In This Chapter
- Going over basic commands
- Keeping your dog calm and attentive
- Testing basic training beyond the house
- Weaning your dog off the leash
My clients always want to know how often they need to practice in order to have a well-behaved dog. My answer? You don’t need to practice — you need to apply! Apply what you discover to everyday life. Basic skills like sitting before a meal or meeting company are the building blocks your dog needs to know before she can start picking up the laundry (Chapter Adding Drama with Clever Tricks) or navigating an agility course (Part IV).
Reviewing Basic Commands
As you teach your dog basic commands, remember that the biggest motivating factor in training is you. To be a good teacher, remember the three c’s:
– Consistency: Use a familiar command in similar situations, like “Sit” for greetings. Encourage everyone to do the same. If two people give different directions, your dog won’t know who or what to follow.
– Clarity: Be clear in your communication. Remember that dogs are not little people. Bent postures invite playful interaction, not respect. Soft tones sound wishy-washy. When directing your dog, stand tall and speak clearly. Be the one to watch!
– Compassion: Be compassionate and praise a lot. Remember that you attract more dogs with dog biscuits and good cheer than with discipline and frustration. A cheerful attitude inspires a dedicated learner.
Think of each command as an interactive communication rather than a complex request. Your dog can’t break down complex sentences, but a short, clear word cue helps your dog recognize what you’d like her to do in all situations that require that behavior. The shorter your word cue, the better. Think of a bark. “Molly, sweetie-pie, can you sit down for Mama?” is not bark-like; “Sit” is. Use this command anytime you need your dog to sit. For more tips on communicating with your dog, see Chapter Prepping for Training — Mentally and Physically.
Calling your dog
What do you do when people you respect call your name? Do you ignore them? Or do you look up, expectant and excited that an adventure may follow? You want your dog to be interested and excited, too. To create positive associations with your dog’s name, remember the following:
– Use your dog’s name for happy interaction. If you need to medicate, isolate, or otherwise commiserate about something (a chewed shoe perhaps), go and get your dog; don’t call her by name.
– When you call your dog, have something fun in store. Shake a cup full of treats, bounce or toss a toy, or pretend you’ve found something in the grass. Be enthusiastic when your dog responds to you.
– Don’t overuse her name. No one likes to check in constantly. Give your dog some freedom to explore. (See the later section “Working toward Off-Leash Control.”)
“Follow” is an ideal clicker exercise — click and reward each time your dog chooses to stay at your side. (For tips on using a clicker, see Chapter Prepping for Training — Mentally and Physically.)
Say “Come” as you reach out to pet or reward her, encouraging your dog to look up by sweeping your hands to your eyes. If you’re using a clicker, highlight this moment of togetherness: Click and treat.
Gradually extend the distance and increase the distractions, working in a safe environment.
Think of the command “Come” like the human phrase “Huddle!” You’re the captain, calling your player in to come up with a new, exciting plan.
Getting your dog in position
Think of the “Sit” command as the “Say please” direction of the dog world. Encourage it before anything your dog perceives as positive, such as meals, treats or toys, pats, or greetings at the door. Dogs learn manners at home, just like kids, so be cool when you come in; don’t pay attention to your dog until she’s composed enough to “Sit–Stay.”
To encourage cooperation, do the following:
- Say a happy marker word like “Yes!” each time her bottom hits the floor.
- If you’re using the clicker (see Chapter Prepping for Training — Mentally and Physically), click and reward cooperative efforts.
You can position your dog by gently squeezing her waist (the midsection just below her ribs).
Luring is an effective way to encourage cooperation. Use a toy or treat to lure your dog into position, holding the bait just so as you guide your dog into position. Then command “Sit” as your dog is doing the action. If she doesn’t listen, give the “Sit” command once as you gently position your dog. Avoid repeating yourself — repeating isn’t cool in any language.
The “Down” command encourages your dog to lie flat on the floor. It’s essentially for getting dogs to relax, but it’s also a necessary cue for trick-training as a first step for tricks like rolling over (Chapter Engaging Favorites), crawling (Chapter Adding Drama with Clever Tricks), and playing dead (Chapter Adding Drama with Clever Tricks). Initially this exercise can be a real bear to teach, so here are some steps to follow if your dog doesn’t know this one:
Let your dog puzzle over the predicament, but don’t release the prize or say anything until her elbows touch the floor.
Continue this exchange for anything your dog treasures, from treats to toys and attention. Work on Steps 1 and 2 for three days.
Some dogs want nothing to do with the “Down” command; they consider lowering themselves too stressful, a loss of face, or just plain not fun! To encourage the proper motion, you can press your left thumb gently between your dog’s shoulder blades as you lift a front paw out gently.
Use either a treat or a toy to lure your dog into a stand, or prop her there with your right hand, palm out, under your dog’s buckle collar as you slide your left hand under your dog’s belly.
When you’re first starting out, count to five between the pause and the release. Slowly increase the time to one minute.
I discuss the “Stay” command in the next section.
“Back” and “Under”
– “Back”: This command reminds your dog to get back to your side and behind you. Think of it like calling a child back to your side who is overwhelmed, overexcited, or afraid. This command reassures your dog that you know what’s happening and you’ll protect her. To teach your dog this cue, help her learn to back up when you direct her.
Stepping backward feels awkward for your dog at first, so use treats or toys to teach your dog to back up: Lure your dog back by holding a treat directly under her chin. Praise her for each little step back until she’s comfortable with the motion. If she sits down, gently hold her hindquarters up with your other hand.
When first teaching your dog to back up, create a channel by lining up chairs 2 feet from a wall or using broomsticks balanced on cereal boxes.
Once she’s learned how to step back, here’s how to teach and use this command:
– “Under”: If your dog is planted out in front of you, she’ll think that you expect her to protect you; however, if you direct your dog under your legs (or under the table or chair) when you’re sitting, you can get her to relax by providing a little den. Use the “Under” command while you have visitors in your home or if you’re enjoying a curbside latte, or use it to calm your dog before competitions and shows.
When you sit down, say “Under” and direct your dog behind your legs or under your table or chair; do not let her sit on your lap or feet.
Remember to always return to your dog’s side before releasing her to ensure that she doesn’t get up while you’re apart.
“Wait” and “Okay”
If she bolts anyway, pull her back behind your heels and repeat, “Wait,” as you continue to show her the positive distraction. Repeat the pull back as often as necessary until she pauses and looks to you.
Now you’re ready for the big time! Go to your main doorway. Prepare yourself as previously, holding the leash and carrying a favorite toy/food distraction. Command “Wait” just before you open the door. If your dog bolts, be ready. Pull her back to your feet and remind, “Wait.” When she does, say “Okay” as you reward her and lead her through.
Take your dog to your car and instruct her to “Wait” as you open the door. If she lunges, snap her back, refusing to let her in until she looks to you for permission.
“Nope” (or “Wrong”)
Always follow a negative command with a direction that tells the dog what to do instead. Your dog wasn’t born with an instruction manual on how to live with you; you need to show and teach her what’s appropriate. “Nope” says that’s not the right thing to do; a follow-up direction says, “Do this instead!” To help your dog learn better impulse control with “Nope,” you must first teach her what this direction means. Here’s how:
2. Put your dog on a leash and say “Follow” as you bring her into the room and approach the plate.
Say “Nope” conversationally, as you would other commands.
Initially say “Nope” as a command, then if your dog still darts ahead, pull the leash back abruptly. Though pulling your dog back may work to discourage her, if you forget to say “Nope,” your dog will have no idea what you’re talking about when she’s off-leash.
Does she stay focused on you? Good dog — say “Yes!” or click, and then offer a reward. Redirect her with a command like “Follow” or “Get your bone.”
If your dog shows any interest in the plate, tug and say “Nope.” After your dog turns her attention back to you, redirect and praise her.
Focus your correction on the object and the impulse, not your dog. Growl at the object — your dog will grow wary of the item rather than you. Timing is everything, so give corrections the second your dog starts to contemplate a mischievous deed, not after the fact. If she’s already downed the cookies, you’re too late!
Dogs, mindful creatures that they are, often use body posturing to define authority. If your dog blocks, leans, or ignores you, the message is clear: You’ve got no respect! This attitude can put a real crimp in your trick-training aspirations. However, saying “Excuse me” with an ounce of attitude can get you far. Here’s an easy remedy for a dog who likes to get in your way or invade your personal space:
– If your dog is in your way, say “Excuse me” and then shuffle through until your dog moves to one side. If she won’t move, shimmy your feet beneath her or nudge her aside with your knees. You don’t have to get bossy, just nudge her aside.
Bump your dog away using your legs, not your arms. Arms are perceived as interaction and may excite play or defensiveness.
– Don’t allow leaning unless it’s mutual and you’ve invited it. Crowding is a sign of dominance or insecurity, and neither is good for long-term relationships.
A dog must learn the 3-inch exclusion zone: Unless invited in for a hug, she must respect this space between you and her. If your dog disrespects this, bump her away with your leg and say “Excuse me.” You may need to do this several times before your dog takes you seriously.
– If you give your dog a recognized direction and she ignores it, ask first what you might be doing wrong. Are you mumbling, shouting too loud, or repeating yourself? Give your dog an attention-getting leash tug and say “Excuse me.” Before repeating yourself, encourage your dog to listen to your first direction.
If your dog growls at you for any reason, call a professional: This signal is serious, and your dog may bite you if you push her.
Regaining control of your car from your dog
Ever hear of the fishbowl effect? It happens when bossy dogs are confined in a car. They naturally assume the car is part of their territory. The resulting jumping and barking can be
a real nuisance, not to mention a true danger. If this sounds too familiar, you must regain control of your car. If your dog controls the car, she controls you, making trick-training difficult, if not impossible. This is the remedy:
1. Create a dog station in your car.
2. Take your dog to your car on-lead, instruct “Wait” after opening the door, and permit your dog to enter after varying durations of time by saying “Okay.”
3. Secure your dog in the crate or by leash in the dog station if your dog is over-protective or fidgety.
4. Before you let your dog out of the car, release the restraint and instruct “Wait” again.
5. Say “Okay” to release her.
This “Wait” and “Okay” routine reminds your dog that you’re the responsible person in the car.
Nailing routine directions
Your dog doesn’t need a 300-word vocabulary to lead a happy life, but she will appreciate a few recognizable words to direct her throughout the day. Imagine you live in a foreign country — how comforting to hear a familiar word or phrase!
Think through your day and write down routines you repeat often. Pin a word to each activity and use it like a command to direct your dog. Now watch that tail wag each time you use it.
For instance, in my house, the whole family seems to love rousing me. Each morning I hear my husband say to both the dogs and kids, “Let’s go wake up Mommy!” This trick couldn’t be easier to teach: With eagerness in your voice, repeat the command as you join your dog in the chosen activity. Soon she’ll do it on her own.
The following table gives some more examples of routine directions from my home to yours. These are just a handful of the commands I use to highlight our routines. Think through your day and make up your own list.
This highlights our descent.
Inside I prefer this word instead of “Come” when reentering the home.
This way, the dog doesn’t associate “Come” with the end of fun
Outside This one teaches the dog to go to the door. It’s always a big hit.
Daddy You can teach your dog everyone’s name. Each time you walk
toward a friend or family member, say his or her name. Like
magic, your dog will be able to identify different people.
Down we go
We use this one each time we go for a ride.
Since puppyhood, this word has highlighted a trip up to the next floor.
This highlights our descent.
I prefer this word instead of “Come” when reentering the home. This way, the dog doesn’t associate “Come” with the end of fun outdoor time.
This one teaches the dog to go to the door. It’s always a big hit.
You can teach your dog everyone’s name. Each time you walk toward a friend or family member, say his or her name. Like magic, your dog will be able to identify different people.
Calming your dog with vocal cues
Going new places and learning new things can be so exciting for dogs. And sometimes, getting excited can lead to getting really excited — even really, really excited. These next two commands, “Easy” (or “Shhh”) and “Wait,” can ratchet down your dog’s excitability levels when her behavior is nearing — or has rocketed right over — the top.
When first using these calming cues, say them clearly and praise your dog if she calms down. If she doesn’t, reinforce the commands with a tug on a leash. Your dog can’t read your mind, so you need the leash to discourage unwanted behavior and show the proper response to each signal.
– Shake a cup of treats and teach your dog to sit each time she hears it rattle.
– Put the cup by the front door. Each time someone enters, shake the cup, command “Sit,” and reward your dog when she’s sitting.
– Take the cup wherever you go and encourage the same manners you’ve taught at home.
If your dog is excitable, you can brace her for greetings. Hook your thumb over your dog’s buckle collar with your fingers facing the ground. Hold your other hand on her waist and encourage her to “Stay.”
If children or other distractions unnerve your dog, determine how far away you need to be to keep your dog’s attention focused on you. This is called your Red Zone. If you notice your dog getting anxious when children are within 20 yards, then work at 21 yards to start. Soon it will be 18 yards, then 12, then 6. One day, you’ll be right in the middle of a foot-stamping, snack-waving, eardrum-splitting group of 6-year-olds, and your dog won’t miss a beat.
Off-lead or untrained dogs
If you have a small dog or encounter off-lead dogs regularly, you can buy a spray deterrent to defend yourself and/or your dog if another dog or animal charges at you. This nontoxic spray is useful to stop most animals in their tracks. I recently saw a product called Spray Shield, by Premier, which you can find online at Amazon.com.
Out and About: Putting Training to the Test
Going on field trips
Yes, you should be the primary focus, but before you start drilling her on the basics, have some compassion when you visit a field or trail: Give your dog some time to take a sniff or two. Let your dog have a supervised five-minute tour, allowing her to put her nose to the ground and orient herself before you ask her cooperation.
Hitting the town
In town, use familiar commands to anchor your dog at your side. Imagine you’re the pilot on a turbulent flight: Don’t run down the aisle, flailing your arms; use your grown-up voice to put everyone at ease. Work with the following commands (which I introduce earlier in this chapter):
– Ground your dog before you let her out of the car. Use “Wait” and insist that she hold still. Use “Okay” to release her.
– Tell your dog to “Follow.” You’re letting her know “I’m the leader. Just follow me!” Remember, you’re the pilot.
– Use “Wait” and “Okay” at all curbs or thresholds.
– Command “Back” or “Under” if you sit down.
– Use “Back” to direct your dog to your side if she pulls ahead of you.
Working toward Off-Leash Control
When you feel your dog is cooperating and understands your basic directions, let her drag a lightweight leash behind her: a short 4-foot leash for inside and a 25- to 50-foot leash for outside. The drag lead lets you reinforce your directions calmly. Here’s how to use the drag lead:
– If your dog ignores a command, walk calmly to the end of the line and direct her through the exercise. Put her in a “Sit” or “Down” position or, if you commanded “Come,” direct her to your side.
– If your dog blatantly disobeys you or races off, pick up the end of the line and tug her firmly, saying “Nope!” Then repeat your command and follow through.
If you use a leash to pull or jerk a dog around unnecessarily, the dog will resist learning and cooperate only begrudgingly. Unclip the leash from this dog, and she’ll be off and away in a flash. If you feel like I’m talking about you and your dog, get a professional to help you with the basics before you try weaning your dog off the leash.
by Sarah Hodgson