Dog Tricks are Fun

Cheryl Miller

Tricks Are Fun and Easy! The Step-up


It is still snowing outside!  We started teaching our dog to ’Spin’ and now it’s time to introduce the ‘Step-up!’


What is Step-up? This trick is the first part of teaching a dog to place its front feet on a low solid item and remain there until released.  As training progresses the dog will eventually be able to sit on top of a low object and balance perfectly!  Dogs’ love this one so much that when a ‘practice object’ is presented, they quickly perform without being told to do so, and patiently wait for a reward! This is also beneficial in helping dogs’ gain balance, confidence on stairs, stepping up into vehicles or holding a pose for a photo!  Your friends and family will find this trick most entertaining as it continually progresses!  If your dog has mastered jumping on and off furniture, this trick should be a breeze!   Don’t worry, this trick will not start your dog jumping on to furniture!


We begin teaching this trick by selecting an object from around the house or garage to be used as a platform. The object should be low to the ground and not easily tipped over when your dog puts weight on it with front or all four feet.  If the item is easily tipped over or collapses from the dogs’ weight, your dog may lose all confidence!  The item can be a Coleman camp cooler, bottom side of a large pot or pan, a ceramic bowl (crock, turned upside down), a plastic container filled with items, a sturdy step stool or a wooden square sewing box!  Once you have selected a sturdy, not easily tipped item approximately 6 to 18 inches in height, you will need to place this item on a non-skid surface such as a large rug or a carpeted floor. Should the item slide around or become unstable during the early stages of training, your dogs’ progress could suffer more setbacks.  Also, the item should be appropriate for the size of the dog. You would not expect a Saint Bernard to try and fit both front paws on top of a coffee cup!


With the item that you have selected resting on a carpeted floor or a large non-skid rug, attach a leash to your dogs’ collar. While holding the leash in one hand, tap the item resting on the floor with a free finger.  Your finger or nail taps should be done in such a way that, it makes a light noise. Your dog may look toward the tapping sound or it may sniff the object.  This is good, so praise the dog for any attention given to the item!   If your dog panics from the tapping sound do not worry.   Stay calm and try tapping softer next time but repeat the tapping exercise with the leash on the dog until the dog is calm. Try not to rush the dog.  Give praise to the dog when it is calm and close to the item but say nothing immediately after trying to flee or showing fear of the object!   It may take some dogs many days before they actually relax next to a strange object on the floor, but it is well worth the effort and it’s time well spent. Caution! If your dog is spooky and acts like you are up to something? Play it calm and cool!  Have plenty of patience!


By always keeping the item (a step stool, pot or pan, etc.) between you and the dog while working, the dog learns NOT to ignore what’s sits between you!  You may notice that the dog actually steps up on the item or does so by, sheer accident.   Some dogs avoid stepping on the item, but that too is proof the dog knows the item is there!  This is all good.


After spending a few relaxing minutes with the item between the two of you, it’s time to lure the dog on to the object with a treat or your dogs’ favorite toy.  We must avoid forcing the dog onto the item by use of the collar or the leash at this stage because it lessens the challenge being presented to your dog.  After all, dogs’ enjoy figuring things out for themselves and a bored dog sure could use the mental exercise.


Let us now begin to use your lure (treat or toy), to coax the dog on to the item that is sitting on the floor by holding the lure (treat or toy) within reach of the dogs’ nose and at the same time we should begin to move the lure (treat or toy) slowly up and toward our body. You want the dog to step up and on the item which is upward and straight toward you!  Should your dog put a paw on the item sitting on the floor between you, give the lure (treat or toy) quickly so that the dog receives it while touching or being on the object!  If your dog avoids stepping on the item between you and circles left or right, simply block the dog by moving in that same direction with your body. This is called blocking.  If you have had no success after many tries, it is perfectly okay to lift your dogs’ front leg (not paw) onto the item but the lure (treat or toy) must be given as soon as a paw touches!   Lifting a dogs’ leg onto the item may be a huge ‘turn-off’ for some dogs’ that have touchy feet.  From here, you may repeat assisting in this fashion as long as, the dog is no’ fighting any of your attempts while assisting.   It is always best to really slow down with some dogs, after all you are doing something strange and new!  Forcing your dog or getting in a hurry will only cause your dog to run and hide when he/she see’s the Step-up item.


Now that we have tapped the object a few times and patiently waited for our dog to become aware of its location, we blocked with or body and left our dog with only one route to take when the treat was offered (up and toward our body), and the dog stepped up on the object for your reward……….it’s time to introduce the word “Step-up!” With the dog away from the object, let’s approach it; tap it with our finger and say, “Step-up!” We may have to block, lure or assist lightly but we are patient and give the dog time to process/think and remember.   With practice, your dog will place its front feet on any reasonable object and hold that position with practice. Hopping up on objects and balancing is easy from here.   Remember all four feet on an item requires more top room and greater stability.  Be creative!  Dogs love to please.  Have fun when you train!