By Brenna Fender
Teaching your dog to spin is easy, fun, and useful! This trick can be used to help stretch your dog out before activity, to build coordination, and to teach your dog lefts and rights for dog sports.
Start by having some very small treats that your dog really likes. Stand in front of your dog with him facing you. If you decide to turn your dog clockwise, hold the treats in your right hand. If you want to turn your dog counterclockwise, hold the treats in your left hand. Reach down and let your dog sniff, lick, and nibble the treats for a few moments. You want him to know the treats are there!
Let’s say that you would like teach your dog to spin counterclockwise first. Put a treat or two in your left hand, and put your hand in front of your dog’s nose. Use that treat like a magnet and “pull” your dog counterclockwise (toward your dog’s left).
At first, let your dog have a taste of the treat when he follows the treat magnet by simply turning his head. Ask him to turn a bit further each time until he can follow your hand all the way around in a circle, taking little nibbles of the treat as he goes. As soon as he seems comfortable with the spinning motion, stop letting your dog taste the treat as he turns; save it until the spin is complete.
The next step is to hide your treat. Simply close your first all the way around the treat so that your dog can’t see it. Ask him to follow the “treat magnet” hand without seeing the treat. If he gets lost or confused, let him see the treat in your hand, but no tastes until he’s finished the spin!
When your dog confidently follows your treat magnet hand, it’s time for a big step. Act as if you put your treat in your closed fist, but discretely keep it in your other hand. Use your hand to lure your dog around as if you had the same treat magnet as usual. When your dog finishes the spin, produce the treat from your opposite hand to feed him. Most dogs won’t have a problem with this move, but if your dog won’t leave the new treat-holding hand alone to follow the magnet on subsequent tries, go back to having the treat in your hand. Move quickly to alternating which hand the treat is in so that your dog maintains a focus on the magnet but also learns that sometimes the treat comes from elsewhere.
When your dog understands that he is expected to follow the magnet hand when it doesn’t contain a treat, you can start to fade your hand out of the picture. Over time, move your hand higher and in smaller circles until your movement is more of a flick than a circle at all.
Soon your dog will recognize your hand motion as a cue to spin rather than a lure to follow.
If you’d like to add a verbal clue, like “spin,” “turn,” or “left” to go with the motion, start by saying the cue and then, a split second later, give your hand motion. Your dog will start to anticipate your hand cue and will eventually offer to spin after the word alone. (Every few repetitions, have a slightly longer pause between word and the cue to see if your dog has picked up on what you want.) Praise and give lots of treats when this happens to help your dog understand what you want.
Don’t forget to start the process over again in the opposite direction. Even if you don’t intend to put the spin on “left” and “right” verbal cues, it’s good to keep your dog’s body balanced by having him learn to spin in both directions.
Your dog may take a couple of sessions on each step or may learn the entire behavior in one setting. Throughout the training process, keep your attitude light and happy. Use lots of praise throughout and keep your training sessions short. Have fun teaching your dog to spin!