So you went out and got yourself a Golden Retriever. And who can blame you? Smart, friendly, loyal, beautiful… and as common as a minivan at a kids soccer game.
According to the American Kennel Club, Golden Retrievers were the 3rd most common breed in the U.S. in 2015.
But that’s ok! I’m about to share with you 18 ways you can turn your Golden into the talk of the neighborhood!
Trick Out Your Retriever
As I mentioned above, your furry friend is one smart pooch, regularly cracking the top 5 on lists of the most intelligent breeds. To keep your dog happy, it’s important to put this intelligence to work.
One of the best ways to engage your dog’s mind is to teach it tricks. It’s not difficult to train a Golden to obey simple commands like “sit,” “lay down,” and, “stay.” Basic tricks like, “fetch,” “shake a paw,” and “roll over” also come easily.
Of course nearly every dog can do some or all of these tricks! Here are some more advanced tricks that are fun for you and your Retriever.
If you’ve never taught your dog a trick before, this is not the place to start. Begin with the basics; you need to learn to train, just like your dog needs to learn to learn!
Perhaps you’re not sure where to begin? Consider signing your dog up for an obedience or puppy training class. The instructors will help your dog learn from you, and give you the confidence you need to continue training on your own.
You’ll want to learn a variety of basic tricks. Many more advanced tricks are based on simple behaviors, especially “sit,” “shake a paw,” and “fetch.” (Not to mention basic commands will help you to have a well-behaved dog!)
Once the fundamentals are established, you’ll both be ready for more advanced behaviors and tricks like these.
Clickers are popular training tools for dogs, and can be used to great effect. Any one of these tricks can be taught using the clicker method. I personally have never used a clicker, but if you do, or if you’d like to try, I encourage you to do so.
One final tip: be prepared to go through a LOT of treats! Give little treats for the completion of each stage of a trick, and a big reward when a full trick is executed successfully. Remember to only treat for a trick done properly in order to reinforce the desired result.
Now, in no particular order, the Top 18 fun and unusual tricks to teach your dog:
This is a good “next step” trick for any dog that has mastered giving a paw. It’s always a crowd-pleaser and a favorite of the kids.
- Start by having your furry student sit.
- Hold a treat in the air, visible to the dog.
- With the treat just out of reach, say “high five” and tap the paw you wish your dog to use. Ideally, choose whichever paw your dog typically “gives” or “shakes” on command.
- With any luck, the dog will react by trying to bat at the treat with the paw you just touched. (If it’s the other paw, that’s fine. Just go with it.) You may find you need to lightly brush or tickle the underside of the paw, or touch behind the knee to encourage your dog to raise it high enough.
- When the paw seems to be at maximum height, make contact with it with your free hand (palm out, like a high five).
- Immediately praise and reward your dog.
After a few repetitions, always beginning with the command “high five” and ending with a treat, your Golden should start to lift its paw without your assistance.
TOP TIP: Use a really good treat that your Golden can’t resist!
Have any friends or family in the military? Get your pal to offer a salute out of respect. Like the high five, this is an extension of giving a paw.
- Have your dog sit in front of you
- Ask for a paw.
- After receiving the paw, gently move it up unto the dog’s nose. At that point, give the command “salute” and follow it up quickly with a treat and praise.
- Repeat from step 1 until mastered.
An alternative method involves the use of a sticky note or a small piece of tape:
- Ask your dog to sit.
- Stick the paper or tape onto the top of your dog’s nose
- Give the command “salute.”
- When it tries to brush the paper off with it’s paw, swoop in with a treat and praise.
If your dog prefers to drop its head to rub off the paper, or shake until it flies off, stick with the first method.
TOP TIP: Don’t salute a Private unless they salute your first!
Staying with the military theme, you can train your new recruit to crawl like a commando – and it’s great exercise, too!
- Begin by having your shaggy soldier lie down on the floor.
- Hold a really good treat just in front of your dog’s nose, so close it could almost be taken without moving.
- Move slowly backwards away from your dog, dragging the treat along the floor as you go. The idea is to move slowly enough that your dog won’t feel the need to stand up to get the treat, but will inch along the floor.
- Once your dog has moved a foot or two and say, “crawl.” Let it take the treat and give a ton of praise.
- Repeat the process, and try to increase the distance a little bit each time.
How long a distance you strive for is up to you, but 10-15 feet is probably a reasonable goal.
TOP TIP: A dog that has shown any sign of hip trouble should be exempted from this exercise.
Here’s an internet video favorite that will put all eyes on your Golden as it goes rolling down the sidewalk. This is an advanced thick that will require a lot of patience on your part, and not all dogs will have the coordination or confidence to pull it off.
Typically, this is a stunt for smaller dogs, but with a large enough board, your Golden just might have what it takes.
- You’ll need to get your dog used to the board. Since moving objects make many dogs skittish, wedge something against the wheels to keep it from rolling.
- Encourage your dog to put a paw or two on the board, and give treats and praise when it does. (You may need to start by placing the dog’s paws on the board yourself.)
- Work your way up to having your dog standing on all fours on the skateboard.
- After demonstrating that it can stand on the board with confidence, try moving it just a little bit. Treats and praise should follow each successful movement.
Your long-term goal is to be able to push your Retriever merrily along. Better yet, if your dog gets on the board with enough enthusiasm, it may become self-propelled.
A trick like this will take many sessions of practice spread over several days. Have patience, and be prepared for the possibility that your dog may never be comfortable with the skateboard.
TOP TIP: Be sure the deck of the board has a non-slip surface to reduce the chance of injury from slipping.
Only try this one if you’re not afraid of a few scratches on your baby grand. It’s a noisy trick, but a fun one. Soon, you’ll have your very own Liber-paw-ce in the house!
- Encourage your dog to approach the piano and reward it when it does. (Our dog has learned to inspect any object we indicate by the command, “what’s that?”)
- If you can get it to go straight for the keyboard with either treats on the keys, or by placing its paws, perfect!
- If not, you’ll need to work up to that stage slowly by limiting treats for simple interest in the piano and giving more for any interaction with the keyboard area.
- Given the size of a Golden, you’ll likely find that pressing down on the keys just happens naturally. Reward each key press with a treat, at first. Limit them as the trick comes more naturally.
TOP TIP: You may prefer to try this on a toy piano or inexpensive keyboard instead of an actual piano if you’re concerned about damage.
I can’t think of a better trick for the park than pushing the ball around in a game of doggie soccer! It looks adorable, it’s interactive, and it’s really not that hard to teach.
You don’t have to use a soccer ball, necessarily, but you will need a ball large enough that your dog can’t pick it up with its teeth.
- If your dog isn’t already familiar with balls (quit laughing!), let it get acquainted: leave the ball on the ground for your dog and let the smelling begin.
- There’s a good chance it’ll nudge the ball straight away and then you step in with praise and rewards. Even simple contact should be rewarded.
- Keep giving treats and praise for each movement of the ball. Be prepared to be quick with the treats!
This is another one that may take a few sessions for your dog to become adept at the trick. On the other hand, if your Retriever already knows how to push around a treat-filled ball, this will be a piece of cake. Or kibble.
TOP TIP: Try playing a bit of “keep away” where you try to get the ball away from your Golden while it tries to push it away from you. Alternatively, once good ball-handling skills are shown, try kicking the ball away and encouraging the dog to bring it back.
Say Your Prayers
What do you think a dog prays for? More walks? Slower squirrels? We may never know, but it’s cute to watch and wonder.
This isn’t a really difficult trick, but you will need to build up in stages. First, “sit” and “give a paw” need to be mastered.
- Ask your dog to sit.
- Kneel down in front of your Retriever and ask for a paw.
- When a paw is given, place it over your extended forearm. (Imagine your arm is the top of a pew.)
- Ask for the other paw and drape it over your arm as well. It may take a few tries to get both paws.
After repeated practice sessions your Retriever should become comfortable draping both paws over your arm, possibly without any verbal command; the mere action of kneeling down and putting out your arm may be enough.
Stage two involves getting the dog to bow its head. How? With a treat, of course!
- With your dog’s paws over your arm, hold a treat with your other hand in front of its face.
- Lower the treat down below your arm and when your dog follows it down with its head, give a command (“pray,” or “say your prayers,” or something similar) and give the treat.
TOP TIP: Try to gradually stretch out the amount of time your dog has to keep its head down before it gets a reward. And there you have it – a pious puppy!
Clean Up Your Toys
Fun and practical, this trick builds on name recognition; you’ll need to teach your dog the names of the items you want it to put away, and to “drop it.”
- Choose a container (box, basket, etc.) for your dog to keep its toys in.
- With the toys distributed around the room, ask your Golden to go get a particular toy.
- Hold a treat over the container and have your dog bring the item to you.
- When the dog is holding the toy over the box, give the “drop it” command. If the toy falls in the box, give the treat.
- Repeat this process for each toy that’s out. If a toy gets dropped en route to the toy box, put the treat away and repeat the command to get the item.
- Once all the toys are in the box, reward with a big treat and praise preceded by a command, such as “put your toys away,” or, “clean up.” With enough practice, the command alone should be enough to let the dog know it’s time to put everything in the box.
TOP TIP: Don’t overwhelm your dog with too many toys; 3 or 4 items makes for a decent variety, and keeps clean up manageable.
There is no practical value to this trick, but it makes me laugh, so I included it. Teaching this one will require more luck than skill; you’ll need to have treats on hand at all times, and be ready to jump in without warning.
All you need to do is be there when your dog sneezes to reinforce the behavior as positive by offering a treat and praise each time your pup empties its schnozz. Add a command word (“sneeze” seems like a logical choice!), and with any luck you’ll soon be able to get at least an attempted sneeze on demand.
TOP TIP: If you don’t want to leave it up to chance, you can try to make your dog sneeze by tickling its nose with something like a tissue or a feather duster.
Bounce a Ball
When the weather is good, it’s great fun to hit the court or the beach and knock the ball around a bit with your very own Air Bud!
- Take the ball into the yard, or the park, and simply encourage your dog to take interest in the ball.
- Reward him or her each time the nose makes contact with the ball.
- Next, try placing the ball on your dog’s nose. It might take a few tries before you can do this without your Golden immediately pulling its nose away. The goal here is not to balance the ball, necessarily, but simply to make your dog comfortable with a ball touching its nose.
- Again, praise and treats should follow each successful attempt.
- When your dog seems comfortable, try bouncing the ball lightly off its nose. If it just bounces off, try again. What you’re looking for is any movement of the head that might be construed as an attempt to hit the ball.
- Immediately reward and praise this behavior and soon you’ll have Rover, well, not exactly dribbling, but at least trying to knock the ball out of the air.
TOP TIP: Start with a lightweight ball before deciding to move up to the NBA. You don’t want to scare your dog with a heavy ball to the nose, but you also don’t want a ball small enough to be picked up by the teeth. (An inexpensive beach ball might be ideal, so long as it’s not too windy outside.)
Get Me a Drink
Here’s party trick for the ultimate bottle service. This trick builds on name recognition and takes advantage of a Retriever’s natural inclination to, well, retrieve! Your dog will already need to have mastered “take it,” “bring it,” and “drop it.” What you’ll be doing is blending these three commands into one trick.
- Place an empty soda bottle on the ground and have your Golden “take it.” (And by bottle, I mean a plastic one; a glass bottle is too dangerous for a dog’s powerful jaws.)
- Give a reward for a successful take.
- Take a few steps away and tell your dog to “bring it.”
- Followed this with “drop it” when the dog is near enough for you to reach the drink with your hand.
- Of course you’ll be giving treats and praise for each success.
- Keep running through the sequence over and over, moving the drink a little further away each time.
- Break your training down into multiple sessions to avoid boredom. Once the three steps are down pat, introduce the command, “bring me a drink” to start the full sequence.
- Now move up to a full bottle. The weight of a single-serving plastic soda bottle won’t be any trouble at all, but the firmness of the bottle may take some getting used to as your Retriever figures out an appropriate grip.
TOP TIP: If you plan on keeping your drinks in a cooler or bucket, make sure you work removing the bottle from the container into the training as well.
A bit of a sad trick, I suppose, but completely adorable. Again, it’s not so different from giving a paw. Turning your dog into a tripod won’t be easy, and will likely require several training sessions to master, but the results are worth the effort.
- Start by determining your dog’s dominant paw. This is likely the one offered when shaking, or used to steady a chew toy. If you don’t know (or your dog doesn’t have a preference), that’s ok, you can just pick one arbitrarily.
- Take your dog for a walk on a leash and hook the leash under the dominant leg, gently lifting it up off the ground. Be very careful not to pull up or tug too hard, or you may inadvertently injure your pal.
- Give the command, “limp” and encourage your dog to walk a couple of steps.
- Once that’s accomplished, give a treat.
- Keep repeating and treating, taking just a few steps at a time.
- Gradually try and reduce your Golden’s reliance on the leash to keep its leg up by applying less upwards force, the idea being that the dog will learn to keep it up on it’s own over time.
TOP TIP: Again, this is not a trick for a an older dog, or one showing signs of hip or joint problems.
If you live in an apartment, or in a densely packed neighborhood, this may not be the trick for your dog. It’s a cool trick in that it encourages a natural behavior your dog may seldom engage in; our Labrador never howled once during the first 5 years of his life, so it was surprising to hear his “voice” after all that time!
To pull this trick off, you may need to combine a little luck with some experimentation. If you happen to catch your Golden vocalizing, try to quickly get in the command word, “sing,” and give treats and/or praise.
Alternatively, try and encourage the behavior by howling yourself, or trying different kinds of music. (For our dog, it was our daughter’s trumpet from school that first set him off.)
Being a natural behavior, this should not be a difficult one to elicit on command, once the trigger is established.
TOP TIP: For the ultimate musical performance, see if you can combine “sing” with playing the piano! Have more than one dog? Form a band!
Tired of the give-a-paw variants? Well, we’re almost done with them! I could not resist this sweet trick for giving your guests a send off.
- Start by asking your dog to shake or give a paw.
- When it does, raise your hand up a bit higher than usual so your dog has to reach for it.
- If this is done successfully, give praise and a little treat.
- Keep repeating this process, moving your hand up a little higher each time. Do this until your dog is reaching over its head with its paw.
- Repeat several times.
- Now it’s time to introduce the command word. As always, something short is your best bet, like “wave” or, “say hello!” Give the “shake” command to get the paw moving and then add “wave” when the paw is extended.
- Once you’ve had several successful waves, try eliminating the “shake” command.
A few short practice sessions spread over a few days should be all you need to have the friendliest Retriever around.
TOP TIP: After your dog starts to get the hang of waving, only give treats for “good” waves, that is nice high, strong waves.
Put the Laundry Away
Retrievers were, historically, working dogs. So why not put yours to work? This is just like Clean Up Your Toys, only with stinky socks.
Really, you’ll just be running through the same steps as “clean up” but it will be important to establish the name “laundry” with your Golden. It may take some time to distinguish between toys (and any specific toy names your dog knows, like “ball” or “stuffie”) and clothes, but you’ll get there. You should try going back and forth between toys and clothes to help reinforce the difference.
- Start with a laundry basket somewhere out in the open and down on the floor.
- Have your dog get or take an item of clothing.
- Next, have it brought to you.
- Finally, have the dog “drop it” right over the basket.
- Repeat until it learns that this is the place for laundry.
- Gradually move the basket to your laundry room, or wherever you care to collect your washing.
TOP TIP: This trick might not be a good choice if you have a habitual chewer in your house, but maybe it could be a chance for your Golden to reform?
I hesitated a bit on this one because of the slightly negative connotation. If I were teaching my dog this one, I might put a positive spin on it, like playing shy or bashful. But perhaps I’m overly sensitive.
This trick can be learned much like “salute” – with a small sticky note or piece of tape.
- Begin with your dog lying down.
- Put the sticky item on its nose, and a paw should come up to try and remove the item almost immediately.
- Praise the pawing and give a treat.
- Do this over and over, adding in a command such as, “shame on you.”
- When you think your Golden is golden, try giving the command without any tape or sticky note.
- Give lots of treats for a successful execution!
TOP TIP: Make sure your command word is not the same as the what you say when you actually admonish your dog. You don’t want your Golden expecting a treat when it’s really in the dog house!
Pull a Cart
This one I would love to see, and if you do teach your Retriever this trick, please post pictures or videos! You may need some handyman/woman skills to pull this off (building a cart; converting a harness), but the results would be totally worth it.
And don’t worry; a healthy Golden is perfectly capable of pulling a reasonable load, especially if your cart has good wheels that turn easily. Perhaps your kids would like a ride? Or maybe you can bring home the groceries together? Either way, you’ll probably have the only dogcart in the neighborhood.
Cart training is best started when the dog is a pup and naturally more adventurous. Older dogs may be less receptive to wearing a harness, but it’s worth a try, assuming your Golden is in good health.
Proper harnesses and carts can be bought commercially if you’re not feeling too crafty. And if you really get into it, there are a slew of commands to help you guide your dog. All of this is beyond the scope of this article, so you might want to read this excellent guide to dog carting to get started. There really is a whole subculture of dog-carting aficionados out there, and this could be a fun hobby to get into.
Of course you can always keep things simple by rigging up your own harness with a kids wagon. Use a body harness, naturally; for as much as dogs seem to willingly choke themselves on a collar to go sniff a lamp post, few dogs will choose to pull a wagon by their throat.
Get your dog used to the harness for a few walks before attaching any kind of trailer. Start with something light (like a small, empty wagon) to practice on before moving up to towing any freight. Have fun with this one, but respect your dog’s limitations.
TOP TIP: There are numerous dog carting clubs across North America and the U.K. See if there’s one near you to learn more about this traditional activity.
Treat Flip and Catch
This is a bit of a circus trick, and not an especially difficult one to learn. You will need to overcome your Retriever’s natural inclination to snarf up whatever food is right in front of it, but that’s part of the fun!
One tip for this trick: it’s all about being calm and patient, so start with a relaxed dog, not one who’s just been tearing around the yard, or involved in some other exciting activity.
- Get your dog into a “sit” and “stay” position.
- If your dog will remain this way while you kneel down, great! If not, sit in a chair and have the dog’s head at your lap level.
- Place the treat on the dog’s nose and give a command like “hold it” or “wait” that your dog already understands.
- Release the dog with an “ok!” or “get it!” and watch what happens with the treat. If it gets snatched out of the air, perfect!
- Give lots of praise and then have another go.
- If the treat falls to the ground immediately give the “leave it” command and retrieve the treat. Let your Golden know he or she is a good boy/good girl for leaving it, and try the trick again.
TOP TIP: By allowing the treat to be taken only when it’s caught in midair, you’ll soon establish that only a catch will be rewarded.
For My Last Trick…
There are, of course, more cool tricks than I’ve covered here, and I invite you to build your Retriever’s repertoire. They’re a great way to keep your dog happy and engaged.
Do be selective, however, when choosing a trick to try and learn. I omitted many intriguing options because they weren’t suitable for a dog the size of a Golden. Also, be conscientious of your dog’s particular limitations. The last thing you should do is encourage behavior that may cause discomfort, or even outright suffering.
Have fun with this list, be sure to show off your Golden’s new skills, and stop being just another muzzle in the crowd.