It All Starts with One Command
Pam Young, LVT, author of “It All Starts With Just One Command…” believes that if you only want to teach your dog one command, then “sit” is it. When company comes to the door, “sit” will stop Fido from jumping on them. When it’s time to go for a walk, “sit” will calm him down and allow you to go out the door first. Another “sit” will give you the opportunity to close and lock the door behind you instead of Fido yanking you off of the porch in anticipation. Jumping on the furniture can be resolved with a magic “sit” before he has a chance. Or if it’s too late, and he’s jumped up already; teach him “off,” and then tell him to sit. Always, always, always praise him for the desired behavior!
Puppies can begin learning commands as early as four months old, according to Oliver. If you have the opportunity to train your pet at this early of an age – take advantage of it. While older dogs can be trained, it often takes more time and patience to teach them. Keep in mind that even a small amount of training is worth the effort.
Train Your Dog to Stay
The “stay” command tells your dog not to move, creating a plethora of opportunities to disobey. Dogs are curious creatures, and puppies in particular are always full of action. Training your pet to stay will help in numerous situations – often combined with the “sit” command.
To teach “stay,” get Fido to lie down, even if you have to help him get there. Lying down rather than sitting is a better choice for training purposes, because it is harder to jump up from a lying position. Sit beside him, keeping your hands on his torso, so that he doesn’t get up. Don’t push down on him; but if you feel him trying to get up, apply a slight pressure to prevent him from doing so. Now put a treat in front of him (Oliver recommends a piece of hot dog). The treat should be far enough away so that Fido can’t gobble it up just yet. Place your palm in front of his face and say, “stay.” The tone of your voice should demand attention and be forceful without being threatening. Remove your palm, but keep your hand on his back to ensure that he doesn’t leap up immediately. After a short stay – about three seconds initially – release your dog from the stay. A proper release includes a standard keyword, such as “ok” along with the removal of your hands from Fido’s body. The tone of your voice should be upbeat and relaxed. You should immediately praise your dog (as he’s devouring the hot dog). Praise should include petting, rubbing, and lots of enthusiastic “good dog”s. Dogs understand the tone of your voice more than the words themselves.
Oliver recommends repeating this exercise several times a day for a couple of weeks. Throughout this time, you should be able to loosen your hold and even lengthen the time of the stay. Always praise your dog for a job well done. Oliver suggests that after your dog can stay for thirty seconds and fully knows what’s expected of him, you can begin voice corrections for wrong responses. Tell the dog ‘no’ or ‘wrong’ and place him back in the lying stay position.
Some trainers believe that your tone of voice should remain indifferent during voice corrections. The lack of praise is correction enough; while others believe that a stern, but not harsh, tone is best. Each dog is different, and you will be able to tell what is needed with your dog. You must walk a line between your pet’s indifference and frightening him. It is a thin line that should err on the side of your pet’s indifference rather than having your dog scared of you.
Oliver describes the next step in training, involving moving away from your dog as you repeat the command of ‘stay.’ Keep your palm to your dog as you step back and after you have taken about three steps back, release your dog by saying ‘okay’ and putting your hand down. Give Fido plenty of praise and his treat.
Stay is one of the few commands that is beneficial to repeat. Oliver reminds us that with other commands, we expect an immediate response – as with “sit” or “off.” Most commands require action. ‘Stay’ demands inaction. Repetition will help your dog understand that you haven’t released him from the command. Again, it is time to increase the length of the stay and then the space between you and Fido. At the successful completion of these sessions, your dog should have a comprehensive understanding of the “stay” command.
Train Your Dog to Come
Another important command that is essential to your dog’s safety is “come.” This is a particularly important command if your dog has a predetermined inclination towards chasing – whether it’s squirrels, cars, or your neighbor’s cat.
The best way to teach your dog to come when called, according to Oliver, is to reinforce the action when your dog is already coming to you. The best way to do this is to use the command when your dog is already coming to you anyway. Then praise him when he gets to you. Keep this up for several weeks before testing your dog’s understanding of the command. Oliver points out that you must “back up” your command or your dog will quickly regress. The best way to ensure that your dog learns “come” is to use a harness leash to gently pull him to you if he doesn’t obey. (Don’t forget to praise, even if you have to pull him.)Never, ever chase your dog. It will become a game to him, and he will want to play it every time he hears “come!” Also, only use a harness leash – not a regular one or choke collar. Harnesses move your dog without choking or hurting him.
Never use the “come” command to scold your pet for chewing on your slippers or any other unwanted behavior. Your dog should always meet praise when he obeys a command. If he eats your slippers, go to him to reprimand him.
Oliver writes that it will take three to five months to learn “come” under these conditions. Remember that if your dog doesn’t respond, go and get him. Oliver recommends walking him back to where you were first standing, repeating the “come” command to show him what he did wrong.
Another good tip from Oliver is to change the command word to something like “here,” if your dog has had previous negative experiences with the “come” command. This way you can begin a whole new command (in your dog’s eyes) that rewards him with praise and leaves you with a dog that obeys.