Educating and Training Your Dog:
A Comprehensive Guide
Key Canine Education and Training Concepts
* Assume the role of the alpha, the pack leader, in your relationship. Act like a benevolent leader and you will earn your dog's respect and trust. Help your dog realize he can respect and trust you. To do this, become knowledgeable about dog behavior and training, so that you can honestly project confidence and certainty.
* Realize what educating your dog involves. It's more than training him to sit, stay and obey other commands. Indeed, these specific training commands are essential. But as the dog's leader, you must also educate your dog to help him develop good house manners and good behavior.
* Set the ground rules early, and stick to them. Make sure they are reasonable and humane. You can loosen up later if you wish, but tightening up is difficult after your dog's behavior gets out of control.
It's essential that all household members understand and stick with the same house/dog management rules. Discuss the rules in advance of getting a dog, and review them frequently after the dog joins your family. Furthermore, let visitors know the rules as well, so that they don't undermine your efforts to educate and train your dog.
* Teach your dog good house manners from the start. For the first few days, keep the dog in the same room with you as much as possible. That way, you'll know immediately if the dog needs to relieve himself and you can take him outside. And if he engages in inappropriate behavior, you'll be able to instantly correct him.
* Teach your dog to make eye contact from day one. Trainers often stress that this should be the first lesson. Teach your dog to become alert to your voice, and to respond to his name by looking at you.
* Praise, don't punish. This is key to modern-day training and all approaches to positive reinforcement.
* Positive reinforcement involves giving your dog something he or she enjoys immediately after the dog engages in a desired behavior, or after the dog ceases an undesired behavior. The "something" can be praise, a food treat, a favorite toy, positive attention, a play session, a click of a clicker - anything the dog perceives as a reward. The reason: dogs, like people, tend to repeat rewarded behaviors and tend to drop behaviors that do not result in a rewarding outcome. Reward is a super-powerful tool for shaping or modifying a dog's behavior.
* Timing is vital. The reward should immediately follow the dog's positive behavior, so that she makes the connection between "good behavior, good result." If you tell your dog to sit, and she sits, reward at once, not after she lifts her butt off the floor. A dog who's learning to lie down should be praised as soon as she begins to lie down. A pup learning the "leave it" command should get praised the instant she restrains herself from going after the thing that tempts her. Treat these signs of progress as significant accomplishments!
If you're using leash corrections, timing applies as well. It's ineffective and unkind to give a correction more than a few seconds after the dog disobeys. Dogs don't have long-enough memories to make the connection between a prior action and a correction. So your dog will probably not understand what he did "wrong," and only think that his person is displeased.
* Consistency. Teach the dog clear, simple, concise commands to connote the specific responses you expect from her. Stick with those words. Otherwise, you'll confuse the dog. All household members need to do likewise.
Consistency also means to be consistent in communicating to the dog what behaviors are desired and which ones are undesired. Just think how confusing it is for dogs who are sometimes permitted to jump on people or furniture ... and are scolded for the same actions at other times. Dogs don't understand the concept of "sometimes it's okay, sometimes it's not." You need to be consistent and clear.
Again, it's important for all household members and guests to know and stick with the same house/doggie rules.
* Always reward desired behaviors and never reward undesired behaviors. That extends to those well-meaning folks who instinctively say "It's OK if your sweet dog jumps on me" while petting an unruly dog.
* Practice frequently. Frequent practice is necessary to teach dogs. It's better to practice 5 minutes a day, every day, than to practice randomly every few days. Just like with toddlers and very young children. If you slack off, your dog will forget commands and behaviors.
* Repetition. Harness the power of repetition when training. Don't just stop at the first or second time your dog responds correctly to the sit command or hand signal. Help your dog engage in 10 to 12 good sits good during the training session.
* Praise your dog whenever he or she gets something right. Even if you had to coax the dog into position. Your dog depends on you to teach her what behaviors are acceptable and unacceptable in the human world.
* Attention comes first. Say the dog's name first to get his attention before issuing a command/directive.
* Don't repeat commands (except during training sessions, of course). Instead, diligently teach your dog the meaning of a command word such as "sit". Once he understands the meaning, teach your dog to promptly obey the command when you say it one time. In other words, the command is "sit" ... not "sit, sit, SIT!" and not "sit, come on, sit, you need to sit, sit...." Dogs understand simple, and simple is, well, simpler. The desired exchange should be: you say "Name-of-Dog" (to get his attention) followed immediately by "Sit" (to direct him to the desired behavior), and the dog promptly sits.
If your dog is not responding to the first time you say a command, it's probably not her hearing. Either you did not fully teach her the meaning of the command word and how you expect her to respond ... or she thinks responding is optional. It is your job to act as a benevolent leader, and that includes teaching her to listen to you, and following through with training so that she knows she has no choice but to listen to her person. This does not give license to yelling or punishment. Rather, you should consult one of the many wonderful, contemporary training books to learn how to properly, positively teach your dog obedience lessons.
* Follow through. Do not give a command when you're not in a position to enforce it. Otherwise, you're teaching the dog that listening and obeying are optional.
* Look for opportunities to reward your dog for doing something right - at any time, in any environment. Rewards and reinforcement are not just tools for official training sessions. It benefits everyone the more you "catch your dog in the act of being good."
* Commit this to memory: Dogs do what works. Even if an unruly behavior results in pushing the dog away, for most dogs, this registers as "some kind of attention" - which feels better than "no attention." Become aware of actions and outcomes that your dog might be perceiving as positive or rewarding in some way. Then take care to stop accidentally rewarding the dog for undesired behavior. And - extremely important - redirect the dog to a positive, "legal" behavior for which she can be rewarded. Dogs do what works. So teach them what really works to get positive attention and other rewards.
* Substitute good behaviors for undesired behaviors. Channel your dog's energy into something you want her to do. This is related to the previous concept. Dogs basically want attention and love from their people - and also, outlets for their energy. Much like young children. So teach them positive behaviors and give them good behaviors - even jobs - to do. That way, they'll have something "legal" to do with their energy - something that can also earn them praise instead of disdain.
The dog's trying to jump up? Preempt the jumping by telling her to sit, then praise her. A sitting dog can't be a jumping dog at the same time. Another example: if your dog grabs a shoe, say "out" or "drop it" (of course, this assumes you have taught him the meaning of those command words). Then remove the shoe if he does not immediately drop it, and "trade" it for an approved play toy. Praise your dog for taking the approved toy.
* Telling dogs to do something works better than telling them not to do something. "No" only tells the dog what not to do, but "Sit" and "Down" tells him what he can do. Such directives give the dog something acceptable to do with his energy, something to engage his mind - and something that can result in reward (praise, petting, playing, food treat, positive attention).
* Choose rewards that motivate. Use rewards that appeal to your individual dog. Praise ("Good Dog!"), a head rub or other petting, playtime, a favorite toy, a click with a clicker, food. Although some trainers don't want dogs to become food treat addicts, others believe that for many dogs, food treats can be the best motivators.
* Food treats. If you use food treats, always pair them with verbal praise, since there will be times you won't have treats on hand. You can carry food treats in hipsacks, special bags or other containers. They can come in handy on walks and on trips. It's best to use tidbits of food instead of large pieces for various reasons; you can carry more tidbits, large treats can pile on the weight, and so on. Soft and smelly foods can serve as powerful incentives; many people save them for teaching more difficult behaviors, behavior modification and special situations. Avoid crumbly treats, or else your dog will be sniffing about the ground for pieces instead of keeping his attention on you.
Some food treat ideas: tiny puppy biscuits, macaroni, whole grain cereal such as mini-wheats, cheerios or chex, chopped up carrots or apples, chopped up nugget-style nutritional supplements, regular kibble. In fact, kibble can be an ideal training treat, particularly for anxious dogs, since it is less distracting than highly coveted, special goodies. When you need a "high-value", jackpot treat to reward your dog, try bits of cheese, hot dog, or tiny liver cookies.
* How often to reward. When teaching a new behavior, experts recommend starting with continuous reinforcement - that is, providing a reward every time the dog performs the behavior correctly (or close to correct). To "shape" a desired behavior, you would keeping reinforcing any responses that approximate the desired response. For example, when teaching a dog to "shake paw", you would first reward her for merely lifting his paw, then for touching your hand with his paw, then for letting you touch her paw, then for letting you lightly grasp her paw, and finally for letting you shake hand-to-paw.
Intermittent or variable reinforcement is substituted after your dog has reliably learned the behavior. That means phasing out some of the treats, progressing from every time, to three out of four times, to half the time, to one-quarter of the time, and eventually, only occasionally. At first, reward her with the treat three out of every four times she does the behavior. It is usually recommended, however, to continue the consistent verbal praising. You never want the dog to think you no longer value a desired behavior.
* Control the training environment. When first teaching the meaning of a command word, start in a controlled environment, one free from distractions.
* Gradually add distractions to training sessions. Dogs don't generalize from one situation to another. So, after a dog reliably learns how to properly respond to a command in a quiet, controlled, familiar environment, start adding distractions.
Distractions include: noises, activity, other people (starting with familiar individuals before moving on to passing strangers and groups), even the presence of other dogs. You can create initial distractions in the house by turning on music or the TV, opening windows and having other folks in the house bustle about.
By the way, group obedience sessions offer an environment of distractions with the benefit of an experienced trainer overseeing the activity.
* Gradually change training locations. Once the dog learns to listen amid distractions, change up the training locations as well - starting again with no distractions and slowly increasing distractions. Expose your dog to as many places as you can, so that you can teach the concept that your commands apply in every situation, and to always "follow the leader."
* Teach hand signals. It pays to teach dogs hand signals along with verbal commands from the start, instead of waiting until the dog losses her hearing. It is likely that you will sometimes be in a noisy environment with your dog, so hand signals will really come in handy. Plus hand signals harness dogs' impulse to response to visual cues.
* Keep a positive tone in your voice, and try to keep your voice low, assertive and firm.
* Don't yell. Raising your voice conveys to your dog (and everyone else in earshot) that you're tense, upset and/or not in control of yourself. That does not inspire confidence or trust.
* Teach your dog a release command such as "Okay!" - a word to signal that she has successfully done what you requested and now can move out of that position. For example, after the dog has stayed in a sit-stay for several seconds.
* Avoid starting a training session when the dog is tired or agitated. And don't start a training session if you are tired or agitated; your tension will get in the way of communicating with your dog.
* Locate training sessions away from distractions, crowds or noise (the exception is if you have already trained a command in an environment with no distractions, and now you and the dog are ready to practice in a new environment with distractions).
* Get your dog to settle before starting a training session. To set a positive tone, you could have a short ball-toss session first.
* Some trainers recommend teaching obedience exercises with the dog on your left side, not in front or behind you. By keeping the dog in one position relative to your body, you can more easily monitor him to help him stay in position, and if particularly if you're using collar correction techniques, it can be easier to correct a dog at your side than when the dog is in front or back of you.
* When giving corrections, make sure to allow a separation, a brief break, between giving a command and correcting a dog for not following through. Three seconds is an adequate break. That way, you give the dog the chance to obey and assume the commanded position.
* Do not correct a dog for not performing a command that she does not thoroughly understand. It is up to you as leader to teach the command words and hand signals to your dog, and it is unreasonable to expect the dog to understand something that was not adequately taught. Dogs aren't born with Lassie-like knowledge and behaviors.
* Stuck on a phone call? Turn that time into an opportunity to practice hand-signals with your dog.
* End every training session on a positive note, even if that entails reverting to an easy command that the dog already knows. You want the dog (and yourself) to feel a sense of accomplishment. Follow the training with a fun, playful finale, such as a ball toss, petting session, or the Two Toy Game described later in this Tipsheet.
Good Behavior - Wise Words and Advice
* Teach your dog: Good behavior makes good things happen.
* With dogs, as with children, you must think of what you are teaching them in every situation. Dogs are smarter than most people give them credit for: they know who to go to for help and who they can push. Every minute you spend with your dog, training is going on - whether you realize it or not. Either you are training the dog - or the dog is training you.
Canine expert Sarah Wilson suggests asking yourself each evening: "What did I train my dog to do today?" Teaching is happening, whether you mean it to or not, whether you want it to or not, so you might as well teach your dog to behave in ways you enjoy.
* If you haven't taught your dog, you can't expect him to respond.
* Never reward or coddle a growling dog. When your dog engages in unacceptable behavior such as growling, don't sweet-talk or make excuses. Instead, immediately correct using firm no-nonsense vocal and/or leash-collar corrections. Redirect the dog's attention to you.
* Some kind-hearted folks make the dual mistakes of over-indulging their adopted dogs and failing to guide them to good behavior in an unproductive attempt to compensate for the hard life the dog previously experienced. However, allowing a dog to engage in inappropriate behaviors - and rewarding a dog for neurotic behavior - do a disservice to the dog in many ways. The dog is unable to blossom into a well-adjusted companion who can handle real-world interactions, and he will not have the opportunity to develop the confidence needed to recover from his past neglect or mistreatment.
* Problems arise when few boundaries are placed on a dog's behavior. The owners react with amusement to the antics of their new dog ... until she gets bigger and stronger and the new-dog novelty wears off. This is what happens when owners fail to set and abide by ground rules and neglect to teach the dog her place in the family hierachy, and don't bother to spend time teaching the dog acceptable behavior. A dog's instinct is to lead or be led, so the dog gets confused about her place in the pack and figures she is to assume a leadership role. However, her owner should have been the one to assume that role and actively earn the dog's respect.
* "Training dogs and educating people, especially children, are the same: It's not teaching them what we want them to do, it's teaching them to want to do what we want them to do," said veterinary behaviorist and author Ian Dunbar in the summer 2004 issue of BARK magazine. Dunbar is the creator of the breakthrough program, Sirius Dog Training.
* The "no free lunch" is an effective retraining approach promoted Dunbar and other canine specialists. When the dog wants attention of any kind, he must earn it first by doing something for you - a behavior that you have already taught him. This approach can work with young and older dogs alike.
* Typically, older dogs have already learned to establish their dominance, so it will likely take longer for them to learn new patterns of acceptable behavior. But they can and will learn if their people communicate through consistent, firm, fair, and reasonable signals - and commit to help their dogs become well-behaved, beloved family (pack) members.
* Learn the differences between correction and punishment, and between consequences and punishment.
* Correction and discipline can take forms other than a leash/collar correction. For example, you can withdraw a privilege ... you can leave the room (ending interaction time) ... you can give the dog a time-out in another room apart from you and the rest of the household action.
* While out walking your dog, if she pulls, you can send a message that pulling will not work: stop in your tracks and wait it out, until your dog stops pulling, starts wondering why you're stopped, and refocuses attention on you. The lesson: your dog will learn that pulling results in stopping - and that she has to stop pulling if she wants to move forward. An alternative to standing still is to step back several feet.
* Try to put yourself in your dog's paws - imagine the world from your dog's perspective. What's your dog's-eye view when his favorite person, his leader, loses patience or temper? Ignores him? Comes home from work and hardly looks at the dog? Provides few or no outlets for the dog's affection and energy? Deprives the dog of positive mental stimulation? Puts the dog in new situations that may seem threatening - because the dog was not properly prepared for or introduced to the situation ... or the leader transmits anxiety about the situation.
* Avoid situations, things and even people that trigger undesired behavior, at least until you are able to dedicate time to an effective behavior modification program in which you desensitize your dog to stimuli that make her anxious.
* Have you been making mistakes? Has your dog made mistakes? Don't kick yourself (and of course, don't kick the dog!). Mistakes can be overcome. Get sound advice from canine specialists and the wonderful books now available ... learn how to properly, effectively, humanely communicate with and train your dog ... and put that education to work.
* Strive to be a leader, not a dictator. The goal is not to teach your dog to cower or kow-two. Rather, your goal is to have your dog to listen to and respect you, to function as a well-adjusted member of the family, and to behave calmly and confidently in any situation because he trusts in his leader - you - to take care of him.
* Training classes teach people how to teach their dogs to acceptable behavior - and how to act like leaders of the pack.
Accentuate the Positive
* Training is key to avoiding and stopping unacceptable behavior. Help your dog learn to substitute good behavior for unwanted behavior.
* Reward what your dog does right. Ignore vs. punish what he does wrong.
* Reward attentive, calm behavior. Reward your dog for listening. Remember to reward desired behavior - it's canine and human nature to repeat behavior that is rewarded.
* Make sure you reward only the behaviors you desire, stresses canine behavior expert Brian Kilcommons. And remember: part of your role as leader of the pack is to direct your dog's behavior.
* Practice responding only to positive behavior.
* Visualize and work toward goals with positive reinforcement. Visualize the behavior you want. Reinforce and reward in increments to move toward your goal. This approach is far more effective than punishing an animal in the attempt to stop undesired behavior. Animals repeat what is reinforced.
For example, if your dog chases your cat, visualize what you want the dog to do instead of this undesirable behavior. Do not reward chasing. Avoid any reinforcement or opportunity for self-reinforcement. In other words, don't let dog chase the cat. Instead work to keep dog in a sit-stay. Have treats ready at all times.
* Reinforce with attention and eye contact; they are rewards in themselves. Beware of reinforcing undesirable behaviors by giving the dog attention; saying NO! or giving eye contact constitutes attention that can be a reinforcer - especially if you are not giving your dog sufficient attention when he is engaged in good behavior.
* Maintain a positive relationship with your dog through benevolent leadership, consistent actions, attention and exercise, humane and responsible caretaking, and praise.
What's your definition of Discipline?
Discipline should be about teaching, not punishing, notes child care expert T. Berry Brazelton. The root of the word discipline is disciple. Similarly, teaching is best accomplished by leading, not intimidating. Brazelton suggests that parents find the child's strengths and build on those strengths, rather than fixating on weaknesses and attempting to correct them.
A lot of behavior centers on trying to find limits. The child watches the parent's face, behavior and emotional attitude to measure whether or not the parent means what he or she says. Spoiled children are children who don't know where the boundaries are. A discipline approach that is based entirely on authority doesn't teach that rules have value on their own merit. Parents need to model good behavior as well as set expectations.
One of the many reasons why scolding and punishment do not work:
Dogs don't have long-term memories. If your dog chews up a shoe, clothing item, furniture or knickknack when you're not in the room, no amount of after-the-fact scolding, yelling or other forms of punishment will stop him from future transgressions of that nature - because the dog is not capable of remembering he chewed up the item, and thus he can't associate your distressed and distressing behavior with the prior act of destruction. It's more likely he will be totally confused and uncertain as to why his favorite person is berating him. And restrain yourself from harshly reacting if he brings you the chewed-up item when you return home. He won't understand that it was the chewing that upset you; instead, he'll likely think it was his attempt to present you with an item ... or even the act of approaching you. You do not want your dog to fear your arrival home, or to shy away from greeting you.
So what do you do to discourage unwanted, destructive chewing?
1. Realize that dogs chew things not out of spite (which is a human trait), but out of curiosity or boredom. In the case of shoes, they bear the odor of the dog's cherished person, and dogs often find comfort and pleasure in interacting with such reminders of their absent leader. Also remember: it is normal canine behavior to explore things by sniffing, pawing and chewing them.
2. Put tempting items out of reach, at least until you have taught your dog good house manners and he has matured in age and temperament.
3. Make the environment more appropriate by providing easy access to toys that are okay, and by removing items that are off-limits. This approach greatly reduces the dog's opportunity to make mistakes and provides more opportunities to be good.
Give your dog "legal" items such as safe chew toys and Kongs for him to chew on. Kongs are especially useful for occupying dogs when you leave the house or can't supervise them. You can making Kongs super-appealing by stuffing them with healthy, tasty food treats.
4. If you discover something is chewed after-the-fact, quietly clean up the mess, and put the item out of your dog's reach.
5. When you catch your dog in the act of chewing something you don't want him to touch, say "Nah-Ah-Ahh!" Better yet, teach your dog the "Out" or "Drop It" command. Then you can use it effectively. If he doesn't drop it, remove the item immediately from his mouth or paws. Replace the item with something he IS allowed to chew, and praise him for redirecting his attention from the off-limits to the permitted item.
6. Watch for your own or other people's responses to your dog's behavior. In many cases, family members not only allow the dog to investigate and chew items that should be off-limits - but also encourage the dog, either accidentally or on purpose. Encouraging responses can include exclamations of "oh, that's so cute; the dog is playing with the basket of doodads!" or even simply smiling as the dog romps off with a piece of laundry.
Patience is Essential
* It takes patience as well as practice to be a good teacher.
* Impatience is the enemy of effective teaching. Become aware of how you respond to unwanted behavior. When your dog jumps on you as you pick up the leash before a walk, do you go ahead and put the collar on your dog? When your dog pulls you during a walk outside, do you tend to keep walking forward? Many people do - unaware that in their impatience to continue and finish the walk, they are missing potential, critical teaching moments.
* Here's a tip for putting patience to work - teaching your dog to be calm while you prepare to go for a walk:
1. When getting ready for a walk, calmly call your dog's name to get her attention. In a casual, quiet manner, get her leash.
2. If your dog acts too excited, put the leash back, sit down, and ignore the dog. You can stay in the same room or go to a different room. Pick up a book to read, or turn on the TV. Make sure not to look at your dog. You want her to think you are ignoring her. Remember, an effective way to extinguish undesirable behaviors is to ignore the dog when she engages in them. Attention is a very powerful tool and reward; likewise, withdrawing attention can be a powerful form of discipline. When she calms down, go get the leash again.
3. Repeat step 2 until your dog stops acting excited at sight of your getting the leash.
4. Put the collar and leash on your dog. If she acts excited, remove the collar/leash, then sit down, ignore her, and read. Repeat this step until she calms down.
5. Reach for the door knob. If your dog gets excited again, sit down, ignore her, and read. Try again when the dog seems calm. Repeat this step until she gets the message to stay calm if she wants to go outside.
"I don't have time to train!"
This section is provided courtesy of canine expert Sarah Wilson.
"I don't have time to train!" is a common cry in today's busy world. My answer to it is: "Sure you do because you already are." The fact is, you train your dog every single day whether you intend to or not. Every time you interact with your dog you are training her.
When you stroke her when she paws you for attention, you're training her.
When you bend to put down her food and she leaps up, plowing her head into the bowl before it touches the floor, you're training her.
After all, what is training? Training is repeatedly linking a certain cue/word/situation with a certain result. We are all what we practice and the biggest practice is what we do every single day of our lives. The same is true for our animals.
You don't always need to find an extra 20 minutes in your day to formally "train" your dog. You can just choose a behavior you'd like to change. One. Maybe it's those doorway manners that you'd love to improve.
Here's a quick training tip for improving doorway manners and stopping your dog from bolting through doors. Note: do not practice this tip at times when your dog has a full bladder.
1. Put your dog on a 4 to 6 foot leash, as if you are going for a normal walk. Keep a firm grip on the leash.
2. Go to the door. Open it.
3. If your dog bolts out, say nothing.
4. Keeping a hold of the lead, shut the door so your dog is outside, with less than 3 feet of lead, and you remain inside.
5. Wait a few seconds.
6. Open the door, call the dog in, and praise her when she is near you.
7. Repeat. Stay totally calm; let the situation educate her. You be the source of praise and reward. In less than 2 minutes, she will no longer bolt out the door without checking to see if you're coming first. She might not be perfect, but she'll be better. "Better" is all we're looking for in a single session. If she improves each day, think of the possibilities.
8. Practice this daily for one week and you'll have a dog who is much more polite when you open the door. Once she calms down a bit, you can start directing her to a sit, giving her a treat then opening the door.
Make Teaching Fun
Two Toy Game: Take two identical, highly coveted squeaky or plush toys.
Some folks reserve a couple of special toys for use during training sessions.
Trainers and Behaviorists: What's the Difference?
There are certification programs for trainers as well as behaviorists. Trainers most often work with dogs and their owners/guardians on obedience issues - getting dogs to listen, to learn obedience commands (verbal and hand-signals), diverting dogs from doing what they want to do as dogs and instead, encouraging behaviors that humans prefer.
Behaviorists work on specific behavior issues, such as temperament problems. Issues include aggression, fear, separation anxiety, housetraining difficulties, excessive barking and obsessive-compulsive disorders. A variety of behavior modification techniques are employed. A behaviorist will develop a treatment program for the individual dog and his person. In many cases, the behaviorist will teach the person how to set up situation to elicit the problem behavior and teach the person and dog alternative ways of responding to whatever triggers the problem. It is important to realize there are no magic bullet cures. The owner/guardian must continue to work with the dog, just like a person in therapy needs to follow through and take ongoing steps to make progress and maintain improvement. Dogs, like people, are works in progress.
Some canine specialists function as both trainers and behaviorists. Organizations include:
Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists
Essential Commands to Teach Your Dog
Watch Me. Teach your dog his name, and that he should look at you when you say his name. Do this from the start of your relationship. You can also teach and use the command "Watch Me" to get your dog's attention. This is critical, since you need your dog's attention before you can direct him to a desired behavior.
Sit. This vital command is the next command you should teach. It's extremely useful for preventing unwanted behaviors from jumping on people to facing off with over dogs to stopping at street corners. Knowing "Sit means Sit" can even save your dog's life.
Stay. This command means "do not move; stay in position." It is often paired with sit and down ("Sit-Stay", "Down-Stay").
Down. This means lying belly-down on the ground. Down has many uses. For example, you might tell the dog "Down" when guests enter your home; he can observe from a relaxed, submissive position. For most dogs, "down" is a more comfortable position than sit when the dog is expected to stay in one position for more than a few moments.
Heel. When walking, you want your dog to "Heel" to your left-hand side. The target position for heel is by your side, not pulling ahead or dawdling behind you.
Wait. Does your dog push ahead to go through doors, down hallways or down the street? Teach "Wait", so that they know not to proceed without your say-so.
Come. Another potential lifesaver, and one of the most difficult to teach. But don't let that discourage you. "Come" means to come to you at once. Knowing this command, your dog will return to you instead of pursuing something or someone or running off.
Off. Use the word "Off" when you want your dog to get off a bed or other piece of furniture. Don't use the word Down, since that would give Down a double meaning and thus confuse most dogs.
Out, Drop It, or Release. When your dog picks up a shoe or other "illegal" item in his mouth, you need a command to use to get him to let go. Choose the word "Out", "Drop It" or "Release", and teach him to associate it with immediately relinquishing the item to you. You'll probably get many chances to use it.
Leave It. You're walking your dog and he makes a beeline to something stinky and gross. Or you're inside and your dog spies your new pair of shoes. Rather than yanking his collar, or diving between the dog and shoe, you can firmly tell him "Leave It!" He'll listen - if you taught him the meaning of Leave It.
Place, Bed, or Crate. Provide your dog with his own bed as well as his own designated places, such as a crate and/or mat in areas in "family areas" such as the kitchen. Teach him the words for these places, then teach him the concept: Go To Your Place, Go To Your Bed, Go In Your Crate.
Stand. There are times you want a dog who is sitting or lying down to get up, such as when you want to brush and comb him. Here's the command word to use.
No, or Nah-Ah-Ahh! Okay, too many dogs in America think their name is No! due to owner overuse. However, No can be an effective way, if used properly, to interrupt an unwanted behavior, divert the dog's attention from an illegal item or behavior, and redirect that attention back to you. For example, it can be a great way to halt your new dog from marking or urinating in your home, giving you the opportunity to whisk him outdoors to his potty spot. Many of us prefer "Nah-Ah-Ahh!" to "No!" because the "Ahh" sound can be easier for dogs to process.
Settle. A command that means calm down, although many use Down-Stay to accomplish the same goal. Using food treats, teach your dog to assume a calm, relaxed, still position, then progressively lengthen the time he stays in this position. It's easy to practice while you watch TV and do email. You can practice Settle near a door as if you are awaiting arrival of a visitor.
Enough. This command is useful when puppy play (or play between mature but rambunctious and/or feisty dogs) starts getting too intense. Teaching the command involves stopping the dog play from time to time, rewarding the pups or dogs as soon as they abide and turn their attention to you, and then allow them to return to play. You don't want to wait until playing escalates into a fight to test their obedience skills.
Okay, or Free. This one's easy to teach. Okay (or the alternative Free!) means "you did a great job doing what I requested (Sit, Down), and now you're free to move around or play."
Body Language and Training
The following has been adapted from sources including the November 2003 issue of Dog Fancy.
Too often, people use ineffective, counterproductive body language when interacting with their dogs. Here are effective techniques that take the canine perception of body language into consideration:
Sit: To teach "Sit," hold up a treat between the dog's ears, then move it back up and over the dog's head. He will instinctively follow the treat and lower his rump into a sit position.
Come: When teaching "Come," turn and walk away, clapping and acting excited to convey that you two are going someplace fun.
Stop jumping: To discourage jumping, move your body into the space that your dog is trying to occupy. If you back up, as people commonly do in response to a jumping dog, you end up creating a space for the dog and conveying the idea that you too want to participate in the jumping game.
Greeting people: When greeting new people, have them stop several feet from the dog and turn sideways, instead of facing the dog head on. When the dog exhibits a calm demeanor, let him sniff the visitor's hand. Scratch the dog below the chin or on the chest instead of patting his head.
Handling hugs: Attempted hugs can disturb or scare a dog and elicit a defensive-aggressive response. If you proceed calmly, slowly and with caution, you can teach many dogs to accept being hugged.
For more on body language, read The Body Language and Emotion of Dogs by Myrna Milani, BS, DVM. Visit http://www.mmilani.com/body_language_emotion_dogs.html
Puppies: Getting Off to a Good Start
From the start, reward the behaviors you want repeated, and ignore or give a signal to cease to the behaviors you don't like.
Soft edible tidbits work well for rewarding, and thus encouraging the repetition of, desired behaviors. Praise and reward the pup for each correct response during the initial training.
The signal to cease a behavior could be simply admonishing in a firm but not angry or threatening voice "uh uh" or "too bad". You may have to go so far as a light correction, such as a time out or a brief separation period. But remember that simply ignoring a "wrong" response can be sufficient, since pups crave attention.
Use positive reinforcement to teach basic, acceptable behaviors. Even puppies age 8 to 10 weeks can learn - and you both can have fun in the process. In fact, your education efforts will strengthen the bond between you and your pup.
Plan to work with your puppy at least once or twice every day.
Take advantage of the excellent contemporary books on puppy and dog training; see the Book List link below for specific titles.
Fear imprinting takes place between 8 to 12 weeks of age. Carefully introduce your pup to daily stimuli. Keep things safe and positive. This is also a good time to start training. Many pups benefit immensely from puppy kindergarten as well.
Introduce the pup to as many dogs as possible while he or she is young. However, do not introduce the pup to any aggressive or overbearing dogs; you want to keep all interactions positive. The same goes for introducing the pup to humans. See Robin's Dog Tips for more information about socialization.
Suggestions from Sydney Bleicher and Peggy van Dam, creators of "The Urban Puppy Toolkit": Preempt wild behavior like nipping. For example, if the pup displays wild nipping behavior after 30 minutes of being out of his crate, limit him to 20-minute sessions and gradually lengthen his free time. Most importantly, make sure time out of the crate is stimulating and interesting; fill it with games, socializing or obedience. Keep your puppy engaged so that you can preempt the development of wild behavior. Always keep a good chew toy in reach for those times when the pup needs to do some mouthing.
Remember, mouthing is normal behavior and it plays a role in the physical development of dogs. So put the chew toy between you and your pup and let him gnaw away.
Parting Thoughts about Connecting with Human's Best Friend
How can we apply scientific understanding of canines to improve communication and life with our dogs? In his book The Truth About Dogs, Stephen Budiansky offers keen insights, as suggested by the following passages:
* Budiansky contends that dogs who are treated as furry little people are not necessarily happy dogs, for they may suffer the consequences of their guardians' unrealistic expectations. "The number of complexes dogs develop as a direct result of their anthropomorphic owners ought to give pause to everyone who thinks we are somehow ‘denying' dogs their due by insisting on a rigorous and unsentimentally scientific view of their intelligence, understanding, and behavior."
* "Owners who think their dogs are conscious of their guilt when they poop on the oriental rug, owners who try to reassure and comfort and reason their dogs through their fears, owners who desperately want their dogs to desperately adore them - these are the owners of dogs that more often than not are maladjusted and miserable.
"Punishing a dog for defecating even seconds after the fact is futile, for dogs do not make such connections over time and space; but dogs will earnestly search for some connection between events in their immediate world and the immediate consequences, and a dog who is punished whenever his owner returns to find poop on the rug will very quickly learn to fear his owner's return, period."
* "A dog that is rewarded with petting and soothing words when he trembles during a thunderstorm will quickly learn to tremble all the more, and on more occasions, in pursuit of such rewards."
* "Seeing dogs as they are, with doglike understanding, doglike motives, doglike perceptions, and doglike instincts, is to see them with a respect for their true natures and true capabilities.... Grasping what makes dogs tick is a way to avoid a lot of misunderstanding, hurt feelings, and unnecessary strife in our ever so peculiar relationship with them." Humans "who have a real gift for training and working with dogs owe that gift to experience, intuition, and a certain kind of empathetic reasoning that has almost nothing to do with science."
Booklist that includes fantastic books on training and living with dogs:
Dog Care Guide
Shelter Dog Adoption Guide
See other Dog Tips on training, leadership and management accessible directly from the easy-search index at
Dog Tips is a free feature providing tips and guidance on dog behavior, health, management, safety, humane treatment and other issues of interest to dog folks. To find other current tips, see the index at http://www.paw-rescue.org/PAW/dog_tips.html
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|Last Updated: April 26, 2018 (LET)||PawSupport|