DOGS ARE INTELLIGENT, SOCIABLE ANIMALS THAT NATURALLY WANT TO PLEASE their owners. Training satisfies their need to know what we expect of them, and a well-trained dog feels happier and more secure. Training also teaches dogs discipline, and how to live in human society. Training unequivocally strengthens the bond between dogs and their owners, and is recommended for dogs of all sizes. It is especially important for the larger breeds.
From a practical standpoint, trained dogs are quiet, well-mannered, and trustworthy. They do not resist grooming or physical examinations, and they are welcome wherever they go in public. Training can also be very useful in an emergency. All in all, a well-behaved dog is a joy to own and a definite source of pride.
Like young children, dogs are curious and love to explore. They eagerly test their world in a variety of ways. Once your dog realizes you are the source of its needs and wants, your dog will experiment with different ways of attracting your attention until one or more brings results. The object is to channel these natural inclinations into paths that are socially acceptable, as well as useful and helpful.
From the time a puppy enters your life it is learning and adapting its behavior to you and its environment. Thoroughly pragmatic, dogs use modes of behavior that yield maximum results with minimum discomfort. Thus, if your dog learns that whining or refusing to eat results in attention, your dog will continue to whine and turn its nose up at dinner. If eliminating indoors brings less discomfort through discipline than the discomfort of waiting to go out, the dog will resist housebreaking. However, if your dog learns right from the start that your way of doing things results in praise and affection, while contrary ways result in firm, unvarying correction, it will choose the easier way. Making sure what you want is the easier and more desirable way is a fair definition of training.
The key words in training are persistence, confidence, and consistency. You should feel confident in yourself as a trainer, but your dog should also feel confident that you will consistently respond to a particular action with the same reaction. In training, this means certain actions are always prohibited and certain others are always encouraged. Inconsistency is the deadliest enemy of good training; it destroys the secure world in which all dogs, at any age, seek to live. A well-trained dog knows what behavior is acceptable and what is not, and this is only established by consistent reinforcement. A dog that is praised for every right action and corrected for every wrong one will soon learn acceptable behavior.
PRAISE AND CORRECTION
The proper use of praise and correction is vital to successful training. Praise implies more than giving obvious approval when your dog has done something right. To maintain a positive relationship, praise should also be given after you have corrected or disciplined the dog. Many people err by prolonging their anger at a “naughty” dog or one that seems unable to absorb the message of a training session. It is important to realize that dogs have a very short memory; they forget what they did or did not do after a few minutes have passed, knowing only that you are displeased. Holding a grudge teaches your dog nothing, except that you are not very easy to get along with.
Praise should be given as soon after a correction as possible; just make sure the praise is for appropriate behavior. Do this no matter how many times you’ve made the identical correction. Giving a dog praise after a correction doesn’t lessen the impact of the correction, but rather will reassure the dog and allow training to progress more smoothly. For example, if you catch your dog chewing on your shoe, give a correction, give the dog a chew toy, and then immediately praise the dog for chewing the right thing.
Corrections should always be mild and nonviolent. Your voice is your basic corrective tool, and the basic corrective command is “No!” This word should be delivered with clear authority and as much volume as you deem necessary. Try not to convey panic, anger, or annoyance. If your dog fails to respond appropriately to your commands, you are probably not being sufficiently authoritative. But remember, authority comes from the tone of your voice, not its volume.
There is tremendous variation from breed to breed in the degree of firmness necessary to get the proper response from a dog. Some breeds are far more strong-willed than others. A dog that has been allowed to develop unacceptable behavior and then is subjected to correction will require firmer correction than the dog that is never allowed to develop incorrect behavior in the first place.
Some behaviors, such as the basic obedience commands outlined in this chapter, must be taught in relatively structured, regular sessions. Other behaviors must be taught as you interact with your dog. For example, all young puppies experience a chewing phase. To deal with this behavior, make certain your puppy does not have access to inappropriate items when you are not around to supervise. When you are together, correct with a firm “No!” as soon as the puppy chews on your clothing, hands, or anything else that is inappropriate. Once the correction has been made, offer immediate praise. The dog must learn to accept correction for wrong behavior and receive abundant praise for doing what is right.
Most dogs respond well to a training collar (sometimes called a choke or slip collar), which is a metal chain with loops at each end. When used correctly, the choke collar allows the trainer to deliver an instantaneous correction without harming the dog. A complete discussion of this collar and its use is presented later in this chapter.
It is never advisable to hit or even threaten a dog, whether with a hand, newspaper, stick, or similar object. This tends to produce a hand-shy dog that cringes at the sight of any hand, raised or otherwise. The dog that expects the possibility of being struck whenever a hand is raised has good reason to try to avoid contact with humans.
Correcting a dog with a rolled-up newspaper slapped on the floor is such a widespread practice that it warrants additional discussion. Many people believe the noise of the blow, rather than its force, delivers an adequate correction by frightening the dog. This idea is wrong on three counts. First, you cannot use fear to train a dog. Second, deliberately teaching a dog to dread loud noises is unwise. What about noises such as thunder or firecrackers that are beyond your control? Do you want your dog to jump in fear at every noise? Third, it’s not likely a rolled-up newspaper will be on hand at all times. Remember, the power of correction lies in immediate administration; its effect diminishes after even a few seconds.
You may notice that the word punishment does not appear in the discussion of training techniques. A dog is never punished; it is corrected. A fine point, perhaps, but in such fine points lies the difference between good and bad dog training.
Finally, never call a dog to you for correction or discipline. The canine mind makes direct and short-term connections, and the dog will link the action of coming to you with correction or discipline. Before long your dog may resist or refuse to come to you at all. If your dog has done something wrong at a distance, either go over to the dog for correction or wait for another opportunity. As in all training situations, it’s a good idea to try to see things from your dog’s perspective.
The importance of thorough housebreaking cannot be overemphasized, because anything less erodes the relationship between dog and owner. Some breeds are more difficult to housebreak than others, but all healthy dogs are able to learn this basic lesson.
There are two methods of housebreaking. One is accomplished directly, and the other uses paper training as an intermediate stage. Direct housebreaking is preferable by far, but it may be difficult if you do not have ready access to a yard or other place for the dog to use.
To housebreak a dog directly, follow a simple set of rules. The puppy must be allowed frequent access to the outdoors, and given a chance to urinate and defecate before being brought back inside. Once inside, you have two options. One is to restrict the puppy to a certain place in the house, such as the kitchen, while you keep a close eye on it. The other is to place the puppy in a comfortable but enclosed living and sleeping box, or crate, until you can supervise its activities. In either case, the puppy will be limited to a small area in which to play and sleep, an area that it will naturally be reluctant to soil.
When accidents happen, mildly chastise the puppy and immediately take it to a familiar outdoor place. Young puppies need to eliminate often, so be sure to go outside frequently in the early days—right after each feeding and anytime you suspect there’s a need. The necessary outings will eventually be reduced, but control develops slowly.
If you think that crates are cruel, rest assured that they are not when used judiciously. Many dogs appreciate having a designated space of their own, and certainly it is kind to accomplish housebreaking quickly and efficiently. Most housebreaking problems originate with the softhearted owner who lets an untrained puppy have free run of the house. The puppy then falls into the habit of soiling the floors and furniture, and for years afterward, may be subjected to constant corrections. If you do use a crate, make sure it is big enough. A dog should be able to stand up and turn around comfortably in the crate. And never leave a dog in a crate all day. Give your puppy plenty of attention and playtime both in and out of the confinement area.
Some apartment dwellers have a harder time with housebreaking because they can’t get outside as often as necessary. Therefore, they may opt to use paper training as an intermediate step to full housebreaking.
To paper train a dog, begin by covering the entire floor of one room (preferably a small room such as the kitchen) with several layers of newspaper and confine the puppy to that area. Replace soiled newspapers with fresh ones as necessary. After a day or two, leave a small corner of the room bare. If the puppy chooses the bare corner to urinate or defecate, give a mild correction and place the puppy on the newspaper. But remember, a correction is useful only if you catch the dog in the act. Never drag the puppy over to a soiled area and then scold it. Dogs are simply not able to understand what you are trying to teach them in that situation. They will not associate the correction with the housebreaking accident. If you cannot catch the puppy in the act, simply clean the mess and be patient with your dog.
As the puppy grasps the idea of the paper, gradually decrease the amount of covered floor until you are left with a papered space equivalent to two full newspaper sheets. Allow the puppy to use that area for a little while as you begin to reinforce the idea of eliminating outdoors. When the puppy seems to understand that the street is the proper place for elimination, remove the papers. During this transition time, watch carefully for any indication that the pup needs to go out, such as frantically searching for the papers, and respond immediately with a walk outside.
As with direct housebreaking, keep the puppy absolutely confined (in this case to the paper-training area) until the lesson is fully learned.
USING A TRAINING COLLAR AND LEASH
Before you begin training your dog, you will need a training (choke or slip) collar and a lead. The choke collar is usually made of sturdy metal with a loop at each end. The correct size is determined by measuring around the largest part of the dog’s head and adding one inch. The collar is formed by slipping the chain through one of the rings; the other ring will be used to attach the lead. Training leads are typically six feet long and made of leather or webbing a quarter inch to a full inch wide.
Because training is done with the dog on your left side, the choke collar is worn with the loose ring on the right side of the dog’s neck. When placed correctly on the dog, the choke collar will look like the letter “p,” and incorrectly will resemble the number “9.” The correct use of the choke collar is to give a light, quick snap on the lead, which momentarily tightens the collar around the neck, followed by release. If the collar is positioned properly, it should immediately loosen.
Training collars are effective because they allow you to exert as much or as little control as necessary to get the dog’s attention or to urge it into the right position or direction. A slight tug may be all that is required. Never use the training collar to exert constant pressure on the dog’s neck. In the right hands, a training collar and lead are practical tools; in the wrong hands, they can be harmful or even cruel.
Before you begin training, gently introduce the collar and lead to the dog. Let it wear the collar for a day before trying anything further. When you feel the dog is accustomed to the lead, take your end and walk around, applying little or no pressure. Gradually, over a short period, increase your control until the dog learns the lead is not a threat. When you reach the point where you can persuade the dog to move in the general direction you want by making gentle snaps on the lead, you are ready to begin serious training.
Obedience training should begin at approximately four to six months, when the dog has sufficient powers of concentration to learn. As a rule of thumb, puppies that are still teething are generally too young for serious training. Conversely, it’s never too late to train an older dog. Dogs are intelligent animals and can learn at any age.
Every civilized dog should know at least five basic commands: Heel, Sit, Stay, Down, and Come. These are the core exercises required for a Companion Dog degree in AKC Novice obedience competition, where they are regarded as the minimum requirements that make a dog a true companion. Even if you are not training for competition, one rule remains: The dog must learn to obey you instantly, with one and only one command. A sure sign of insufficient training is the repeated command, usually delivered in a steadily rising voice, which is only reluctantly obeyed by the dog, if at all.
Training sessions should take place regularly once or twice each day, starting with just five minutes and gradually increasing to no more than 30 minutes. Longer sessions will bore your dog (and you as well) and will actually devalue the training process. Your demeanor during training sessions should be businesslike, but don’t forget to be friendly and offer frequent praise. Afterward, always take some time to play with your dog to ease the pressure and show that your relationship is amiable.
All movement exercises, such as Heel and Come, use commands that combine the dog’s name with the desired action. When teaching stationary exercises, such as Sit and Stay, the trainer uses only the command. This is because when your dog is moving, hearing its name helps the dog focus on you. During a training session, a stationary dog should always be focused on you.
Heeling is taught with the dog on your left side. Start to walk by calling the dog’s name and commanding, “Fido, Heel!” Give the command just as you take the first step, starting with your left foot, and simultaneously give a light snap with the leash to persuade the dog to come along. Use only as much force as necessary to get the dog in motion. As you walk along, continue urging the dog to walk at your left side, with its neck and shoulder even with your left leg, by snapping the leash. Each time you snap, give the command “Heel!” and follow with praise. It need only be a few brief words, such as, “That’s it, good dog!”
Since this is the first time the dog is being asked to perform on command, it will take a good deal of work before your pup understands what is going on. But if you are kind and patient, your dog will soon learn to perform with enthusiasm. It bears repeating that the secret of successful training is the correct use of the choke collar—the quick snap and release. Despite its name, the collar is not meant to choke a dog; never exert a steady pull on the lead. The collar is meant to get instant attention and correct when necessary, not harm the dog. The less often it is used and with the least amount of force, the better. Furthermore, you must remember to give praise after each snap. However mild your correction, each is a discomfort to the dog. If you praise immediately, it will remove the sting without removing the lesson.
Practice heeling in brief but lengthening sessions two or more times a day until you have to give only one command as you start walking and do not have to use the leash for corrections. Go through a variety of maneuvers, such as walking in circles and around corners, always keeping the dog at your side with snaps and praise, until you are confident that it is walking with you voluntarily. At that point you should be ready to start teaching the Sit exercise. But continue to regularly practice heeling as you work on other commands.
An obedience-trained dog will sit facing straight forward at the handler’s left side with its shoulder square to the handler’s knee. The dog will sit automatically as soon as the handler stops moving.
To teach the Sit command, walk with the dog heeling at your left side. As you stop, give the command “Sit!” and simultaneously slide your left hand, palm down, fingers spread, toward the dog’s rear and gently cup the rear into the sitting position as you bring your right hand straight up gently applying pressure to the training collar to raise the dog’s head. Praise immediately every time your dog sits. Hold the dog in this position for a moment, then give the Heel command and resume walking. Again stop, give the Sit command, guide the dog into sitting position, and keep it seated a little longer.
Gradually, as the dog begins to understand, you will be able to abandon the hand and lead correction, and eventually abandon the command. The dog will sit automatically when you come to a stop, waiting either for you to start moving again or for a release through an established release word, such as “OK!”
Once the dog has learned to sit when you stop walking, you are ready to teach the Sit from any position. Put the collar and lead on and give the Sit command, guiding the dog into position as before. Concentrate on the Sit training until the dog will sit on command with no corrections, and then begin to introduce the Stay.
A dog taught the Stay command will remain seated until released. To teach the Stay, place your dog in a sitting position with the lead on. Command “Stay!” as you place the palm of your left hand in front of the dog’s muzzle and, starting with your right foot, take one step away. Use your release word to signal that the exercise is over, then praise your dog. The longest you should make the dog stay during the first few lessons is ten to twenty seconds. Very gradually increase the time and distance you step away, until the dog will stay in place for at least three minutes.
If the dog gets up, calmly walk over and place it in the Sit, give the Stay command again, and walk away.
When your dog understands the Sit-Stay, you are ready to teach the Stand-Stay. This exercise is particularly useful during grooming or veterinary examinations.
The Stand-Stay is taught from the Heel position. While heeling with the dog, slowly come to a halt and give the command, “Stand!” As you do so, use the lead to stop the dog’s forward motion and prevent it from sitting by placing your left palm in front of your dog’s right hind leg, at the top. Do not correct or scold the dog for trying to sit, since that’s what you’ve been teaching up to this point. Simply start walking again with the Heel command, take a few more steps, stop, say “Stand!” and use your left hand more firmly to prevent the dog from sitting. Understandably the dog may be confused by the change in strategy, so praise reassuringly.
Continue practicing until the dog gets the idea that when you say “Stand!” the usual Heel and Sit routine does not apply. If it tries to sit, simply start heeling again with the accompanying command. Combine this training with normal Sits when you stop walking.
Now add the familiar Stay command and start practicing again. When the dog will stand firmly at your side until you start heeling again, you can begin leaving the dog in a Stand-Stay as you take a step or two away. If the dog attempts to move or follow you, give a firm “No!” and then repeat “Stay!” guiding it back into position with your hands and the lead. Step away again and move slowly until you are at the length of the leash. Stay there only a few seconds before returning to praise and release the dog.
Mix up the Sit-Stay and Stand-Stay commands during a training session so your dog clearly understands the difference. As training progresses, slowly increase the time you are away from the dog until you reach at least one minute while the dog remains in a Stand-Stay and three minutes while it holds the Sit-Stay. Then begin to move around the dog while it is sitting or standing. Still holding the lead, walk away and circle around the dog, being careful that the lead neither tugs nor drags across the dog’s face. Continue until the dog will stay quietly and confidently for three minutes, whether or not you are in sight. Do not try to stop the dog’s head from turning to watch you, but gently and firmly correct any break from position, then reinforce it with the command again and leave once more.
Remember to praise after every correction and when your dog does something right without correction. At the risk of taxing your patience, we have not written “praise” after every sentence in this section, but it should appear in your mind nonetheless. Praise is an integral part of your dog’s learning process; there is no such thing as too much praise, only too little. Remember that your dog works to gain your praise and to please you.
To begin teaching your dog to lie down on command, start with the dog sitting in the Heel position. Kneel down on your right knee so that you are at the dog’s level. Place your left hand on the dog’s shoulders. Take your right hand and place it behind the dog’s front legs. As you say the word “down” simultaneously apply gentle pressure to the dog’s shoulders and scoop the dog’s front legs out until the dog is in the down position. Stroke the dog’s back for a few seconds to encourage it to stay down and relax. Once this is accomplished, praise the dog for being good.
Then use your release word and praise again. Command the dog to sit for another try. Continue until the dog will lie down on command without your assistance. After a few days, you should be able to stand erect and give only one “Down!” for your dog to lie at your side. From this point you can improvise until the dog goes down when you are several feet away. This lesson should be easier than before, because the dog already knows the meaning of “Stay!”
Coming when called may be the most important command your dog must learn. It is last on our training schedule because the dog must first know how to Heel and Sit.
While your dog is heeling at your side, take a sudden step backward and say, “Fido, come!” As you give the command, snap the lead to turn the dog around to its right and head back toward you. When the dog is facing you, keep walking backward, urging your dog to come toward you with continued gentle snaps of the leash as you repeat the command “Come!” Praise is particularly important during this confusing turn of events.
As the dog reaches you, stop and give the Sit command. It may be necessary to guide the dog into a sitting position directly in front of you, but there is a very good chance you won’t have to. Tell the dog to Stay and walk around into the Heel position, then start up at heeling again for another try. Continue working this way until you need only step backward and give the command, with no urging from the leash, to get the dog to turn, walk to you, and sit. This is called a Recall.
From here, it’s simple to progress to a Recall from a distance. Command the dog to sit, step away to the end of the leash, then give the “Come!” command. If the dog hesitates, a slight snap on the lead will tell the dog to get up, come to you, and sit again in front.
The key to the success of this method is that there is never a contest of brute strength between you and your dog. The dog is already in motion, heeling, when you first give the Come command, so there is no tugging on the lead to get the dog up from a Sit or Down before it understands what “Come!” means. Remember to praise every time your dog comes to you. And remember, never call your dog to you for punishment or scolding.
BEYOND THE BASICS
Once your dog reliably responds to these five basic commands, you are ready for the final step: obedience without the control of the lead, also known as off-lead work. In preparation, you must be absolutely certain your dog will obey commands on lead without hesitation. Do this training inside the house, just in case. Seat the dog at your side as before. Next, remove the lead and start with the Heel command. Don’t be surprised if your dog heels right along with you! If you have worked hard together during previous training sessions, your dog will have learned to reliably follow your commands.
Go through the whole routine—the Stands, Downs, Stays, and Recalls—just as if the leash were there. In most cases, if all has gone well before, all will go well now. If not, put the lead back on for correction whenever necessary. Work on any problems until the dog is performing properly, and then remove the lead and try again. It should work.
Some points to remember: At first, don’t try the Recall off lead from too great a distance. Try it from six feet or so and slowly work up to greater distances. Like everything else in training, gradual progress is the key to success. Never work your dog off lead outside until you are absolutely sure it will come to you reliably every time you call.
With patience, consistency, and time, every owner can have a well-trained dog if they apply the methods outlined here. Training is not accomplished in a day, a week, or even a month, but it can be enjoyable if it is undertaken with the right attitude. The reward is having a dog that is under control and a true companion.