The Big Trick Contest

Top Notch Dog Presents…

The National Train Your Dog Month Trick Training Contest!

This contest is going to have one winner, but it will be a group effort to help that person (and dog!) win.

At any time while working on your trick, you may post to the blog and ask for help. I’ll be your virtual coach and help you as you go. You are welcome to upload video to YouTube at that point to show where you are stuck, but it’s not required. There will be a tricks workshop at Top Notch Dog on Wednesday, January 20 at 1:00 if you’d like in-person help or if you wish to enter but don’t have video access (see below).

You will win: one hour of free dog training for you and your dog at Top Notch Dog ($100 value). Two other finalists will receive a book on dog tricks training and a special surprise for their dog. The winner will be chosen when you and everyone else votes on the finalists. It will be *just* like American Idol.

Here’s how it works:
Each contestant will choose a trick to teach their dog. It must be a trick your dog has never before learned. You have one month to teach the trick. It may be very simple or very complex, as tricks will not be judged on their level of difficulty. Over the course of the month, I will post blog entries that provide the following:

  • Ideas for tricks to teach
  • Different methods of teaching tricks (luring, capturing, shaping)
  • Practical uses for tricks in everyday life
  • Troubleshooting your challenges as you work on your trick
  • Suggestions for books, dvd’s and links to help you choose and teach the trick

Your finished trick must be on cue. Using ‘sit’ as an example, your cue can be a verbal cue (i.e. “sit”) or a hand or body signal (your hand sweeping upward), but your video must show the trick being cued. You must use reward-based methods (so, you would be ineligible if you forced the dog’s butt down to the ground for the ‘sit’). Luring, capturing or shaping are all acceptable methods (more on these later).

To enter: you must video tape the first training session and the finished product and upload your approximately one-minute clip to YouTube. Once the clip is uploaded, send an email to barbara @ (minus the spaces) with Tricks Contest in the subject line. Your email must contain the following:

  • Your name and your dog’s name and age
  • The town in which you live
  • The YouTube link showing the first training session and final product
  • The goal you would have for your free, one-hour training session if you won

Fine print: the winner’s free training session will be at Top Notch Dog within 3 months of the announcement of the winner. It may be used only for basic manners or more tricks training (no serious behavior problems like aggression). You will be required to sign a standard waiver and info sheet on your dog.

Happy training!

6 thoughts on “The Big Trick Contest

  1. I’m teaching my dog to play a child’s piano and used shaping to do this. Now the dog will play a note or two and look up for a treat. Every once in a while she will hit a button that starts a preset tune playing. If I want her to play longer – e.g., more hits with the paw should I start only rewarding multiple paw hits and stop rewarding one paw hit?

    1. Hi Diane,

      Yes, you’ve got it. Withhold the click for just one paw hit. If she has been pretty consistent about hitting the keys once, you should get another paw hit just by waiting. You may need to start alternating paws so that she will keep going (some dogs may think you want them to press and hold and that’s it, one long paw hit). But you’ll know that when you see it.

      By the way, when she looks up, be sure your gaze rests on the piano keys (rather than looking into her eyes) and that should help, too.


      1. Thanks Barbara. Chris suggested I teach Gracie how to bow at the end. She know sit and down, is there a way I can teach her to take a bow? I’m hoping we can shape this routine for the big trick contest!!!

      2. You’re welcome! See the most recent blog entry, which discusses various methods to teach tricks and uses Take a Bow as an example for how to “capture” a trick (often the fastest, clearest method, hint hint). Also check out the contest rules above–you must video the very first training session and the finished product on cue (which you could still do for Take a Bow, and of course you can always send in another video that includes the piano playing version just for fun!).

        If you want to use the “luring” method for take a bow, Gracie will need to start in a standing position. Stand (or kneel) beside her facing the same direction. Put your treat hand up between her front legs from behind, let her lick at the treat and draw the treat toward her chest. Say yes and feed with each bit of progress of her head and chest moving toward the ground, eventually lowering your hand until til her elbows touch the ground. (Hint: If you just stand in front of her and lower your lure/treat hand, she may think you’re asking her to lie down.)

        To use the “shaping” method, well, you’re probably pretty good with that since you taught the paw hit using shaping…! 🙂


  2. My trick is not yet polished, but I like it and the treats are great:) I am driving my mom nuts as there is lots of white stuff outside and she won’t let me out. I have been out 5 times already, but that is not nearly enough:) Please help her out!! Scout

    1. Scout—don’t give up, just keep insisting and in her exasperation she will surely let you out again. Oh, wait, you asked me to help *her* not *you.* Hmmm, in that case I think you should curl up in front of the fire and dream of catching snowflakes on your tongue, and let your mom save up her energy for making more dog cookies.

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