10 Useful Tricks To Teach Your Dog That Make Life A Tad Easier

Written by: Elise Remp

August 9, 2014

Any new pet parent is armed with a few standard obedience tricks to teach their dog—sit, down, stay, of course. But have you ever considered branching out to teach your pup other handy tricks that will not only increase your bond, but also make your life a little easier? Let us show you the light!

What You’ll Need Before You Start:

1. How To Use Recordable Buttons To “Talk”

Image via

Teaching your dog to use voice recordable buttons to communicate is the best invention since squeaky tennis balls! If you haven’t seen a dog using these yet, you have to check out some of the incredible videos from Stella, a.k.a @hunger4words. Recordable buttons play back words like “food”, “water”, and “outside” each time your dog steps on a different one. This allows them to actually communicate their needs and feelings! Eventually, you can even work your way up to advanced buttons like “I love you” or “I miss you”. Here’s how to start:

  • Step 1: Start with just one or two voice recordable buttons. Try using “food” and “water” for starter words.
  • Step 2: Set the “food” button next to your dog’s food dish. Each time you feed them, press the button yourself. **Do not force your dog to press the button.**
  • Step 3: Repeat this for a few days or weeks. Many dogs will start to associate the button being pressed when food comes, and start testing the button out for themselves. If they don’t catch on, you can try coaxing them to hit the button by placing a treat on top for them to hit with their nose. You can also keep the button in your hand, and ask them to “shake”. Their paw will set off the button.
  • Step 4: Once they get the hang of the first button or two, use this same technique to add new buttons for other words like “potty” or “walk”.

2. Turn Off The Lights

We’ve all been there, cuddled up in bed with a nice book and hot cup of tea. Before you know it, it’s time for a good ol’ snooze… but that light switch is just so far away! Teach your pup how to turn off the lights, and problem solved! You don’t have to move from your warm and comfy spot, and your pup gets a treat and ear rubbies! For small dogs, consider using a chair or platform to help them reach the light. Here’s how to start:

  • Step 1: Start by teaching your dog a touch command using a sticky note. Place a sticky note in the palm of your hand. Ask your dog to touch it with their nose, using a command like “hit the light” or “turn the light off”(They don’t know your hand isn’t a light). Reward them with a treat when they touch the sticky note. Repeat until they grasp the command.
  • Step 2: Next, dangle the sticky note between your fingers. Ask your pup to touch the sticky note using the same “hit the light” command you used before. Reward with a treat, and repeat until they get good at it.
  • Step 3: Now, place the sticky note on the wall at your dog’s height. Use the same command to teach them to hit the sticky note. Reward with a treat, and repeat until it’s easy for them.
  • Step 4: Using this same method, slowly move the sticky note higher until it’s on top of the light switch. Have your dog repeat the command until they actually hit the switch to turn off the light. Celebrate with extra treats the first time they flip the switch.
  • Step 5: Now, begin to give them treats only when they flip the switch—not just when they hit the sticky note. Keep repeating this until they make the connection between turning the light off and the “hit the light” command. Eventually you can remove the sticky note.

3. Clean Up Their Toys

Chances are you have a toy basket, toy box, or pile somewhere in your house dedicated to playtime for your pup. If your dog is anything like mine, they love digging through their precious pile, and bringing out their beloved toys one by one. Before you know it, there’s a scattered array of stuffed squirrels and squeaky balls all over your living room floor. Teaching your dog to clean up their toys will keep your home squeaky clean after playtime, and it’s another impressive trick to show your friends when they come over! Here’s how to teach this one:

  • Step 1: First, your dog will need to learn “fetch” and “drop it” commands. Once they know these commands, you’re ready to teach them to put their toys away.
  • Step 2: Stand near your dog’s toy box or pile of toys, and ask them to “fetch” a toy that’s lying out (or you can throw one for them to fetch).
  • Step 3: Hold your hand slightly above the toy box, and ask them to “drop it” (the toy) into your hand. Reward with a treat.
  • Step 4: Repeat this step, but immediately drop the toy into the box after your dog drops it in your hand. Reward with a treat, and repeat this step until your dog get the hang of it.
  • Step 5: Next, start to move your hand as your dog drops it, so that the toy falls straight into the box.
  • Step 6: Start introducing a new command, like “toy box” or “clean up”, as you’re doing this. Reward with treats each time your dog completes the task successfully.
  • Step 7: Slowly increase your distance from the toy box while using your new “toy box” or “clean up” command.
  • Step 8: At first, you may need to direct your pup to each toy that you want picked up until they begin to understand what they’re doing. Over time, they’ll learn to clean up all their toys with one single “clean up” command.

4. Shut Doors Or Drawers

At some point, we’ve all experienced that moment when you finally plunk your butt down on the couch to relax, and immediately someone in another room starts to make a ruckus. You want to shut the door, but you just sat down! Fret no more: your dog can close the door for you! It’s the least they can do for letting you pay all the bills! Here’s how you can teach them:

**CAUTION** Be wary of teaching your dog to open doors—rather than closing them. This can be dangerous if they learn how to get into food or medicine cabinets, or if they figure out how to get out of the house.

  • Step 1: Start by teaching them the touch command using sticky notes as explained above in Steps 1-3 of the “Turn Off The Lights” trick.
  • Step 2: Once they get the hang of the touch command, place a sticky note at your dog’s nose level on a door/cabinet/drawer. Ask them to touch the sticky note with their nose. Reward with a treat.
  • Step 3: Repeat, and begin introducing a new command like “door”, “drawer”, or “shut the door/drawer”.
  • Step 4: Eventually, your pup is going to tap the door or drawer with a bit more gusto—causing it to move a bit. When this happens, celebrate with lots of praise and treats! Keep it up until they poke the door or drawer hard enough to get it to close.
  • Step 5: Once they learn how to close the door/drawer all the way, slowly increase your distance from it as you give the “shut the door/drawer” command. As usual, always reward with treats. Now, you have yourself a handy helper when you feel like being lazy!

5. Help With Laundry

Who doesn’t hate laundry? Chores are always a little easier, and a tad more fun when you have a helper. Teaching your dog to help with laundry can even come in handy if you ever have an injury—like a broken bone—and need some help around the house. Of course, your pup lacks opposable thumbs to fold clothes and put them away, but hey, you’ll take any help you can get, right?! Here’s how to teach your pup to load the washer or dryer:

  • Step 1: Start by teaching your dog “fetch” and “drop it” commands.
  • Step 2: Next—using the same technique as Steps 2-8 of the “Clean Up Their Toys” trick—teach your dog to pick up clothes, and drop them into the washing machine (if it’s front-loading). Use a command like “do the wash”, and repeat it each time you direct them to put a piece of clothing in the machine. Later, you can teach them to move clothes from the washer to the dryer with a “dry the laundry” command (if you don’t mind a bit of slobber on your clean clothes).
  • Step 3: Once they get the hang of picking up clothes and dropping them into a machine, you can even teach them to sort the dark and light laundry. Although dogs see a narrow range of color, many can tell the difference between dark and light shades with enough practice. Start by guiding them to pick up a dark piece of clothing from a pile, and place it in the washer. Give them a treat. Repeat with each piece of dark clothing, and reward with treats. This trick may take more time, so keep practicing!
  • Step 4: Teach them the same thing with light shades of laundry. Keep practicing over time until they can sort them on their own.

6. Fetch A Beer (Or White Claw)

This trick is a fan favorite for impressing your friends! But before you decide to teach your dog to fetch you a beer, consider what else is in the fridge that you’ll be giving your dog access to. If your fridge has any foods that could be toxic or dangerous to your dog, you’ll need to move it to a higher shelf or drawer first. If you’re worried about your dog raiding the fridge in a gluttonous stupor, you may even want to consider buying a separate mini fridge for this trick.

  • Step 1: Your pup will first need to know how to tug on a rope, and play fetch. Work on these skills first, using commands like “pull” and “fetch”.
  • Step 2: Once they can tug and fetch on command, attach a rope to the fridge handle. Use the “tug” command to have them pull the rope. Reward with a treat, and repeat until they can pull the rope hard enough to open the door.
  • Step 3: Next, have your dog practice their “fetch” command with an empty beer can or bottle laying on the floor. Instead of just saying “fetch”, use the command “fetch beer” (or whatever drink they’re fetching). Make sure your dog doesn’t actually chew the can or bottle. They could end up cutting themselves or breaking a tooth.
  • Step 4: Once they get good at fetching it off the floor, place the empty can or bottle on an empty shelf in your fridge with the door open. Practice using the “fetch beer” command with the door open until they get the hang of it. Reward with treats for each successful fetch.
  • Step 5: Next, walk your dog through the entire process. Use your “pull” command to have them open the fridge door while you’re standing next to them to give direction. Reward with a treat. Immediately ask them to then “fetch beer” from the shelf and hand it to you. Reward with a treat.
  • Step 6: Repeat this until they can do both tasks together. Lots of treats. After practice, try dropping the “tug” command and just use “fetch beer”.
  • Step 7: Begin to slowly increase your distance from the fridge while giving the “fetch beer” command, until you can give the command from your couch!

7. Go Potty…On A Human Toilet!

Wait! Haven’t we heard about this trick somewhere before with a certain cat named Mr. Jinx? You may have thought it was all jokes, but you can actually teach your dog to use a human toilet! Of course, they still need plenty of walks, but this trick can come in handy during storms or late at night. Here’s how to start:

  • Step 1: You’ll need to make sure your dog is potty trained outside, and can go potty on command, first.
  • Step 2: Next, place a puppy potty pad in the yard. Keep your dog on a short leash, and direct them toward the potty pad when you take them outside. Use a “go potty” command. Reward them with treats if they use the potty pad. DO NOT punish them if they don’t use it—just try again next time until they get it. Punishing them will only confuse them, and make them think they did something wrong by going potty.
  • Step 3: Once they get the hang of using the potty pad outside and use it consistently, move the potty pad to your bathroom floor. Direct your pup to use the potty pad using the “go potty” command. Again, you may need to keep them on a short leash to direct them to the right spot.
  • Step 4: Next, teach your pup to jump up on top of the toilet with the lid closed. During this step, focus only on teaching them how to jump up on the toilet—they don’t need to go potty yet. If you have a small breed dog, you may need to buy a step stool to help them reach the toilet.
  • Step 5: Once they get good at jumping up on the toilet, install a toddler potty-training toilet seat to keep your pup from falling in. Open the lid. Before asking them to jump up, make sure they see there is now a hole in the seat, then ask them to jump up. This will likely take extra practice since it requires balance.
  • Step 6: Once your dog can jump up without trouble, place a potty training pad between the toddler training seat and the regular toilet seat. Give your dog the “go potty” command. Reward with treats and praise if they potty. If they seem confused, you may need to go back a step to using a potty pad on the floor. Try again later.

8. Learn Names Of Different Objects Or People

You probably already know dogs can associate words with actions—like when they go berserk hearing you say “walk” or “park”. But they can also learn to associate words with objects and people, too! Chaser the Border Collie is famous for knowing the name of over 1,000 toys!! She recognizes them by name, and can pick them out of a giant pile with surprising accuracy. This is a fun trick to impress your friends, but it can also be useful as a basis for other tricks—like locating a family member in another room, or fetching their leash (learn this one below). Here’s how you can teach your dog to identify objects and people:

  • Step 1: Start with one object—for example, your dog’s favorite squirrel toy. Place it in front of your dog on the floor. Once your pup leans toward their plush squirrel (or whatever item you’re using), or sniffs it, give them some excited praise and a treat. Similarly, you can teach these following steps with people and their names.
  • Step 2: Pick up the plush squirrel for a second, and place it back down in the same spot. This will likely coax your dog into sniffing it again. When they lean toward it again, or touch it with their nose, reward them with another treat. Keep practicing until they touch it.
  • Step 3: Now, start to introduce a name for this object whenever your dog touches it. For this example, you can simply say “squirrel”. Repeat the toy’s name each time they touch it, and give them a treat and praise each time. Practice this until they get the hang of the game.
  • Step 4: Introduce a second item in front of them, but don’t name it yet. If they sniff or explore the new item, ignore that for now. You can let them sniff it, but don’t praise them or give a treat yet.
  • Step 5: Now, with both items in front of them say “squirrel”, or “find the squirrel”. If your dog touches or sniffs the squirrel, give them lots of praise and treats. If they touch the new object, ignore it, and repeat “squirrel” until they touch the squirrel. Repeat.
  • Step 6: Once they catch on, take the two items to a different location—even if it’s just across the room. Again, ask your dog only to touch the squirrel. Repeat, until they boop the squirrel, and give them a treat.
  • Step 7: Introduce a third item in front of them, but continue to focus only on the original item—the squirrel. The goal here is to make sure your dog can recognize that original item, and pick it out of a group of other objects. So, with three items laying in front of your dog, again say “squirrel”, or “find the squirrel”. Give treats and praise once they touch it.
  • Step 8: Once your dog can reliably pick the squirrel out of a group of objects, you can move on to naming a second object. To do this, start the process all over again with the new object, and only the new object. So, put the squirrel away for now. Repeat these steps for your new object.
  • Step 9: Continue to practice, reward with treats, and slowly add new objects over time.

9. Fetch An Object/Person/Animal

Another handy trick for your dog to know is how to find or fetch different objects—like their leash, your misplaced car keys, or a family member in another room. They can’t exactly “fetch” your husband or your cat, but they can help you locate them around the house. This can be helpful when the person you’re looking for can’t hear you calling for them while wearing earbuds, or if you can’t find your cat who’s hiding. Here’s how to start:

  • Step 1: To teach your dog to fetch or find objects/people, they’ll first need to learn how to “fetch“, “drop it“, and how to identify an object as explained in the steps above in “Learn Names Of Different Objects”.
  • Step 2: Once your dog knows how to fetch and identify objects—like their leash—you need to put the two tasks together. Try simply placing the leash in front of them and say “fetch leash” to see if they get it immediately. If not, they’ll need more direction. Try tossing it lightly across the room while saying “fetch leash”. This may help them make the connection between fetching a ball, and fetching a leash. Reward with treats even if they only approach the leash without picking it up. Keep practicing until they pick it up. To locate a person, you only need to slowly increase the distance between your dog and the person while using the technique in the “Learn Names Of Different Objects” steps above.
  • Step 3: If your dog struggles to pick up the leash on their own, gently place the leash in your dog’s mouth, saying “fetch leash”. Have them hold it a few seconds, then say “drop it”. Reward with treats.
  • Step 4: Now, put the leash in their mouth again, and have them walk with you to the door while carrying the leash. Say “drop it” once you’re at the door, and give them a treat. Practice until they get it.

10. Help With Gardening

There’s a good chance your dog already has a natural gift for digging holes. Make that annoying habit work for you, rather than against you! Just keep in mind: if digging holes is a habit you’re trying to break, then this trick may not be a great idea for you.

Step 1: Whenever you happen to be gardening or planting new flowers and need to dig a hole, encourage your dog to help you dig. For most dogs, there’s not much to this other than starting to dig where you need a hole, and encouraging them to dig in the same spot. This can make the work go a lot faster if you have a lot of planting to do.
Step 2: If you need an extra hand around the yard, you can also use the “Fetch An Object” technique explained above to teach your dog to grab garden tools, and bring them to you.

**CAUTION** Do not teach them to fetch garden chemicals, like fertilizer, or plants that may be toxic to dogs.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Written by: Elise Remp

August 9, 2014

Nutritionist-crafted food for your dog's breed or mix.

Recipes designed for dogs' individuality



A themed collection of BARK-designed toys, treats, and chews.


A themed collection of BARK-designed toys, treats, and chews.