How to Obedience Train a Whippet

Medium
4-24 Weeks
General

Introduction

As a new Whippet owner, you are on a steep learning curve. Previously, you owned Border collies and a German shepherd, which were highly trainable dogs and picked things up swiftly. Had you not had this previous experience, you might have questioned just how competent a trainer you are... because the Whippet is an entirely different fish altogether. 

For starters, there seem relatively few opportunities when the Whippet is in the right 'head zone' to learn. Then, when he does engage in the lesson, he quickly becomes bored and tunes out again. Indeed, training a Whippet has taught you a whole new level of patience and meant you embrace small improvements with the sort of enthusiasm you once reserved for a complex trick with a GSD. 

Anyhow, the good news is you and your Whippet are getting there.... albeit slowly. 

Defining Tasks

Obedience training is core to having a well-behaved canine citizen, but arguably more importantly, is key to keeping your pet pal safe. Whippets are all or nothing dogs--they're either snoozing and relaxing or chasing full pelt after a squirrel. This poses some unique hurdles to the would-be Whippet-trainer who may find their dog is apt to get bored quickly and wander off mentally. 

To successfully obedience train a Whippet means taking advantage of their more lucid moments, and engaging in brief bursts of training activity. Also, only use reward-based methods which major on encouraging the dog to behave, and be prepared to have the patience of a saint. That said, when all the stars align you will have a happy, well-trained, and obedient dog that will give you an immense sense of satisfaction at what you have achieved. 

Getting Started

Be prepared to be patient with your dog and know that your own mental attitude is as important (if not more so) than having fancy equipment. As well as a bucketload of patience you'll need: 

  • A quiet distraction-free place to train
  • A collar and leash
  • Bite-sized tasty treats to motivate the dog
  • A favorite toy or other attraction that the dog will work for
  • A clicker
  • A treat bag or pouch to keep those rewards handy.

The Reward Based Training Method

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First principles
Reward-based training uses encouragement (in the form of a treat reward, fuss, or a game with a toy) when the dog acts correctly. The idea is to have the dog think through what it was he did that earned the reward, so that he repeats the action in future. Add in a cue word to teach the dog what action is required, and you have the basic principles of reward-based training.
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Find a reward that motivates the dog
The first step is to find a reward the dog adores, so that he has that extra kick of motivation to make him work. Test him out with different food treats, such as tiny cubes of cheese, sausage, small pieces of chicken or cooked meat, or healthy commercial treats. See which one really pushes his buttons and then adopt this to work with. If your dog isn't food motivated, then take along his favorite toy and give him a quick game when he does well.
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Understand the importance of timing
Reward-based training will only work if the dog understands what he's being rewarded for. The trick to this is marking the exact moment he did good, with an excited "Yes" and then giving the reward immediately. If you overlook this and give the reward a few seconds later, the dog will not connect the two events and training will be less effective.
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Keep training fun
Whippets bore easily so it's doubly important to keep the training sessions short and sweet, plus fun and enjoyable. To do this, use a high pitched, excited tone of voice and chat away to the dog during training so as to engage his interest.
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Little and often
Engage in training in short bursts, but when your Whippet looks alert. It's no good rousing him from the sofa if he's napping, because his main priority will be to resume his catnap rather than concentrate on you.
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The Basic Commands Method

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Target certain basic commands
Prioritize those commands that will keep the dog safe and under your control. These basics include 'sit', 'stay', 'look', and 'come'.
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'Sit'
Hold a treat in front of the dog's nose so he can sniff it. Once you have his attention, raise the treat in a slow arc over and behind his head. To follow the treat, his bottom will sink to the ground. The moment he does this say "Yes" and give the treat. Once the dog starts to anticipate the treat's movement and offer a 'sit', say "Sit" as you start moving the treat, as an extra clue to what he needs to do. This helps put the action on cue.
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'Stay'
First teach the dog to sit. Then make him wait for a few seconds before giving the treat, while expecting him to stay in a 'sit'. Gradually extend the wait until he stays in 'sit' for at least one minute. Once he has the self control to sit for a minute, you can start adding in distance. Take one step away, say "Stay", then return to the dog and reward him. Gradually move farther away from the dog and expect him to stay before returning to his side for the reward.
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'Look'
Hold a treat in front of the dog's nose and then move the treat slowly in a straight line from the dog to the bridge of your nose. Make sure to keep the dog looking at the treat the whole time. Once the treat is resting on the bridge of your nose say "Look". Then reward him. Gradually stretch out the amount of time he has to stare at you before he gets the reward. This is a great command for distracting the dog's attention away from something he might chase or find frightening.
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'Come'
Start by saying "Come" when the Whippet happens to move towards you. Then reward him. This links the action with a reward and makes him think it's a good idea. Then try the same but as you step away from the dog, enticing him to follow you. Praise and reward. Then try this when the dog is a short distance away and therefore trigger him to come to you.
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The Do's and Don'ts Method

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Don't: Punish the dog
If the dog is slow to catch on or downright disobedient, never punish him. Punishment only makes the dog fearful of you and although he may appear to behave, this is done out of fear rather than true obedience.
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Do: Show disapproval
However, it is important to let the dog know when he made the wrong decision. For example, if the dog breaks a 'stay', simply say "Uh-oh" in a disapproving voice, and leave it at that. This guides the dog that getting up was the mistake that cost him a reward.
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Do: End on a high point
End each session on a positive note with a command the dog has mastered. This helps build his self-confidence and ensure he looks forward eagerly to the next training session.
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Don't: Just train in one place
Start off by training in a distraction-free room. However, as the dog gets into the swing of things vary where you train him. This helps him understand that obedience is important no matter where you are, and not just something that applies in the front room at home.
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Do: Be realistic
Know that Whippets are a challenging breed to train and even slow progress is still progress. Don't be phased by owners of highly trainable dogs who seem to fly through the basic commands. If those same owners had a Whippet to work with they would have their eyes opened. Be patient, and know you will get there in the end, but just not as quickly as with other breeds.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

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