How to Train a Dog Basic Obedience

Easy
1-8 Weeks
General

Introduction

Imagine being in the park when your dog runs after a child. You know the dog just wants to play, but unfortunately, the kid is frightened and starts to scream. Your dog becomes even more excited by the child's yells and proceeds to jump up, believing he's taking part in a fun game. By now the irate mother has come running over and is striking out at the dog to get him to leave the child alone. Of course, the dog now believes the mother is joining in and jumps up at her. The situation quickly turns nasty with you shouting at the mother to stop hitting the dog and the mother screams that your dog is out of control and a danger. 

Now imagine the same scene but you quickly recognize the child is fearful. You shout "Come", and the dog turns away from the kid and runs back to your side. Disaster averted without so much as a raised hand. 

Such is the difference basic obedience training makes. 

Defining Tasks

Every responsible owner has a duty to be able to control their dog. This is part of raising a good canine citizen and building acceptance of dogs in the community. Of course, with basic obedience comes the ability to control the dog, which is hugely important when it comes to keeping the dog safe. 

Basic commands that are important to master and should be worked on first include 'sit', 'down', 'stay', 'look', and 'come'. These provide the owner with a useful range of commands that will keep the dog under control in a wide range of situations. 

Training takes time and patience, so be prepared to train for 5 - 10 minutes several times a day, both now and moving forward into the longer term. 

Getting Started

To teach basic commands, the most essential commodities are time, patience, and an understanding of how the canine mind works. In addition, it's helpful to start out by training in a distraction-free environment, such as the back yard or a room indoors. Once the dog becomes more accomplished, you can then broaden out where you train so the dog learns to be obedient no matter where you are. 

The basic tools you need to obedience train include: 

  • Treats: These should be small and tasty but quick to eat and swallow. 
  • A pouch or bag to keep the treats handy at all times
  • A clicker (should you decide to clicker train)
  • A collar and leash
  • A longline (this is preferable to a retractable leash, which can teach the dog to pull) 

The Reward-Based Method

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Why domination is wrong
Traditional dog training methods involved dominating the dog and using physical strength and punishment to discourage bad behavior. This did result in obedient dogs, but sadly this was because there were too frightened or fearful to step out of line. In addition, it's now been proven that the logic behind dominance training is flawed and so this is no longer considered a humane or appropriate way of training.
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Why reward-based training is good
Animal behaviorists now know it's more appropriate to help dogs think through a problem (such as, "What does my owner mean by 'Sit'?") and come up with the right answer. Key to doing this is to reward the dog when they act correctly. This motivates the dog to repeat the action because they are rewarded at the end of it. Over time, as the dog learns what action is required, the treats are phased out and only given occasionally to reinforce previous learning.
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What rewards are best?
This depends on what motivates your dog. Some breeds such as Labradors, Beagles, and Pugs are extremely food focused and will work very hard to earn a tasty tidbit. Other dogs are less motivated by food and respond better to praise or a quick game with a favorite toy. It is fine to use a combination of any or all of the above, because the idea is to react positively when the dog does well, which increases is self-confidence and willingness to please you again.
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Know which commands to teach
Good basic commands that give you control in most situations include: 'sit', 'stay', 'look', 'down', and 'come'. Master these and you will be able to diffuse most tricky situations the dog may encounter.
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How and when to train
Some dogs have short attention spans, others can train for longer. Work within your dog's capability and don't overstretch his ability to concentrate. As a general rule, it's better to train little and often during the day, than for one longer session. Always end each session on a positive note, with a command the dog has mastered. This will leave him feeling good about training and looking forward to next time.
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The Basic Commands Method

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Sit
Hold a tasty treat near the dog's nose to get his attention. Travel the treat over his head and behind his back in an arc. In his attempts to follow the treat the dog will lower his bottom to the ground. Say "Sit" immediately as this happens, praise the dog and give him the treat. Repeat.
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Stay
First, teach the dog to sit. Then work on how long the dog holds the sit position, with you by his side. Aim to have him sit for at least one minute before progressing to the next step. This is to step away from the dog, say "Stay" and then step back and reward him. Gradually build up the distance you travel from the dog, while he is expected to stay.
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Down
Hold a tasty treat in front of the dog's nose. Travel the treat close to his chest, down towards the floor. To follow the treat he has to drop down, at which point say "Down", praise him and give the treat. Repeat and practice.
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Look
Stand beside the dog while he is sitting. Hold a treat near his nose to get his attention. Travel the treat upwards in a straight line, finishing with the treat placed between both your eyes. The dog should now be gazing up at the treat, at which point say "Look". Work on how long he has to hold the 'look' before he earns the reward.
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Recall
This requires a lot of work and the sooner you start the better. Puppies in particular instinctively tend to follow their 'parent' so make use of this by moving away from the pup, and when he follows say "Come" and reward him with a treat when he gets to you. In addition, with the dog on the leash, when he looks toward you say "come" and make yourself exciting to him by slapping your thighs and sounding excited. When he runs to you, make a big fuss and give a treat.
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The Do's and Don'ts Method

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Do: Consider clicker training
Clicker training gives reward-based training a boost because the dog learns to link the click of the clicker with earning a treat. This makes it possible to exactly mark the precise moment when the dog acted correctly, which sharpens up training and helps motivate him to behave.
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Don't: Punish the dog for poor compliance
If the dog acts up, do not punish him. Instead, consider how you might better communicate what it is you want to achieve.
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Do: Correct gently
It is, however, appropriate to gently let the dog know when he's made an error or a bad decision. For example, if he breaks his sit during 'Stay' training, say a disappointed "Uh-oh" or similar. This lets him know that getting up was the wrong thing to do. Then next time when he stays in a sit, give him lots of praise so he understands this is the right thing to do.
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Do: Keep training fun
When done well, basic training is a great way to bond with the dog and teach him to listen to you. However, this only happens if the dog enjoys training and looks forward to each session. To do this, keep things light-hearted with plenty of praise when the dog does well. And if he starts to tire and make mistakes, bring the session to an end on a positive note and try again later.
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Do: End on a high
Remember, leave the dog with a positive impression so end each training session with a command the dog knows and can do, so that you can praise him.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

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