“He who wishes to be obeyed must know how to command.”
Welcome to the hub of all learning. By now you have come a long way, having toiled through some heavy lifting in the previous chapter. You are ready to teach your dog. What do dog trainers do, by and large? They solve problems and teach commands. Your dog is soiling the furniture? It will learn how to go outside via commands. For every problem, there is a command waiting to tackle it. I will restate the key terms and provide a list of all the basic commands you’ll need to have in your repertoire. You will need to remember:
Partial reinforcement: We reward the dog for performing the command only when we ask.
Rewards: Come in the form of treats, toys, and/or praise.
Shaping: This is where “close” gets you the cigar. The owner must have the end result in mind and reward the dog when it approximates the desired behavior.
Linking: Breaking down a command into individual components. Always teach in order.
Fixed-ratio schedule: A type of partial reinforcement. Once the command is mastered, we reward only after a fixed number of repetitions are completed.
Marking: Using words and signals as a bridge between the action of performing the command and the outcome, or reward. The marker word is what one says before dispensing the reward, such as “Boo-yah!”
Proofing: We proof, or prove, the behavior by practicing the command in more challenging environments and situations, such as on walks, in parks, and around other people and animals.
Eighty percent rule: Do not add criteria to a command or change the reward schedule until the dog can perform the command with eighty percent consistency. Each phase of a command should be learned with this rule in mind before moving on.
Strike zone: The space in which we communicate hand signals to our dog. This zone is between our belt line and chest. The hand should be about a foot away from the body.
Your dog’s vocabulary is equivalent to how many words or signals it understands. Bring a leash, rewards, a pocketful of patience, and a good mood.
THE “LOOK” COMMAND
It is one thing to call a dog’s name and get some of its attention and another to call the dog to action. Bribing is a common error in calling a dog: “Woo-hoo, Fido, look what I have here” or “Hey, Sparky, check this out,” is not the idea. Just the name, ma’am, and the word “look.” The “look” command is designed to get a dog’s attention.
With reward in hand, start by calling the dog’s name, followed by “look” to get its full attention. Keep the treat out at your side and wait for the dog’s eyes to move off the treat and on to yours, then reward. Practice until the dog can give a minimum of three seconds of eye contact eighty percent of the time.
The dog will typically notice the reward and stare at it. Should the dog make eye contact even for a split second when it hears “look,” reward.
If all eyes are on the reward and not on you, move the hand that’s holding the treat to your nose. The leash is also helpful to keep a distracted dog in proximity.