of your meal. To make this work, you just need to teach the trick and then reward the dog. This means that you will be giving your dog small food rewards every couple of minutes to keep him holding his down stay. Here's how to teach the beginning of this trick:
Reward your dog and life will be easier. Reward your dog for the real life "tricks" as you would for the other tricks that you do for fun. If you do, there will be no power struggle and your life will be easier and a lot less stressful. Training a dog takes time, patience, consistency, and lots of rewards. It's not necessarily easy, but it will get easier with the work you put in. Remember the more rewards you provide, the more behavior you will receive. Reward that dog.