My wife, Robin, participates in animal assisted therapy with our dog, Lucy. Lucy does her repertoire of maybe a dozen parlor tricks. Some of these tricks are pretty fancy, but taking a final bow is what impresses everyone the most.
I’ll let you in on a secret, a really easy way to teach your dog this trick. And your dog is guaranteed to have fun learning it. Taking a bow is a really easy behavior to teach because it’s what dogs do anyway when they’re playing – it’s called a play bow.
Before you begin, get a stash of really tasty treats and stick them in your pocket. Begin the training session by playing with your dog. Get her really involved in your game. When she’s totally into it, either jump up (just a few inches off the ground will do) or raise your arms toward the sky and then lower them quickly as you bow (sort of a human version of the canine play bow). For many dogs, at least one of these two actions will prompt a return bow from the dog. When she bows back at you, cheer "good bow" and offer a tasty treat. Soon, she’s bound to bow more often to get a treat.
After offering this advice on one of my radio shows, there was one instance of a dog learning to bow too well. That dog didn’t stop bowing. She walked around the house bowing all day long. It’s as if the dog had found religion and was praying. It turned out the pooch wasn’t born again, but rather fed again, and again, and again. The owner’s two children had gotten in the act, and rewarded the by now portly pooch for all her bows. My job then was then to explain how to un-train bows. Don’t worry; play bow obsessions don’t happen often. However, this story illustrates just how easy this trick is to teach.
If your dog doesn’t emulate your version of the bow, or bow back at you as you jump for joy, you can also teach your dog to bow the old-fashioned way. Take a great-smelling treat in your hand, make a fist and, while your dog is standing, lower your the hand below your dog’s nose and forward. If your dog follows your fist, she’ll bow.