Eight Reasons to Train Your Dog Just for Fun

Why training your dog—even when you don’t need to teach a specific behaviour—is a good idea.

An Australian Shepherd and a Border Collie show off their tricks in the street
An Australian Shepherd and a Border Collie show off their tricks. Photo: Enna8982/Shutterstock

By Zazie Todd PhD

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We all know there are things you ought to teach your dog, like socialization for puppies or to come when called. These are things that make a big difference to your dog’s life (and your life with your dog).

But dog training isn't just about these behaviours. Apart from the essentials (which really make up quite a small, albeit important, list), there’s a whole host of things you can teach your dog just for fun. 

Here are 8 reasons why you should do just that.

1. It’s fun! We might as well start with the obvious reason. Training for fun is fun for both you and your dog! For many people, training those standard obedience behaviours is fun too, but the advantage of teaching tricks is that it doesn’t really matter if it takes time or even how it turns out. So there’s no pressure on you or the dog and you can both just enjoy the process.

2. It helps you build your relationship with your dog. Taking part in joint activities that you both enjoy is one way to improve your relationship with your dog. Dogs like to work for rewards so they will enjoy learning tricks with you. And we also know that when dogs are trained with positive reinforcement, they are more likely to have a strong attachment to their person.  So it’s a great way to build your bond with your dog.

3. It’s good for your dog’s welfare. In case you didn’t know, training with positive reinforcement is one of the ways people can give their dog positive experiences. Having positive experiences is essential for good welfare (see: the five domains model for more on animal welfare). Of course, there are many ways to give your dog positive experiences, but regular training with positive reinforcement is a nice and easy way to do so.

4. It tires your dog out. If you’ve got one of those dogs who is just go, go, go, training is one way to tire them out. Although physical exercise is great, mental exercise is also tiring. Training can be especially beneficial for those drivey dogs like Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, and German Shepherds. But frankly, it’s good for all dogs. And that’s because…

5. It’s cognitive enrichment. In other words, it gives their brain something to do. That’s partly why it can be tiring (see above). And it’s beneficial for dogs of all ages, including senior dogs. Sometimes people don’t do enough to provide enrichment for their senior dog—after all, the dog is typically well-behaved and quiet by that age. Teaching them some tricks is a great way to keep their brain active. 

6. It’s food enrichment too. Assuming you’re using food as the reward, which let’s face it is the best way to train most behaviours (see: the ultimate dog training tip). Dogs are sensitive to the type of food reward we use, will run faster for better quality treats, and have opinions about variety, so good food works well to motivate your dog. Whether it’s little bits of peanut butter squares, tuna fudge, cooked chicken, or some other great dog training treat it’s best to train with food that your dog doesn’t get otherwise. No kibble, in other words (except in rare cases where your dog is on a very strict prescription diet—and even then, you can typically use canned food or treats from that prescription range).  The fact that you’re using tasty morsels means your dog is getting food enrichment on top of the cognitive enrichment. 

7. Your dog will get better at learning. The more you teach your dog, the more they will learn how to learn. For example, at one year of age, dogs who went to puppy class are considered more trainable than those who didn’t, according to their guardians. Plus, you’ll be able to show off to family and friends about how smart your dog is. 

8. You get to practice your skills too. These training sessions aren’t just for the dog; they will help you to work on your training skills. You’ll improve your timing in delivering rewards quickly (and clicking, if you’re using a clicker). You’ll improve your technique in luring and shaping as you get your dog to do the behaviours you want. You’ll get better at setting criteria, and at learning how to start with something very easy (that your dog can already do) and gradually progress at just the right pace so they stay interested. In turn, all of this practice will help whenever you do training in the future.

So training your dog—even when you don’t have to—can improve your life, and your dog’s life. 

If you want to read more on dog training and learn about how to care for your dog, check out my award-winning book Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy. Modern Dog magazine calls it "the must-have guide to improving your dog's life."

If you want an online course on dog training, I recommend Jean Donaldson’s Dog Training 101 by the Great Courses. It’s often on sale (including right now), which makes it a real bargain.  

If you’re looking for tricks ideas, I love Sassafras Lowrey’s book Tricks in the City: For Daring Dogs and the Humans that Love Them (Trick Dog Training Book, Exercise Your Dog)

You could also try an online tricks class. My Fantastic Friend has an online tricks class and also offers private sessions. The Dog Abides has online tricks classes and trick dog title evaluation.  

P.S. Join over 4,500 animal lovers and sign up to my free newsletter. As a bonus, you'll get my free guide, Seven Secrets to a Happy Dog. 

Zazie Todd, PhD, is the award-winning author of Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy and Purr: The Science of Making Your Cat Happy. She is the creator of the popular blog, Companion Animal Psychology, writes The Pawsitive Post premium newsletter, and also has a column at Psychology Today. Todd lives in Maple Ridge, BC, with her husband, one dog, and two cats. 

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