Trick Training: A Fun Activity To Share With Your Lab

panting dog

Some people look down their noses at those that teach their dogs tricks.

I know because I used to be one of them.

Not any longer

I used to think it undignified and pointless teaching dogs to ‘ape’ humans with a handshake,  or roll on their backs on command.

I now understand that there is huge value to be had in teaching your labrador to carry out a specific behaviour in response to a specific cue.

The fact that the behaviour is ‘giving a paw’  or ‘playing dead’ matters not at all.

There is nothing pointless in training a dog to respond to a human being.

What is the point?

The point is, your lab is learning and so are you.

Every time we train a new skill, we get better at  it. And every time your dog learns a new trick or game,  he is using his brain and strengthening the relationship between you.

We tend to think of tricks as something which a dog is trained to do, and yet doesn’t appear to be of any actual use. So teaching a dog to sit is an obedience training lesson, but teaching him to shake hands or dance in a circle is referred to as a trick.

There’s a kind of snobbery there, and I’m not sure where it came from!

I’m not completely cured!

There are still some things I feel uncomfortable watching dogs do. Walking on their hind legs for example. I kind of feel embarrassed on behalf of the dog!

But the idea of embarassment is a very human one, and I do accept that dogs don’t care if they look silly so long as they are having fun.

So if it works for you, and your dog enjoys it, my view now is that you shouldn’t let anyone stand in your way!


Why Teach Your Dog Tricks?

Tricks improve your ability to train your dog. They also improve your dog’s ability to focus on you, ignore distractions, and solve problems.

These days, I recommend that all my students teach their dog as many tricks as they have time for. Because every time your dog learns a new trick or game, he is using his brain. Not to mention strengthening the relationship between you.

Trick Training Methods

When we train a Labrador to do tricks, we use positive reinforcement training. This method of training enables us to teach our dogs something new, safe in the knowledge that they will enjoy the learning process and strengthen their bond with us in the process.

Clicker training is great for teaching tricks.  It provides the dog with a stream of feedback which identifies for him when he is getting it right. A clicker is a little box which makes a clicking sound. It comes under the category of an event marker – because it literally marks the event you are looking for. Giving your dog a clear sign of when he has got it right.

When you combine this noise with something your dog finds rewarding, like a tasty snack, then you increase the likelihood of him doing it again.

A verbal event marker can be used in place of a clicker. I use the word YES, and its useful to use a verbal marker when you need both hands free. For the most part though I find that a clicker is a more accurate and consistent tool

How To Teach A Labrador Puppy Tricks

There are three main methods of using clicker training to teach your Labrador puppy. I use these methods from puppyhood all the way to adulthood. And because they are kind and gentle you don’t have to wait to get started.

Capturing – The Snapshot Technique

Capturing is a method which can be used to mark behaviors that your Lab already carries out. You simply wait for your dog to start the behavior you want, then click and treat. You are capturing the correct moment just as you would when taking a photograph. The click tells the dog ‘hey, I liked it when you did that’ and the treat makes it rewarding for the dog so they want to do it again.

For example, most puppies frequently sit. Turn this into a game by having a handful of treats and clicking to get your Lab’s attention. As soon as they look at you, throw a treat. Repeat a few times and then stop. Most dogs will ‘sit’ soon after the treats stop coming. Click for that sit and throw a treat. From now on, don’t click and treat unless the dog offers a treat.

After a few sessions, try saying sit when your dog is about to sit. After a time your cue word will become strongly associated with the behavior, and when you say it, and he will respond to. But remember, keep rewarding your dog for most of his responses to keep him encouraged and the game fun.

If you want to turn this into a trick, you can mark and reward when your dog completes a rotation. Doing a click and treat when he completes a single spin. This will encourage him to do it more often. Once he is offering you the behavior more frequently, you can start to add the cue word ‘spin’ when you click and treat. Say this word every single time to build up an association.

After a few sessions, try saying spin when your dog is about to spin. After a time your cue word will become strongly associated with the behavior, and when you say it, and he will respond.

Luring – Getting Positions Right

Luring Labrador tricks involves using a lure, usually some food, to guide your Labrador into the desired position before rewarding him. Luring isn’t the same as bribing, as very early on in the process you will lose the lure and only reward once the behavior is complete. Luring behaviors can be a little tricky to learn, to make sure that you get the method and timing right.

An example of a trick you can teach with a lure is the ‘spin’. You can mark and reward when your dog completes a rotation. This will encourage him to do it more often.

Training tricks that don’t matter in the real world using this method, gives you the opportunity to learn how to do it right before you start on a command which you really need him to be obedient to. You can use the lure to teach your Labrador to sit, and find detailed instructions for how to do that here.

Shaping – For Ultimate Results

Shaping is the most common way of building up complicated tricks. It involves taking a behavior that your dog already knows and moving the goal posts in gradual steps to build a new and different behavior

We look at shaping in detail and give you instructions for how to use this skill in our clicker training heel for dogs and puppies article here. You can find out lots more about how to use all of these different skills to train your Labrador tricks in our dog training techniques article here.

Some Fun Tricks For You To Try

Anything which your Labrador learns to do can be called a trick. If you don’t need it for working in the shooting field, then teaching your Labrador to stop when you blow your whistle can be defined as a trick. There are a lot of Labrador training tricks you might enjoy, and here are some of our favourites:

101 things to do with a box

Here is a fun game to play with a dog on a rainy afternoon.  Its called 101 things to do with a box. And whilst it might seem trivial,  this game is a brilliant training tool and great practice for the beginner clicker trainer.

4 games to play with your Labrador

In our article on 4 games to play with your Labrador, we look at scent games, musical statues, find the toy and freeze. Any of which can be described as tricks, but all of which are fun learning and bonding opportunities for you and your dog.

Labradors can learn to do pretty much anything which is within their physical capabilities. The sky is the limit. And even if the trick you are training seems pointless, stay happy in the knowledge that everything you teach your dog will be making you a better trainer, owner and companion for him.

Have a go at training your Labrador to do some tricks.  You may be surprised at how much fun you have. Teach your dog to spin, shake hands, or anything else that appeals to you. And remember – at the end of the day, it’s all just training!

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The Labrador Site Founder

Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.

She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program 

Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website


  1. Some tricks I’ve taught to my yellow lab “Manikka”‘are….she fetches the tissues when I sneeze, when I drop something from my recliner I say ‘oops’ and she’ll get it & put it on my lap, she knows each of her many toys by name and/or color & will fetch it, and several other intelligent decision tricks. I’ve never had a dog as easy to train as this lab!

  2. ive had my black labrador over 2 years he called ben i love him to bits and ive learnt him sum tricks like speak ,give paw , roll over and even get the mail once the postman has been and i only showed ben how to do it once there super intelligent and will learn basic tricks so easily and its great fun for you and the dog

  3. i have just bought a labrador puppy……..i wanted to know when it is safe to teach him cool tricks….and i dont know what to feed him as i am in pakistan….
    plz help me…

    • I have an 8 month old yellow lab and I got him when he was 7 weeks old.. I started training him right off the bat. He learned sit immediately followed by the rest of the commands and then we worked on just for fun tricks. Now he is extremely well trained and he will stay as long as I ask him to.. The only thing I’m having a little trouble with is getting him to walk nicely on a leash .he is 85 lbs and very strong and he can be a puller. As far as dog food I have been feeding him iams large breed smart puppy dry dog food. I don’t know if you have that there but you may be able to order it. I also give him pieces of carrot and Apple for a healthy treat. Good luck! Labs are the best and they learn very quickly.. A lab can learn in 10 minutes what it takes other breeds months to learn. I don’t think there is any reason to wait to train.. The sooner you teach the basics the better.

  4. Ben has limited time with Riley in the morning before work so once they exhausted some of the simpler obedience stuff they were out of time for long duration sit/stays etc so they’ve moved on to tricks. It’s great because it’s real bonding time for them and fun too. I think it also means Riley gets used to taking direction from Ben which translates to some of the longer duration or more complex stuff.