Encouraging Self-Control before You Launch into Lessons

Love Dog

 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).

Teaching tricks requires that you set some time aside, but first you need to review the basics, and that’s what this chapter is all about. This chapter teaches or refreshes the skills that you and your dog may already know, like “Sit” before a meal or “Stay” while you chop the vegetables. To help you make sure your dog has these skills down pat, I also tell you how to introduce distractions, apply the skills outside your home, and work toward unleashing your dog.

Reviewing Basic Commands

Think of basic training as the backbone of trick and adventure training. From “Sit” to “Stay” and “Come,” these commands are a must before you proceed to anything fancier. Just as kids need to know their alphabet before they can spell, you and your dog need to know and use these basic commands to have the proper foundation to build from. In this section, I introduce 11 commands — or sets of commands — that form the foundation of trick training.

Remember

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.

Remember

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

Three commands are associated with summoning your dog to your side: her name, “Follow,” and “Come.” First you want to make your dog’s association with her name a positive one. Then you can get her to follow you wherever you may lead and come at your bidding. The following sections show you how.

Name

Tip

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”

Think of the “Follow” direction as the politically correct version of “Heel.” When you say “Follow,” you’re basically saying, “We’re going on a mission. . . . Follow me!” After you get your dog to focus on her name, you’re ready to teach her proper following-manners. With your dog on-leash, or with the leash secure around your waist if you’re using the Teaching Lead method (which I mention in Chapter Prepping for Training — Mentally and Physically), do the following:
1. Take some treats in a cup or a favorite toy.
2. Walk forward, cheerfully calling out your dog’s name.
3. If she darts ahead, shake the treat cup or offer the toy as you encourage her to follow you with the cue word “Follow.”
Start teaching “Follow” in nondistracting areas and praise/reward your dog for each turn she makes with you. If she doesn’t want to follow, keep going . . . soon she’ll get the idea that staying with you is good; moving away, not so good.
After your dog catches on to the sequence, try walking forward confidently. The second your dog forges ahead call, “[Name], follow” and turn away from her promptly without thought or encouragement. The second she races to your side, by choice or leash encouragement, praise/reward her confidently. Continue to do this each time your dog’s focus wanders from you until your dog figures out that you’re the one to watch. Work in increasingly more-distracting areas, following the same sequence of rewards and encouragement.

Tip

“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.)

“Come”

You should first teach the “Come” command as a sensation of closeness. Here’s how the process works:
1. Throughout the day, reward your dog anytime she chooses to reconnect with you.

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.

2. After the dog understands that the word means closeness, command “Come” to get your dog to come to you.

Gradually extend the distance and increase the distractions, working in a safe environment.

Tip

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

Sometimes you need to restrict your dog’s movement, and the commands that follow enable you to do just that. Teach your dog to sit, lie down, stand still, get back, or stay put under your legs or chair when you’re sitting, and not only will your dog have impeccable manners, but she’ll also understand the appropriate starting points for learning many tricks.

“Sit”

Tip

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 signal “Sit,” do the following:
1. Swing a pointed finger from your dog’s nose to your eyes, as if you’re scooping her attention toward you as you command “Sit.”
2. If your dog doesn’t respond, use either a treat or a toy to encourage her cooperation, or position her.

To encourage cooperation, do the following:

You can position your dog by gently squeezing her waist (the midsection just below her ribs).

Tip

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.

“Down”

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:

1. Give the command “Sit” and then either kneel or stand at your dog’s side. Hold a favorite toy or treat on the ground slightly in front of your dog.

Let your dog puzzle over the predicament, but don’t release the prize or say anything until her elbows touch the floor.

2. As she lowers herself, say “Down” and then praise, reward, and release her.

Continue this exchange for anything your dog treasures, from treats to toys and attention. Work on Steps 1 and 2 for three days.

Tip

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.

3. Starting on the fourth day, say “Down” as you stand calmly at your dog’s side, adding your hand signal, which is a downward point of your left hand.
4. Continue the reward exchange for another three days, and then begin to phase out the object reward, relying solely on your verbal praise.

“Stand”

Asking your dog to stand still is an essential. For everything from brushing to getting your dog to carry a book on her head to getting a good start in an agility trial, this direction is a must for your training toolbox.
Here’s a quick refresher course, in case your dog has forgotten the art of standing still:
1. Kneel down on the floor next to your dog.
2. Command “Stand” as you lure your dog into a stand or gently prop her into a standing position.

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.

3. Relax your right hand and slide your left to rest on your dog’s thigh.
4. Pause and later release with an “Okay.”

When you’re first starting out, count to five between the pause and the release. Slowly increase the time to one minute.

5. Now repeat Steps 1–4, but this time do it from a standing position.
6. Begin to let go with your left hand and then your right as you steady your dog with calm “Stay” commands and a relaxed posture.

I discuss the “Stay” command in the next section.

The hand signal for “Stand” is a level hand, arm extended, palm down.

“Back” and “Under”

The “Back” and “Under” cues reassure your dog that you’re in control. Each command signals a position near your body:

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.

Tip

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:

1. Place your dog on-leash, slap your side, and call your dog to your side. You may also wave a toy or a treat to get your dog’s attention.
2. If necessary, guide your dog to your side with the leash.
3. Encourage your dog to sit at your side.

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.

Teaching patience

Being able to exercise self-control is always a good thing. The “Stay” and “Wait” commands help your dog to do just that.

“Stay”

After your dog understands “Stand,” introduce the “Stay” command. At first, say “Stay” while standing at your dog’s side; then pause and release with “Okay!”
Now tell your dog to “Stay,” and pivot directly in front of her; the separation challenges a dog’s impulses. Return to her side and release with “Okay!” As your dog catches on, increase your distance and add some distractions (you can hop around or make funny sounds — make it fun for both of you). If your dog stands up, reposition calmly and remind, “Stay.” Slowly, as your dog improves, move farther out in front.

Remember

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”

The “Wait” and “Okay” commands tell your dog to stop in her tracks, check in with you, and wait to be released at “Okay.” It’s a self-control thing like “Stay,” but it’s more in the moment. You teach it like this:
1. Holding your dog to your side on-leash, walk to any threshold (doorway) in your home.
2. Stop abruptly as you reach the threshold and say “Wait” as you distract your dog with a toy or treats.

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.

3. The moment your dog is still, say “Okay” as you lead her forward and reward her.
4. Try using the “Wait” command at the front door.

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.

5. After you’ve mastered the front door, try the car.

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.

By now your dog should perk up every time she hears you say “Wait.” Start using the command whenever you want your dog to stand still: when talking to friends, crossing the street, visiting the veterinarian, or as a preliminary step to more advanced training.
A flat palm flashed quickly in front of your dog’s nose is the hand signal for “Wait,” and I use an upbeat flash outward for “Okay.”

Saying no

Your dog won’t always make the right choices — that unattended slice of sausage pizza on the coffee table may be too hard to resist. At times like these, your dog can benefit from a little guidance from you — this is where the “Nope” command comes in handy. Other times your dog may be blocking your way, intentionally or inadvertently. Either way, “Excuse me” commands the respect and behavior you want.

“Nope” (or “Wrong”)

“Nope” (or “Wrong”) sends a simple, clear message that what your dog is doing isn’t appropriate. Use “Nope” to teach your dog to back off from temptations, whether the temptations are food, moving objects, or other distractions. Or to try a different approach, use “Nope” when a trick cue brings on the wrong behavior.

Remember

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:

1. With your dog in the next room, place something tempting, like a plate of cookies, on the floor.

2. Put your dog on a leash and say “Follow” as you bring her into the room and approach the plate.

3. The very second your dog notices the temptation, pull on the leash and say “Nope.”

Say “Nope” conversationally, as you would other commands.

Remember

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.

4. Walk by the plate.

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.

Remember

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!

5. Repeat this routine the next day with a similar temptation, gradually exposing her to more tempting objects later in the week.
Pretty soon your dog will see something tempting on the floor and turn her nose toward the sky, as if to say, “I don’t see anything.” Now you can practice with cars, kids, small creatures, and any other distractions. Make a huge fuss when your dog focuses on you. (For more on dealing with distractions, see the later section “Introducing Temptations.”)
Next you can use the “Nope” command when directing your dog or encouraging her cooperation with tricks and other adventures. If she knows that “Nope” is about what she’s doing — not a confrontation between you — she’ll use her head to figure out a different approach or look to you for a clue.

“Excuse me”

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.

Tip

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.

Remember

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.

Warning!

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.

Either set up a car crate or secure a doggie-style seat belt in the back seat or the cargo area of your car. Place a blanket and some toys there, and instruct your dog to settle down.


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.

If your dog’s hyper, wait it out. Don’t release your dog from the car until she’s calm.

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
outdoor time.
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.
Command
Car
Upstairs
Down we go
Inside
Outside
Daddy
Use
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.

Introducing Temptations

While working on tricks or doing other activities with your dog, you’ll encounter distractions. Unless you limit your performances to solitary stints in your living room, something — somewhere — will vie for your attention. Instead of waiting for that day, introduce temptations in a controlled way so your dog will know that no matter what, the show must go on. Do this before you launch into tricks and other adventures, and you won’t have to waste your lessons calming or capturing a runaway dog. This section explains how.

Tip

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. 

– “Easy” or “Shhh”: Use these cues to calm a dog who is in the middle of an activity or sequence. If your dog is racing up the stairs, overstepping a trick, or blowing out of a course, use “Shhh” or “Easy” to slow her down. 

“Wait”: I introduce this command in the earlier section “Reviewing Basic Commands.” Its human phrase equivalent is the word freeze. It’s extremely useful when encouraging your dog to stop whatever she’s doing. Think of it as getting a wild child to be still for 30 seconds; use it whenever your dog is acting too wound up.

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.

Sounds

Unfamiliar sounds are so . . . unfamiliar. Some direction from someone who knows what’s going on would help — hey, that’s you!
Introduce your dog to various environments and sounds. Look for weed whackers, car horns, playground noises — anything out of the ordinary. Direct your dog with recognized commands so she feels safe and relaxed no matter what’s happening around her. Later, when your tricks have been well-rehearsed or you’re competing in specialty events, your dog will be able to focus on you above all the other sounds going on around her.

Motion

Zippy, unpredictable motion elicits the predatory response in even the smallest of dogs. They must give chase and bring that mighty caribou to its knees! Even if it is on the small side — and looks a little bit like a chipmunk. Although a little backyard bunny-chasing is okay, racing off an agility course or running after a pack of children while performing tricks is not.
To teach your dog to focus on you above all else, praise her cooperative skills and reward her attention when working together. Then rig a scenario to elicit her chasing impulse by asking some helpers to run around you while you’re proofing basic training skills. If you see your dog’s chase impulse kicking in, say “Nope” (or “Wrong”) and tug the leash back sharply. When your dog passes the run-by test, graduate to bike-riding and food-waving. Practice — carefully — around moving cars. Praise her when she’s focused on you, and remind her to “Stay” or “Follow.”

People

Good news, bad news: Everybody loves a well-mannered dog, so be prepared. Most people will ask before they approach, but some people don’t. Kids and toddlers can’t resist — some rush right in for the teddy bear hug before their parents can intercede. Bring your dog to a park, and you’ll discover she’s a kid magnet. If your dog starts doing some tricks, the swings, the ice-cream concession stand, and the pool will empty out in no time.
Prepare your dog to meet people by practicing at home. Slowly, start to encourage interaction in unfamiliar locations. Here’s how:

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.

Tip

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.”

To improve your dog’s focus around children, practice with your dog on-leash. Find a location where kids congregate, and practice basics at a distance your dog can tolerate.

Tip

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

Leashes add an interesting — and not always good — dynamic to dog-dog interactions. Because the leash causes your dog to strain forward to greet a new dog, she may look assertive even if she’s submissive. It creates an aggressive body posture when her mind may not be. When an off-lead dog approaches, he may misunderstand the posture and get assertive in response.
The best thing to do when an off-lead dog approaches is to discourage your dog’s interaction and walk quickly away from the other dog. Most often, off-lead dogs are curious and just want to say hello, but some are aggressive, protecting what they perceive as their territory: If you leave it, they’ll quickly lose interest.

Tip

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.

If you’re in town and approached by an on-leash but poorly trained dog, tell your dog to “Wait” at your side. You can roll with the chaotic greeting — or do what I do: Just look the dog’s owner in the eye and say, “This isn’t a good time now,” and walk away.

Out and About: Putting Training to the Test

The best way to test your dog’s knowledge of the basics is to take your show on the road. Your dog may be a living room champion who behaves beautifully in the quiet of your home, but if she can’t concentrate around distractions, you’ll have trouble getting her to behave when it really counts.
In your home — the den — there are few distractions, and your dog feels safe. In town or on a trail, nearly every distraction will test her focus. It’s here in the real world that you can provide reinforcement. Only here will you be able to teach her focus first, gauge her distractibility, and teach her to hold still and pay attention. This section tells you how to apply basic training in fields or on trails, and in town.

Going on field trips

When you bring your dog into an open expanse, such as a field or trail, she’ll be on sensory overload. Because all dogs see with their noses, not their eyes, hers will be twitching from the moment you leave the car.

Tip

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.

After she’s settled, review your basic directions. Command “Sit,” “Down,” “Stay,” and “Come.” Vary the command sequences so your outings don’t get stale.
As soon as your dog is focused, give her freedom on a long line or retractable leash. Every five minutes, give her a command or play a training game like “Hide and Seek” (see Chapter Minding Manners and Trying Out Some Tricks).

Hitting the town

Be it a big city or small village, trips into town can be a little disorienting for your dog at first. Dogs prefer predictability to chaos, and getting a handle on all the sights, sounds, and smells that a town or city offers is hard. The silver lining? You look authoritative and worldly to your dog as you navigate the stimulating streets.

Tip

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.

You may add to this command list, but keep it simple, straightforward, and brief. Your initial trips to town should be 10 to 15 minutes. After your dog is used to going out, you’ll both enjoy your outings together and you can extend your time.

Working toward Off-Leash Control

Using a leash is a little like holding a child’s hand when he’s anxious or unsure: You hold the leash to show your dog what to do. You repeat exercises until your dog understands your vision.
Of course, the highest achievement in training — the big test — is how your dog acts when the leash comes off. Many of the tricks and activities that follow work best without a leash, so for those of you who are still leash-dependent, pull up a chair. If the thought of your dog’s freedom keeps you up at night, hope is right here. This section explains how you can gradually increase your dog’s freedom and eventually cut the cord, so to speak.

Tip

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.

Do this over and over, and you’ll see the glimmer of understanding shining through. Your dog will not simply obey — she’ll choose to listen because you’re making good sense.

Warning!

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

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