Your dog performs this simple trick by lowering her front legs while her hind legs remain in a standing position. She probably does this every time she wakes up from a nap as she stretches.
You can call this a “bow” if your dog is male. My dogs are lovely ladies, so I call this their “curtsy.”
Grab Your Bow-Worthy Training Treats
Teaching this trick, as with most tricks and behaviors, requires lots of small, tasty treats. Avoid crunchy treats that will take your dog a few moments to chew.
Using small treats that your dog can quickly snap up makes it easier for you to quickly reward behaviors accurately, at the very instant they occur. That’s the key to clear communication so your dog will know exactly what she has done right.
Capturing A Bow Or Curtsy
Since this is such a natural behavior, you can encourage your dog to do it more often by praising and treating her when you catch her doing it.
Watch your dog closely as she wakes up from a nap, and say “yes!” the moment her elbows touch the floor. You might not have a treat or clicker on-hand when you catch her curtsying. In that case, I might give my dog a bite of whatever dog-safe food is closest – a tiny bite of meat from my sandwich, or egg from breakfast.
At this point, your dog might already realize what she’s done right, and may offer another curtsy. If she does, continue to reward her for curtsying, then start adding the cue word and hand signal at the moment she’s lowering her elbows to the floor.
You can also help your dog into the bow or curtsy position so you will not have to wait until she stretches.
Getting Your Dog Into Position
It’s easier to teach your dog to bow or curtsy if they already know how to “lay down” and “stand.”
When your dog is standing, hold a small treat in your fingers and allow her to sniff it, but keep it covered with your fingers so she cannot eat it just yet. Then, lower the treat down and back so she will have to curtsy to reach it. The instant she’s in the correct position, allow her to nibble at the treat.
When Your Dog Keeps Laying Down
The first few times, your dog will probably lay down immediately, or may curtsy for just a moment before her hind end lowers to the floor.
When I first started teaching Matilda to curtsy, I stopped her from laying down by having my hand close to her belly, and gently lifting her back into position when she lowered herself.
Even this gentle hands-on guidance can be stressful for many dogs. The belly is a vulnerable spot, and your dog might not expect you to touch her there when she’s standing. Matilda found it stressful and walked away from the training session. That’s when I took a break and thought of ways to teach her to curtsy instead of laying down without any physical guidance.
When your dog lays down, do not give her a treat. Instead, cue or lure her to stand, then give her a treat to reward her for standing and try again.
“Resetting” your dog by having her stand while holding back the treat will be enough to communicate to her that she has not yet successfully performed her trick.
Adding The Cue And Hand Signal
After your dog has gotten the hang of being lured into a curtsy, usually about 5 times during your first training session, you can start saying “curtsy!” and showing her a hand signal – just once, not over and over- at the moment she goes into the correct position.
My chosen hand signal for “curtsy” is waving my pinky – the same way a high-society lady might raise her pinky while drinking her tea. At first, you will need to wave your pinky as you give your dog the treat, with your hand near the dog’s nose. Later on, you can start moving your hand further away, until you can show her the hand signal from your waist without luring her at all.
Perfecting The Curtsy
During your first training session, simply get your dog curtsying – don’t worry too much about getting it perfect. She might be staring at the treat as she does it, relying on your lure to get into position as you say a cue word and show her a hand signal.
Now, you can work on duration so your dog will not stand up from her curtsy until you release her. At the same time, you can teach her to look up at you while she curtsies for a really cute effect.
For Duration: Have your dog curtsy, and rapidly give her treats as she stays in position. At first, allow just a half-second between treats, then gradually wait just a beat longer before giving her another. Then, add a release word – you can just have her “stand,” or release her with an “okay.”
For Eye Contact: If your dog is staring at the treat, you may be relying too much on luring. Luring is great for teaching a trick, at first, but you need to fade it out as soon as possible so your dog learns the trick, instead of simply learning to always follow the treat. Once she gets the hang of curtsying by following a treat, stop holding a treat in your hand – just show her the hand signal instead. Then, deliver treats to her by raising them up to your eyes before bringing them to her mouth.
For Better Photos and Show-Off-Ability: At first, your dog will only curtsy when she is right in front of you. Teach her to curtsy while she is at your side too.