Teach Your Dog The Stay Command

Dogs have a significant capacity for training their trainers. Apart from making us wave our hands and bark odd words, we regularly fetch treats and run after tennis balls. Not useful to us, but the dog enjoys it.

To put things back the way they’re meant to be, assert your alpha status. One of the foremost methods is a frequent use of ‘the stay’. Just what it sounds like, the stay requires the dog to remain stationary, in place, while you move about. Just the reverse of the usual situation in too many cases.

First, train the dog to ‘sit’ on command using the word and hand signals. I snap my fingers and simultaneously flip my extended index finger down at an angle to the ground. This gets the dog’s attention – without tying up my hands with a clicker – and shows the proper direction for the dog’s rear. It works surprisingly well.

Then with the pup, teen or mature dog in the sit, I thrust a hand in the dog’s direction palm first and fingers raised giving the voice command ‘stay!’. Not yelling, just distinct and audible over other noise and distractions. Hand movements should be precise and unique to a particular command/behavior.

Take one step back.

The dog will tend to follow, so repeat the hand gestures for sit and stay. If the dog fails to comply, take a treat or toy and move it over the dog’s head and slightly back of the eyes. Still visible, but in a direction that forces the chin up. Some dogs will rotate around. Repeat until you get the correct behavior then praise lavishly.

Now try again.

Once the dog will remain stationary after one step back, take two. Then four, then eight. Usually the further you are away the less control you have. The dog naturally wants to follow the alpha (leader).

One trick for overcoming this is to leash the dog on a collar and long leash or rope. Wrap the leash around a tree or post a few feet behind the dog and hold the leash as you face the dog. As the dog stands and steps forward, give a tug on the rope and issue the voice command and hand gesture. Don’t pull so hard as to unbalance the dog. You want to restrain not punish. A partner can be used instead of a tree, but dogs can become confused about whom to obey, making that a secondary choice.

Some dogs will tend to lie down during the exercise, especially as you back away a few feet. You may have to train an ‘up’-‘sit’ combination before mastering ‘stay’. Breeds and individuals will vary in how long – how many repetitions over how many days – it takes them to consistently obey, but almost all get it eventually.

After the stay has lasted a few seconds, issue ‘come’ with a unique tone and hand gesture. Make it something you can do precisely, but aren’t likely to do during normal activity. Command gestures should be unique and reserved for specific behaviors.

When the dog comes, praise lavishly and repeat the exercise, making the stay last longer as the dog learns. You’ll have succeeded completely when you can go back into the house and the dog will ‘stay’. Don’t forget to release him after a minute.

Of course, he’ll be expecting you to bring back treats and a tennis ball. Don’t disappoint.

Teach Your Dog The Sit Command

Dogs can learn an amazing variety of behaviors, but few so fundamentally important as the ‘sit’. Beyond the basic need to establish that the human of the pair is the alpha (leader), it has a number of practical benefits.

When a dog sits he’s more attentive, making it easier to follow further commands. His eyes are on you, the alpha.

As important as what the dog is doing, is what he is not. In a sit, he’s more or less stationary. There are still those wagging tails, after all. That means he’s not chasing the cat, knocking over the furniture, running through the garden or out into the street.

But getting there can be easier or more difficult depending on breed, individual and training style. Fortunately, almost every dog can and will learn this basic move in short order.

First, take advantage of the dog’s spontaneous behavior by observing him closely. The idea is to catch him in the middle of performing the behavior and say ‘sit’ and gesture. That way a dog associates the behavior with the command. Always associate a unique hand signal and tone with the command. Praise the dog lavishly. Hold off on food treats. Save the bribes until you really need them.

At first the dog will have no idea why you’re so happy. But dogs tend to be happy when the alpha is, and upset when he is. With repetition comes understanding.

When you want to initiate a sit, stand and face the dog then issue the command, then wait for the desired response. Some will get it after the first couple of tries, some will take ten or more. Some won’t get it without further prompting. Now bring out the other techniques.

With a treat or a favored toy, face the dog and place it above his head and slightly behind the forehead, but still visible. The dog will tend to look up and stretch its chin slightly backward. When you have his attention move the treat slowly back toward the tail.

Some dogs will respond by backing up. If so, try the technique near the couch or a fence where he has nowhere to go. When the dog starts to sit, give the command and hand signal. At the completion of the sit, praise lavishly and give the reward.

Voice commands aren’t the only sound that will work. Many trainers use a ‘clicker’ – a small plastic and metal device that makes a ‘click-clack’ sound when pressed and released. Dogs can distinguish the sound over surprisingly long distances and amidst other moderate background noise.

As a last resort, for the stubborn or slow learner, give the command and at the same time push gently on the back near the tail as you lift his chin. Praise and reward anyway, even though you had to ‘force’ the sit. Take special care with young hips – don’t force a completely uncooperative dog this way.

Repetition, consistency (reward only for the proper action), and enthusiasm will quickly lead to learning the ‘sit’. Don’t be harsh, but don’t give up easily either. And never let him train you.

Teach Your Dog The Down Command

‘Nature to be commanded, must be obeyed’ said Francis Bacon. Nowhere more true than dog training. Dogs have a natural tendency to seek and adhere to a hierarchy with an alpha (leader) at the top on down to an omega at the bottom. ‘Down’ is one effective technique for enforcing your alpha status.

It also has practical benefits. When a dog is in the ‘down’ position, it isn’t knocking over the furniture or small children. It also leads naturally to subsequent behaviors such as ‘rollover’, ‘crawl’ and other keen tricks.

Fortunately, the behavior is usually very easy to train. Take advantage of spontaneous behavior whenever possible, by observing the dog and waiting for a movement from standing or sitting to down.

When you see it occurring, execute a unique voice command and hand gesture pair. Every behavior should be associated with a unique hand gesture, not used spontaneously during the day, as well as a clear, precise word and tone.

After the command when the behavior is complete, praise lavishly. At first, the dog will have no idea why it’s being praised. It doesn’t matter. With repetition the behavior will follow the command. It’s results you’re after.

Most dogs won’t perform the desired behavior on command the first few times. Be patient and clear and consistent. As with all training, minimize noise and movement distractions during the training session. Try to be alone with the dog as far from other voices as possible.

Encourage the behavior by taking a treat or favored toy and putting the dog in a ‘sit’, then move the treat or toy all the way to the ground just in front of the nose.

After several repetitions with the treat or toy, try just using a ‘waving down’ hand movement, palm toward the floor or ground. Never reward with praise or treat until the behavior is complete and correct, but also don’t become tense or angry after failure.

For the slow learner or assertive dog, it may be necessary to supplement training with a collar and leash. Use a short nylon or leather leash – two to four feet is best – and put the dog in a sit and kneel down facing him.

Make the hand gesture, issue the voice command and move a treat or toy from the dog’s chin to the ground while pulling gently on the leash. The goal is to encourage, not to punish.

In the really hard cases, kneel down and put the leash loop under one foot and slide it under the knee of the opposite leg, facing at a slight angle to the dog. Pull the leash loop with your foot, sliding it over your leg. Simultaneously, gently take both the dog’s forelegs and pull toward you, issuing the voice command.

When the dog is in position, praise lavishly even though you executed the movement not the dog. You want the dog to associate the position with good feelings – his and yours.

Patience and commitment to regular sessions is key to training any behavior.

Teach Your Dog To Come – The Recall Command

Dogs aren’t really stubborn. But they often don’t clearly know what’s wanted. Make it clear by quickly establishing alpha (dominant leader) status. Be willing to exercise the patience and modest, firm force to get the desired behavior. This can be particularly challenging when training a ‘come’.

Dogs naturally want to explore the environment. They sniff everything, turn things over, dig and snatch small objects. As with any training session, minimize the distractions by arranging to be as alone and far from other voices as possible. A backyard with a clear area or a large room with few small objects on the floor is best.

Take advantage of spontaneous behavior by observing when the dog is heading toward you and execute a voice-command/hand gesture pair that’s unique for this behavior. Try to select a hand-gesture and word that you wouldn’t normally use except during training.

Start by facing the dog, putting it in a sit. Execute the ‘stay!’ command, then back away a step or two. Issue the hand-gesture and voice command. Praise lavishly for the correct behavior, but never reward ‘partial’ or incorrect ones.

Repeat, stepping further away. If the the dog comes too soon, put it in a sit/stay and try again. If the dog won’t come at all, encourage with a treat or favorite toy.

For the slow learners or the, well let’s not say stubborn but just reluctant, leash and collar training can be a useful supplement. Put the dog in a sit/stay and back off a few feet reeling out the slack leash. If the dog refuses to come, give a gentle but unmistakable tug while executing the voice command and hand gesture.

For the dog who comes a little to readily, get a long leash or rope and wrap around a tree or post. As the dog lifts off too early, give the leash a tug and execute a ‘stay’ command. If you don’t have a tree handy, try to find a partner to help with the training. The downside to using a partner is the dog will more readily become confused about whom to obey. Focus on a single person is always more efficient.

As with any training, patience and consistency are essential. Dogs don’t spontaneously understand the usefulness of ‘come’ or any other human-induced behavior. Speaking harshly when the dog commits errors or is willful is usually counter-productive. Establish alpha status by firmness of voice, body posture and willingness to wait for compliance. Physical restraint or leading is a less helpful technique.

Most dogs quickly prove themselves eager to please and responsive to praise following the correct behavior. Just make sure they’re the ones ‘coming’, not you. If necessary, prove that you’re the stubborn one.

How To Stop Your Dog From Chewing

A dog’s jaw muscles are among his strongest. An average-sized Golden Retriever can untie the knot in a rawhide bone (or just chew it off) in minutes. If only they’d stick to those!

The tendency to chew will vary from one breed – and one individual – to another. But most dogs will chew on objects in and around the house. Keeping them focused on objects intended for them is a continuing challenge.

Younger dogs, puppies in particular, will usually have a greater tendency to chew and less discrimination about what they choose. But even young puppies can be discouraged from grabbing things the owner would prefer to keep whole.

First, as always, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Keep shoes, laundry (socks, t-shirts, etc), where dogs can’t get them. Keep children’s toys separated from the dog’s. Which implies that the dog has some. So…

Keep plenty of attractive toys on hand, whether indoors or out, for Fido to chew on. Rawhide bones are attractive to some dogs, others prefer hard rubber or special plastic ‘dental’ bones. With some exceptions, real bones are usually not a good idea. Large beef bones are okay, but chicken and pork can easily splinter and lead to injury.

Fortunately, all kinds of special toys are available. Some even have hollow interiors suitable for holding treats. The dog usually has to struggle a bit to get at the treat in the center. That’s the whole idea. It keeps them occupied and gives them a good mental and physical workout striving to access the reward.

A sharp tone or a mild tap for grabbing an unsuitable object, such as a shoe or sock, is useful and appropriate. Yelling or harsh physical punishment is counter-productive. It’s better for both dog and ‘alpha’ (the leader of the pack – you) to vent that frustration elsewhere. Easier said than done the tenth time you’ve scolded the dog, but necessary for the mental well-being of both parties.

To practice developing specific habits, take some time (daily, if necessary and possible) to leash the dog and present an inappropriate object. If the dog moves toward it, jerk the leash sideways quickly and firmly and give a loud ‘No!’.

Be sure to jerk sideways, not back. A dog’s neck muscles are very strong, but throats can be too easily bruised. The movement is to inform, not to punish.

Outside, if the dog has a tendency to chew on plants, fences, etc, you can take advantage of some commercial mixtures or home recipes to discourage the behavior. A little cayenne pepper paste smeared on the leaves of ‘attractive’ plants can often eliminate chewing in one lesson. Some commercial preparations contain ‘bitter apple’, which discourages some dogs.

As with any dog training, patience, persistence and consistency are the keys to success. Suppressing chewing is often one of the more challenging since you’re training the dog to NOT do something, rather than to DO something.

Redirection to acceptable objects is your best bet, since you can’t eliminate the instinct. Stay alert and keep a cool head. Even when they’ve just chewed a hole in that new carpet. That’s expensive and annoying, but carpet can be replaced. Your relationship with your pet can’t.

How Not To Train Your Dog

Most dog owners sincerely want to train their dog well. But an almost equal number will underestimate the time and effort it takes to do so. The result is frequently a common set of mistakes that can be, with more or less effort, avoided.

Dogs are not furry children. Though the average mature dog has a mental development somewhere around the level of a human two year old, there are more differences than there are similarities. Dogs can be amazing at processing language. But they don’t reason the way humans do. They don’t connect cause and effect in the same way.

As a result, it can be frustrating to repeat the same command over and over, only to have the dog apparently ignore you. Most times, they are not ignoring the command as much as failing to understand it. It seems it should be obvious – they’ve done the behavior successfully many times before – but today they are just ‘being stubborn’.

Some dogs probably are what would, in humans, be called stubborn. But they can be easily distracted, or fail to connect today’s instance of ‘come’ with yesterday’s behavior and subsequent reward. There are alternative explanations for their behavior.

Patience is the number one needed quality, therefore. You have to be prepared to repeat the same command, day in and day out, and sometimes not get the same result. Many dogs take two years to learn anything beyond the simplest basics to the point that it consistently sticks.

Part of that patience means keeping your temper when you want to lash out physically. It’s easy to take physical punishment as the first route of correcting a dog’s behavior. But that’s reserved in the wild for only the most severe circumstances. So, the dog hasn’t evolved to understand why you’re hitting them. It instills fear, not trust.

Dogs, like humans, much more readily follow those they trust than those they fear. The latter they do only when they have no choice. But dogs make choices very differently from people. They will often just endure the punishment without learning anything. Physical punishment simply isn’t an effective training method.

So, here’s how NOT to train your dog:

– Forget that your dog has a nature different from yours. Talk to them like they were human.

– Believe that the dog can connect events across time and circumstances, then draw the same conclusion you would.

– Get impatient and frustrated when they don’t behave as you want them to. Punish them for not behaving the way you want.

Follow those useless methods and you’ll reap the reward of a maladjusted dog and an unhappy owner. But if those are not the results you seek, be prepared to change YOUR behavior, before you try to change the dog’s.

Dog Training – Housebreaking Your Puppy

No training is more basic for pet owners than that first important lesson: Do it outside!

Teaching your pet to eliminate outside the home, not in it, usually starts between six and eight weeks of age. Dogs as young as four weeks have been started on the program, but at that age few have the muscular control to succeed.

Like any dog training regimen, trainer patience is as important as the dog’s temperament. ‘Sit’, ‘stay’ and other behaviors can often be learned in a few days. ‘Potty’ training typically takes weeks – sometimes as short as two, often a month or more.

As with other learned behaviors, it helps to watch for signs of the desired actions and enforce and direct them with a voice command followed by praise. In this case that technique works even more to the trainer’s advantage, since all dogs will naturally eliminate. The trick is to get them to do it when and where you want!

Watch for circling or squatting, then pick up the pup, say ‘outside’ and dash outside. The puppy may circle some more, but will often squat immediately. As it begins, say ‘Go potty’ (or some other unique phrase) in a clear, firm (but not angry) voice. Wait until it’s finished and praise lavishly.

You won’t always be able to catch the puppy about to begin, but don’t become angry or impatient when the dog eliminates indoors. It takes time for the dog to learn to tell you it’s time to ‘go outside’. It also takes time for the muscles needed to control bladder and bowels to develop.

Young dogs need to eliminate every 2-3 hours, on average. If you haven’t spotted pre-elimination behavior within that time, take the dog outside anyway. Issue the command ‘Go potty’ and wait. At first, usually, the dog will have no clue what you want.

Again, even when outside, it helps to wait and watch for the desired behavior then issue the command. That helps the dog associate the command with the behavior. If the dog hasn’t gone after a few minutes and a few ‘Go potty’ commands, take it back inside for an hour. Of course, if you spot the pre-elimination behavior in less time, go outside again immediately.

Dogs have a surprising ability to quickly learn what their ‘alpha’ (the leader of the pack) wants. This is almost always accomplished by associating a verbal command with behavior, followed by praise. Punishment is usually counter-productive, and nowhere more so than in waste elimination training. Never rub a dog’s nose in waste.

Paper and/or crate training is preferred by some. A pup can be trained to go on a newspaper, or on one of the chemically treated pads designed for the purpose. Some small breeds that live all day in the home may not need to go outside at all.

The technique has a couple of downsides however. Unlike cats, dogs will rarely go in a perfumed litter box. Newspapers (even with the top layer removed after the dog goes) will eventually create an unpleasant smell in the house.

Also, long before the odor becomes unattractive to humans, dogs can smell their own distinctive aroma. They don’t find it unattractive – quite the opposite. And that’s the problem.

Dogs that are paper trained will often prefer to eliminate indoors. Sometimes they’ll miss the paper by only an inch, creating a mess to clean up.

Once the odor is in the carpet, the dog will often seek that spot out as its proper ‘place to go’. This makes training the dog to eliminate outside even more difficult. Best to suffer a few accidents than to create a hard-to-overcome habit.

Patience, praise and consistency are the keys to any dog training. Elimination training is the first test for you and your dog.

Finding a Dog Trainer

Many people don’t have the time, energy or patience to devote to dog training. Few other activities require as much, if the result is to be a safe, well-adjusted dog and a happy human. For some, the answer is to outsource the effort to a professional trainer.

As in any profession, quality and cost vary. And, like many professions – especially those involving human-animal interactions – training philosophies vary considerably. So, you already have some parameters to guide your selection.

Examine your budget and your needs. Depending on where you live, training can run anywhere from free – often supplied on a weekly basis by volunteers to parks or shelters – to $100 or more per session. What constitutes a reasonable fee will vary depending on geography, trainer experience, length of program and your goals.

Examine your schedule. Some training programs are weekly, others more often. You may have to leave the dog and pick it up later. Or, more likely, you may join a program where the training involves you directly. Most will suggest that you spend some time training the dog every day, whether at home or at the trainer’s facility.

Examine your commitment. Dogs, especially early in training, need regular, large blocks of time and attention in order to learn. An hour a day is not at all unusual.

In some cases, ‘boot camp’ training programs are preferred. The dog goes away to a special facility for up to several weeks. The training is regular, long and intensive. Don’t be concerned for the dog. They love that! Near the end, you’ll usually have to participate in order to ‘transfer’ the obedience from trainer to you.

But the results are often amazing. Dogs who ‘graduate’, even when not special service dogs, are disciplined and eager to follow instructions. Yet, paradoxically, these dogs show no signs of being repressed. They’re happy and play with great enthusiasm.

Examine your goals. You may want a dog who can be entered in shows, or you may just want them not to chew on the couch or chase the cat. In either case, regular training is required. How much and what kind will vary with breed and individual temperament.

Some dogs are fearful, either through being mistreated or from a natural tendency toward submission. Some are too assertive, again through abuse or natural striving for alpha (pack leader) status. What training you select will depend on how you want to influence them and what attributes they have you want to shape.

Whatever your goals, budget or commitment you want a trainer who exhibits massive patience and boundless energy, not to mention a deep love for dogs. Most have these characteristics in spades.

Beyond those basics, you’ll want a trainer whose philosophy makes sense to you and matches your goals. Some insist that dog training is more about training the owner than the dog – and there’s some truth to that in some cases. Some are lenient and friendly, leaning toward the ‘touchy-feely’ style. Others lean more toward police or military style training. And many lie between these two extremes.

It’s unlikely that one training style suits all, but neither is it entirely subjective. Even where there are disputes there are common principles that most will agree on. Patience, persistence, consistency and the need for the human to lead are only a few of these.

Ask for recommendations from those you trust and don’t hesitate to shop around. Be prepared to change trainers once or twice to find one suitable for your needs. Be careful, though, not to change on a whim. Dogs need consistency and a regular environment in order to absorb what’s being taught.

Good luck and good hunting!

Different Dog Breeds Require Different Methods

The variety of dog species is so great that sometimes it’s better not to think of them all as part of the same species at all. Biologists do because they can interbreed. Dog owners have different purposes, so it can be better to emphasize the differences over the similarities.

A Jack Russell terrier looks, thinks and behaves much differently from a Great Dane. The latter are generally very calm. A Golden Retriever is a very different animal than a Collie. Golden Retrievers are fun loving, but excitable. A German Shepherd and a Chihuahua have little more in common than the name ‘dog’.

As a result of these differences, training should be tailored to the breed you’re attempting to train. Patience is required for training all dogs, but more is required for some than for others. German Shepherds are intelligent and take to obedience commands readily and with pleasure. Jack Russell’s are also very smart, but much more willful and will require a different technique.

With terriers, for example, distraction techniques are very handy. Terriers are high energy, highly active dogs. They have evolved to spot movement in an instant and go after the animal producing it. Keeping them focused is a real challenge, so make sure at all times that their eyes are on you. Use treats, toys or other objects and wiggle them to see that the terrier’s eyes are on you.

Collies are equally trainable, but much more mellow. They’re extremely loyal and protective, which is great. But it presents its own kind of challenges. A collie will spontaneously bark and chase any stranger who appears to threaten the family. That can be desirable for a watch dog guarding the house at night. But it can be annoying if carried out every time a child walks by along the sidewalk during the afternoon.

Bark collars are sometimes necessary under these circumstances, but remove the collar when the sun goes down. That way the dog may only associate the discouragement with daylight and still continue to function as a watch dog when it counts.

Dalmatians make for excellent companions, but they are ultra-energetic and very strong. That can be a troublesome combination for one that spends all its time in a small backyard with no one to play with. If you plan on owning one of these excellent dogs, be prepared to spend time working off some of that excess vitality.

Dalmatians need a large area so they can run at top speed – the only speed they know. They’ll work best with someone who can toss a ball far away, and has the presence to command them. They can be extremely loyal, but they need a strong hand. Being the alpha dog when faced with a Dalmatian requires a forceful owner.

Tailor your training regimen to the actual nature of your dog, including both those aspects derived from the breed and the unique characteristics of your specific dog. Just like humans, dogs are individuals.

Dealing With Jumping

Most dogs will display a tendency to jump on people at times. How often will vary with breed and by individual. One theory suggests that dogs are trying to get close to the person’s face – not to attack, but to interact. Other dogs, especially of the same breed, have faces close to their level and the dog will use its nose and eyes to explore.

So, one way to deal with jumping is to give them no need to reach. Kneel down and interact with the dog at its level. Let it explore your face in a safe way, while keeping an eye out for excessive assertiveness. Very rarely will a dog bite its owner this way, especially if the human has taken the trouble to become the ‘alpha’ (leader of the pack).

Naturally, if you’ve only recently acquired an older dog, perhaps from a shelter, you should take proper precaution when using this technique. Put a collar on the dog and keep a thumb inserted under it behind the dog’s neck. Be prepared to jerk sideways, if necessary.

Sideways jerking is to be preferred to a sharp pull backwards, when possible. Dogs’ neck muscles are very strong, but throats can be too easily bruised. The movement is to protect the owner and inform the dog, not to punish.

Off-leash training to discourage jumping is also possible. Wear a pair of well-protecting pants and have the dog stand in front of you. Training a ‘sit’ is, of course, a very good defense against jumping. But they can’t sit all the time. Jumping usually follows standing or running. So, start the exercise with the dog standing.

Watch for the body tension that precedes jumping and when you see them about to jump order a ‘sit’. If the dog jumps anyway, lift your leg slightly and bump the dog’s chest with your knee or thigh. At the same time, thrust a palm near the dog’s face away from you. Issue a sharp command: ‘off!’. (‘Down’ is a separate behavior, requiring a different word.)

The idea isn’t to slam the dog in the chest, nor to push a hand into its face. The raised knee helps to keep the dog off and puts it off balance. The hand in the face both obscures its vision and discourages a repeat jump.

If you have a partner you can work with, leash training may be useful in more stubborn cases. As the dog starts to leap, have the partner jerk sideways as you issue the ‘off!’ command. You should issue the command, not the partner. You need the dog to focus on and obey you.

In the absence of a partner, and when working outside, it may be possible to wrap a long leash around a tree or post. The difficulty is that the jerk will then usually be more back than to the side.

Positive reinforcement techniques can be used, too. Take a treat or a favorite toy in one hand. As the dog starts to jump, hold out the treat or toy above and slightly behind the dog’s head. That distracts the dog and puts it slightly off balance. It also encourages a sit, just when the impulse was to jump.

Repetition and consistency are, as with any training, important when training ‘off’. Be patient and firm. With time, most dogs will learn to suppress this natural behavior until and unless they receive permission to jump.