On the last day of my beginner’s classes, there’s one final exercise I like to teach—the spin. It may not be the most useful behavior, but spinning is a fun little party trick that most dogs pick up quickly. Get them doing two or three in a row, and you’ve got a skill to impress even the least impressionable.
Teaching a spin
The trickiest part of teaching a spin is getting your hand signal right. When you’re luring your dog with a treat, you want to imagine you are stirring a large pot of soup with a spoon. Lower your arm to a height just above your dog’s nose, then “stir the pot of soup” either clockwise or counterclockwise. Try it before your dog follows along, then move onto step one.
- Begin with a treat between your fingers and your arm just above the height of your dog’s nose. With your treat held close (they can even lick it as you move), stir the pot. When your dog has completed the 360º turn, mark it with a “Yes!” or a clicker and release the treat. Repeat five times.
- With no treat in your hand, stir the pot again. When your dog spins 360º, mark it and pull a reward from your pocket or bait bag. Repeat five times.
- Now we can add the verbal cue “spin” or any other fun name you want to give this behavior. Say the word then stir the pot with no treat in your hand. Mark and reward when your dog has completed the 360º turn. Repeat five times. Remember that you only want to say your cue one time; don’t repeat the word multiple times unless you want “spin, spin, spin, spin” to be your cue!
- Begin to make your hand signal smaller. Instead of stirring a big soup pot, make the stirring motion over a small saucepan. Say the word “spin”, stir the saucepan with no treat in your hand, and mark and reward your dog when they complete the circle. Repeat five times.
- Finally, try getting rid of the hand signal. Say the word “spin” and wait for your dog to respond. If they don’t turn within 5 to 10 seconds, show them your hand signal instead of repeating your verbal cue. Be sure to mark and reward when they complete the 360º turn.
Troubleshooting your spin
Is your dog not quite getting it? Here are a few things to consider:
- Are you leaning over your pup too much? Though it can be tricky with short-legged littles, try to keep your body as upright as possible, so your dog doesn’t feel like you are looming over them.
- Is your dog not understanding the pirouette concept? You may have your hand signal too low. Ideally, your hand will be at the height of your dog’s nose plus a couple of inches.
- Is your dog walking toward your hand instead of turning with it? In this case, you may be moving your hand signal too far away from your body. Try making your “pot” a little smaller and keep your spin in closer to you.
- Some dogs may need you to break down Step 1. If your dog can’t follow your hand all the way around as you “stir the pot,” begin by moving your lure only a quarter of the way around the circle to 90 degrees. When your dog turns their head and shoulders that direction, mark it with a “Yes!” or clicker and reward. Repeat this five times, and then try the same thing for 180 degrees before moving on to 360 degrees.
- Is your dog having trouble moving onto Step 2 (or 4 or 5)? Drop back to the previous step and repeat the instructions at least five more times before attempting to move on again.
You can find a similar article on how to teach your dog to roll over here.