Basic Training and Beyond
In This Chapter
- Using a leash
- Teaching the basic skills: Sitting and staying
- Keeping your dog from bolting
- Encouraging good table manners
- Taking your dog for a walk the right way
- Ensuring that your dog comes when called
One question almost every dog owner asks is, “How do I keep my dog from jumping up on people?” Dogs jump on people as a form of greeting, like saying, “Hello, nice to meet you!”
The First Step: Leash Training Your Dog
You must supervise your dog at all times so that she doesn’t get tangled up. Never leave a dog alone with a training collar on. In fact, if you’re not comfortable using a “choke” or training collar, you can try this method by attaching the leash to the dog’s regular collar. More vets seem to be recommending against training collars these days. Others maintain that they are useful.
Puppies are sometimes reluctant to go away from the house, even for a treat. In that case, pick up your puppy, carry her away from the house, and then put her down; she’ll lead you back to the house.
Teaching the Basics
- Okay (the release word)
- Go lie down
Use the Sit and Stay command when you want your dog to remain quietly in one spot.
Getting your dog to sit — the easy part
When your dog looks up at the treat, he should sit.
Tell him without petting him. If you pet him at the same time as you praise him, he’ll probably get up, but what you really want him to do is sit. Praising is verbal, such as saying “good” or “good dog” in a pleasant tone of voice. Rewarding is giving the dog a treat for a correct response while he’s still in position. For example, if your dog gets up after you told him to sit, and you then give him a treat, you’re rewarding his getting up and not the sit.
When using this method of teaching your dog to sit, position your hand properly in relation to the dog’s head. If your hand is held too high, your dog will jump up; if it’s too low, he won’t sit. Hold your hand about 2 inches above his head.
Some dogs catch on to this idea so quickly that they sit in front of their owner whenever they want a treat.
Getting your dog to sit on command — the next part
If she sits, give her a treat and tell her how good she is while taking your hand out of the collar. If she doesn’t sit, pull up on her collar and wait until she sits, and then praise her and reward her with a treat.
As your dog demonstrates that she has mastered sitting on command, start to reward the desired response every other time. Finally, reward her on a random basis — every now and then, give her a treat after she sits on command. A random reward is the most powerful reinforcement of what your dog has learned. It’s based on the premise that hope springs eternal. To make the random reward work, all you have to do is use it and keep using it!
In the Heel position, the area from the dog’s head to his shoulder is in line with your left hip, with both of you facing in the same direction.
Hold your hand as close to the dog’s collar as you comfortably can. The farther away from the dog’s collar you are, the less control you have.
Keep your body as straight as you can, and don’t bend over your dog. Before you step away from your dog, make sure that your right hand is at your side again.
When you see that your dog’s attention is drifting, he’s probably about to move. You can tell your dog is thinking about moving when he starts to look around and begins to focus on something other than you. Any time you see that lack of attention, reinforce the Stay command by slapping the leash straight up with your right hand. Don’t say anything, but smile at your dog when he’s in position. Return your right hand to your side.
Playing the Sit-Stay game
This test is called the Sit-Stay test. If your dog moves to come to you, reinforce the Stay with your right hand. Test three times, increasing the tension until you get physical resistance from your dog.
Your tension needs to be commensurate to your dog’s size and weight. In other words, Terrier-strength tension applied to your Golden Retriever isn’t going to produce the desired results.
The goal is to have her stay for one minute. If she moves, reinforce the Stay.
Releasing: The magic word is “Okay”
Your dog also needs to learn the difference between being praised for responding correctly and being released. Praise isn’t an invitation to move. You say “good boy” when he responds to a command. Praise is when you use your voice. Petting is when you use your hands. You release him when the exercise is finished.
As quickly as you can, get into the habit of using only one command. If you don’t get the desired response on the first command, show your dog what you want without repeating it. Repeating commands teaches your dog to ignore you. If you’re consistent from the start, your dog learns he has to respond to the first command.
Getting the dog down (and staying down)
Show her the treat and lower it straight down and in front of your dog as you apply gentle downward pressure on the collar, at the same time saying, “Down.”
Keep your left hand in the collar and your right hand off your dog while telling her how clever she is so that she learns she’s being praised for lying down. With a small dog, you may want to do the exercise on a table.
Practice having your dog lie down at your side five times in a row for five days, or until she does it on command with minimal pressure on the collar. Praise her and reward her with a treat every time.
Keep your right hand with the treat at your right side.
When she lies down, praise her and give her a treat every other time. Practice over the course of several days until she lies down on command without any pressure on the collar.
Make a game out of teaching your dog to lie down on command. Get her eager about a treat and, in an excited tone of voice, say “Down.” Then give her the treat. After that, when she lies down on command, you can randomly reward her.
The object of the Down-Stay command is to have your dog respond to your command whether she’s up close or at a distance. Pointing to the ground won’t work from a distance, so you need to train your dog to respond to an oral command. This point is where the Down-Stay command comes in — the theory being that the dog is least likely to move in the Down position. Be that as it may, you’ll find this command not that hard to teach, and you do want to be able to stop your dog in her tracks.
Go lie down, doggy!
Assume that you’re going to use a dog bed.
You may have to coax him with a treat.
3. When he lies down on the bed, praise him, give him the treat, count to five, and release him.
Stop for now — you’re getting bored and so is he. Come back to it another time.
You must release him from the spot when he can move again. If you forget, he’ll get into the habit of releasing himself, thereby undermining the purpose of the exercise.
Dashing Your Dog’s Dashing Habits
Almost as annoying as unrestrained greeting behavior, but far more dangerous, is the dog’s habit of dashing through doors just because they’re open, racing up and down stairs — ahead of or behind you — and jumping in and out of the car without permission. These behaviors are dangerous to your dog because she may find herself in the middle of the road and get run over. They’re dangerous to you because you may get knocked over or down the stairs.
Door and stair manners
Follow the same procedure as you did for sequence 1 of the Sit-Stay. Place yourself in such a way that you can open the door without your dog having to get out of its way.
Release the tension, and she should stay. If she doesn’t, apply a little upward tension. Close the door and try again.
If she tries to follow, apply upward tension on the leash to remind her to stay. Repeat until she stays without having to be reminded.
Motion means more to dogs than words, so make sure that you stand still when releasing your dog. For this exercise, you don’t want her to associate your moving with the release. Dogs are also time conscious, so vary the length of time you make her wait before releasing her.
If you have stairs, start teaching her to stay at the bottom while you go up. First Sit her and tell her to Stay. When she tries to follow, put her back and start again. Practice until you can go all the way up the stairs with her waiting at the bottom before you release her to follow. Repeat the same procedure for going down the stairs.
The doorbell and guests
When the bell rings and your dog goes through his antics, tell him to Sit and Stay.
To help make your helper’s arrival as traditional as possible, have her ring the doorbell only once. Ask her to wait for you to open the door.
If your dog is an excitable soul, you may have to put him on the live ring of his training collar before he takes you seriously. Less excitable dogs catch on after two or three attempts.
At this point, your dog wants to say hello. Again, reinforce the Stay and have your helper approach him while holding out the palm of her hand.
You may have to be right next to your dog to reinforce the Sit-Stay.
Remember to release him. Successful training depends on who is more determined and persistent — you or your dog.
Paying attention to inflection
Give commands in a normal tone of voice. For example, when giving the Sit command, remember that it’s “Sit!” — the command — and not “Sit?” — the question.
When releasing, say “Okay!” in a more excited tone of voice, as in, “That’s it, you’re all done!” Unless impaired, a dog’s sense of hearing is extremely acute, and when giving a command, there’s absolutely no need to shout. In fact, the opposite is true — the more quietly you give your commands, the quicker your dog learns to pay attention to you.
When teaching a new command, you may have to repeat it several times during the initial introduction before your dog catches on. After the first session, teach him to respond to the first command. Give the command, and if nothing happens, show your dog exactly what you want by physically helping him. Consistency is the key to success.
Setting the Tone for Proper Table Manners
Every time you reward your dog’s efforts with a treat from the table, you’re systematically teaching her not to take no for an answer.
Walking Your Dog
Dogs pull on a leash because they’re more interested in the sights and scents in their environment than in you. Your job is to teach your dog to become aware of and respect your existence at the other end of the leash.
Born to pull
Hold the leash in both hands as though it were a baseball bat. Plant both hands firmly against your belt buckle.
Be sure that you keep your hands firmly planted. As a safety precaution, don’t put your entire hand through the loop of the leash or wrap it around your hand. If your dog catches you unaware and makes a dash, she may cause you to fall. By having the loop over your thumb, you can just let go, and it’ll slide off.
As she scampers to catch up with you, tell her what a clever dog she is, and give her a treat. Before you know it, she’ll be ahead of you again, and you’ll have to repeat the procedure. When you make your turn, do it with determination. Be sure that you keep your hands firmly planted against your belt buckle. Make your turn, and keep walking in the new direction. Don’t look back, and don’t worry about her; she’ll quickly catch up. Remember to praise and reward her when she does.
The first few times you try this exercise, you’ll be a little late — she’s already leaning into her collar. Try it again. Concentrate on your dog, and learn to anticipate when you have to make the turn. Always give her a chance to respond by saying, “Buddy, easy” before you make the turn. You need to repeat this sequence several times over the course of a few training sessions until she understands that you don’t want her to pull. Your goal is to teach her to walk within the perimeter of her leash without pulling.
– How distracted she is by what’s going on around her, including scents on the ground
– Her size and weight in relation to your size and weight
– Her personality
– Her touch sensitivity
Heeling on leash
Heeling is used for walking your dog in traffic — when you need absolute control — and for competitive obedience events. The American Kennel Club (AKC) definition of heeling is walking “close to the left side of the handler without swinging wide, lagging, forging, or crowding,” either on a loose leash or off leash.
Teaching your dog to sit at heel
Use the same technique to sit your dog described in Chapter Teaching Your Dog Manners, and avoid the temptation to push down on his rear. Keep your hands in place as you tell him how clever he is.
You need to allow about 4 inches of slack so there’s no tension on the leash when you start.
Keep both hands about waist high and close to your body. The object is not to touch the leash until necessary.
Move out briskly, as though you’re late for an appointment. Walk in a large, clockwise circle or in a straight line.
You’ll notice that as soon as both of you are in motion, your dog wants to get ahead of you. Close your hands on the leash, and firmly bring him back to your left side. Work on keeping his shoulder in line with your left hip. Anytime he gets out of position, bring him back and tell him how clever he is.
It’ll take you a few tries to get the hang of it. At first, you’ll be a little slow on the uptake. He’s joyfully bounding ahead of you, the leash has fallen off your shoulder, and you’re scrambling to get it back. Just start over and work on anticipating what your dog is going to do.
When heeling your dog, walk briskly and with determination, as though you’re trying to catch the next train home. The more energy you put into your pace, the easier it is to keep your dog’s attention focused on you. If you dawdle, so does your dog. By paying attention to your dog, you’ll discover when you need to bring him back to Heel. If you can see his tail, you’ve waited too long.
- Your dog
- What your dog was bred to do
- His response to the training collar
- Your attitude
If you want your dog to pay attention to you, you have to pay attention to your dog. Discovering how to anticipate what she’s going to do is the first step to successful heeling. Just before you make the turn, enthusiastically say her name, make the turn, and keep moving. Using her name causes her to look up at you, and she then notices that you’re changing direction, which causes her to stay with you. Without giving her that cue, as you make the turn and go one way, she’ll probably keep going the other direction.
If your dog has a particularly difficult time remaining at your side for the right turn or about-turn, you can use a treat or other object of interest to help guide her around. Hold the treat in your right hand as you’re heeling. Before you make the turn, show it to your dog by bringing the treat directly in front of her nose and using it to guide her around the turn, and then give her the treat.
For the slow pace, cut the speed of your pace in half, but maintain the same length of stride. As you go into the slow pace, draw back on the leash to keep your dog in Heel position. For the fast pace, double the speed of your normal pace, again keeping the length of your stride the same. Just before you go into a fast pace, use your dog’s name in an excited tone of voice to encourage him to stay with you.
Winning the Game of Coming When Called
– Exercise, exercise, exercise. Many dogs don’t come when called because they don’t get enough exercise. At every chance, they run off and make the most of this unexpected freedom by staying out as long as possible.
Consider what your dog was bred to do, and that tells you how much exercise she needs. Just putting her out in the backyard isn’t good enough. You have to participate. Think of it this way: Exercise is as good for you as it is for your dog. A good source for exercise requirements is The Roger Caras Dog Book: The Complete Guide to Every AKC Breed, 3rd Edition (M. Evans & Co.).
– Whenever your dog comes to you, be nice to her. One of the quickest ways to teach your dog not to come to you is to call her to punish her or to do something the dog perceives as unpleasant. Most dogs consider it unpleasant to be called just before they’re left alone in the house or given a pill. In these circumstances, go and get your dog instead of calling her to you.
Another example of teaching your dog not to come is taking her for a run in the park and calling her to you only when it’s time to go home. Repeating this sequence several times teaches the dog that the party is over. Soon she may become reluctant to return to you when called because she isn’t ready to end the fun. You can prevent this kind of unintentional training by calling her to you several times during her outing, sometimes giving her a treat, sometimes just a word of praise. Then let her romp again.
– Teach her to Come as soon as you get her. Ideally, you acquired your dog as a puppy, which is the best time to teach her to come when called. Start right away. But remember, sometime between 4 and 8 months of age, your puppy begins to realize there’s a big, wide world out there. While she’s going through this stage, keep her on leash so she doesn’t learn that she can ignore you when you call her.
– When in doubt, keep her on leash. Work to anticipate when your dog is likely not to come. You may be tempting fate by trying to call her after she has spotted a cat, another dog, or a jogger. Of course, sometimes you goof and let her go just as another dog appears out of nowhere.
Resist the urge to make a complete fool of yourself by bellowing “Come” a million times. The more often you holler “Come,” the quicker she learns she can ignore you when she’s off leash. Instead, patiently go to her and put her on leash. Don’t get angry with her after you’ve caught her, or you’ll make her afraid of you, and she’ll run away when you try to catch her the next time.
– Make sure that your dog always comes to you and lets you touch her collar before you reward. Touching her collar prevents the dog from developing the annoying habit of playing “catch” — coming toward you and then dancing around you, just out of reach. So teach her to let you touch her collar before you offer a treat or praise.
Training your dog to come when called
Avoid the temptation to reach for your dog.
Now you can — and should — pet him so he understands how happy you are that he came to you. This situation is different from the Sit or the Down earlier in this chapter, when you want him to remain in place, and petting him will cause him to get up.
Keep working on this exercise until your dog responds on his own to being called and no longer needs to be guided in with the leash.
If he can’t find you, slowly go to him, take him by the collar, and bring him to the spot where you called. Reward and praise.
Repeat in different locations with as many different distractions as you can find. Try it with someone offering your dog a tidbit as a distraction (don’t let the dog get the treat), someone petting the dog, and anything else that may distract her. Use your imagination. Your goal is to have her respond reliably every time you call. Until she’s steady on leash, she most certainly won’t come off leash.
Advancing to off-leash distractions
Let common sense be your guide. For example, when you’re traveling and have to let him out to relieve himself at a busy interstate rest stop, you’d be foolhardy to let him run loose. When in doubt, keep him on leash.
Mastering the “Leave It” Command
Teaching this command is a wonderful opportunity to find out more about how your dog’s thought processes work. You can truly see the wheels turning. Depending on how quickly she catches on, you may want to practice this exercise over the course of several sessions. Keep the sessions short — no more than five minutes at a time, and follow these steps:
She’ll try to pry it loose. Say “Leave it,” close your hand into a fist, and turn it so that your palm now faces down. (See Figure 3-3.)
She may stare fixedly at the back of your hand, she may try to get to the treat by nuzzling or nibbling your hand, or she may start barking. Ignore all these behaviors. You’re looking for the first break in her attention away from your hand. She may make eye contact with you or look away.
You’re teaching her that looking at you and not at your hand is rewarded with a treat.
If she responds, praise and reward. If she doesn’t, close your hand into a fist and wait for the break in attention. Repeat until she responds to the command.
When her attention is on your hand or she tries to get to the treat, say “Leave it.”
Here you need to be watchful: She may be faster at getting to the treat than you can cover it.
Make sure that the amount of slack in the leash isn’t so much that her mouth can reach the floor.
When she tries to get to the treat, say “Leave it.” If she responds, praise her, pick up the treat, and give it to her. If she doesn’t, check straight up. Repeat until she obeys the command.
Test her response by taking off the leash and dropping a treat. If she makes a dive for it, don’t attempt to beat her to it or yell “No.” She’s telling you she needs more work on leash.
If she manages to snag a cracker or kernel of popcorn, you’re too slow on the uptake. Practice walking around the food-contaminated area until she ignores the food on command.