Dogcharmer: Tricks and costumes?

If your dog is up for it, enjoy.

Dressing up a dog and teaching it tricks can be part of a healthy relationship. —Matt Walsh

To my readers,

When people find out I’m a dog trainer, many of them will invariably throw in a couple of questions in the course of our conversation. “Is it OK to teach my dogs tricks?” Halloween time, and it’s, “Is it OK to dress up my dog?” I remember a woman once saying, “I think it’s awful having dogs do tricks. They’re not circus clowns!” Boy, was she wrong!

Thanks to my daughters, Tara and Kerry, my Doberman Michelle never left the house without all her feet beautifully adorned with nail polish. And Michelle wasn’t just a sister to T and K, she was also an active search dog, who found two people alive, and several bodies. Once, during a search for a missing person in Pennsylvania, at first glance a reporter exclaimed, “Your dog’s feet are bleeding!” Michelle, the elegant Dobe, ended up on local TV that night.

Dogs love attention. When Michelle heard, “Michelle, we need to do your nails,” she immediately lay down with her legs stretched out. I’ll never forget when the girls changed her nail polish from pink to orange, to match the vests Michelle and I wore when on searches. When walking by, I overheard Kerry say to Tara, “Orange is no good; it makes her look slutty,” and Tara agreeing. I doubt Michelle would have cared.

As for tricks, Michelle loved the laughter and applause that followed when I said, “This town ain’t big enough for the two of us,” and she “dropped dead” when I shot her with my hand. And wouldn’t get up no matter what I said, until I said, “The dog catcher’s coming!” Mike, my other Dobe, who successfully tracked a woman for miles, loved it when I told him to shake, because his shaking had nothing to do with giving a paw, and also drew laughter and applause. He would just shake his head back and forth. But the best was Michelle’s counting. I did quite a few “Hug a Tree” programs to the total student bodies of many junior high schools. I told the kids what to do, and what not to do, if they got lost. Then I mentioned my partner, who I said was behind the curtain because she was shy, and then I stunned everyone by saying, “And she’s only 4 years old!” (depending on her age at the time). When it was trick time, I told a kid from the audience to give me a math question where the answer was 10 or less, and Michelle would get the answer. When the kid said, “How much is four and two?” I would tell Michelle, “It’s math time,” and she would sit and stare at me. I would let the audience see my hands, and not move a muscle as I stared at Michelle, and she would start barking, and keep barking, till I broke eye contact. All I moved were my eyes — I would blink twice and avert my eyes, moving nothing else. When I did that, she stopped barking. One time when the answer was five, she barked three times, and then sneezed twice. And that happened just because she had to sneeze, I didn’t teach her that! But the audience assumed that was part of the trick, and roared with laughter and applause. After that, I had to tell my audiences that she would bark and sneeze the answer, and that was self-taught. Michelle just picked that up on her own from the first crowd response.

So, is it OK to dress them up and teach them tricks? Anytime you and your dog are relating to each other in a positive and fun way, it’s way better than OK: For a whole lotta reasons, it’s great.

Have a question for the Dogcharmer? Write him at Find him on Instagram @DogTrainingDiaries.