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Just like our children, we expect our dogs to have good manners. A well-trained dog makes everyday life so much easier. But unlike our children, we can't exactly teach our dogs to use words like "please" and "thank you" to ask for what they want and language to let them know whether what they want is allowed.
Don't despair! Even though we can't speak with our canine comrades, it is possible to use things like eye contact and verbal and non-verbal cues to give our pup permission to do something. The trick is training him to know when he has to ask for those permissions.
It is best to train your dog to ask permission when he is still a puppy, and to apply the need to ask for permission to any choice or decision that he may come across. The concept of permission can be a difficult one to communicate, so creating the types of uncertain situations your dog might encounter in his everday life in a controlled training environment is the best way to introduce him to the idea of waiting for your "yes" or "no" command before doing something.
The below methods can be used to train your dog to get used to the idea of asking permission before deciding to do pretty well anything encountered while in the house or on a walk with you.
These methods should first be practiced in highly-controlled environments where you have either set up the situation your dog is seeking permission for, or are able to control him if at first he does not understand the concept of not having permission to do something. This is a fairly abstract concept for a dog who has never been expected to ask before, so take training slowly and be patient. Practice the below steps for short increments of time over a few weeks, and don't put your dog in an unknown situation until you are sure he knows when he is allowed to act a certain way.
You will need:
- A short leash (about six feet)
- Your dog's favorite toys
- A clicker (if your dog is used to clicker training)
The Indoor Short-Leash Method
Attach your dog to a short leash
In a quiet room with as little distraction as possible attach your dog to a short leash (less than 6 feet), and hold on to the other end.
Tempt your dog with his food
Now to create a scenario in which you would want your dog to ask permission before acting. Throw a few pieces of his usual kibble on the ground, outside of his reach on the leash.
Watch and wait
Don't let your dog get to the kibble just yet. Likely his attention will be on the distraction you've created. Wait and watch him closely. When he finally looks to you for direction, confirm that he's done what you wanted by saying "good" or "yes." If your dog is used to clicker-training, click the moment he looks at you for guidance. Then let him access the kibble.
Repeat this exercise in different locations around the house - your pooch should be asking for permission regardless of locale.
Vary your response
When your dog looks to you, sometimes give him the go-ahead to eat his kibble with your verbal permission or clicker click, but vary your response with the occasional "no" or "not right now." In those moments, ask your dog to come to you rather than access the kibble. When he comes, treat him from your hand. No matter what the answer, you want him to look to you for permission to proceed or not - reward him for "asking" every time.
Vary the situation
When your dog starts to immediately look to you for guidance about the kibble scenario, start to vary the situation by placing treats or a toy out of his reach instead. Make sure that he applies the same behavior to these novel situations. If he's not there yet, don't hesitate to spend more time with the kibble. Different dogs learn at different paces. When he turns to you for permission before approaching any of his favorite things, you'll know that he's learned to ask before doing.
The Outdoor Short-Leash Method
Use a short leash
Attach a short-leash (approximately 6 feet) to your dog's collar. You want to be able to keep him close to you, and control his access to whatever you might encounter on a walk outdoors.
Go for a walk
Go for a walk outdoors in a safe, well-known area. While training, it is best not to encounter any extreme or dangerous scenarios.
Watch your dog
As you walk, keep a close eye on your dog. When he smells or sees something that he wants to approach, hold on to the leash (gently pull toward you if need be), preventing him from accessing whatever it is he wants to approach before asking if it's OK.
Wait for the right moment
Hold firm on the leash until your dog looks at you. When he does, give him a verbal "OK" or click the clicker to give him permission to approach what is interesting him - in this case, allowing him to sniff or explore is its own reward.
Don't be afraid to say "no"
If what your dog wants to approach is smelly or dangerous or you need to stay on track, when your dog looks to you, tell him "no" and ask him to come to you. If he tries to strain toward what he wants, gently pull on the leash toward you. Don't let him reward himself without your permission. If you comes to you when asked, treat him!
Do this every time your dog wants to step off the path, sniff at something or approach another dog or animal. Over time, your dog should automatically look to you for permission when encountering any novel situation on your walks. When that's the case, you can trust him on a longer leash, or, eventually, off-leash (if it's a safe area to do so).
The Sit For It Method
Draw on your dog's repertoire
With this method you will be drawing on your dog's already-learned ability to 'sit' when asked.
Present your dog with a controlled situation
While in a controlled indoor environment, set something on the ground that your dog is liable to want - kibble, a treat or a favorite toy.
Ask your dog to sit
As soon as your dog approaches the tempting item you've placed in front of him, ask him to sit. When he does, say "yes!" or "go for it!" and immediately let him grab the item.
Practice this step, and slowly add time between giving the "sit" command and giving your dog the go-ahead to approach the desired item.
Take it outside
Once your dog is able to successfully sit for a longer amount of time before going for his kibble, treat or toy, try taking the skill outside on a walk in a low-stress, familiar environment. Now when your dog wants to go off the path or approach another dog, ask him to 'sit' and wait to give him the OK. If it's not something you want him doing, say "not right now" or "no," and give him a treat instead of the reward of approaching the thing interesting him.
Sit for permission
Over time, your dog will learn to sit when he wants to ask your permission for something, and will only do it when you give him your "yes" command.
By Michelle Anne Olsen
Published: 01/22/2018, edited: 01/08/2021
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