Summer is just about over and school is beginning. So, I thought I’d write about the basics of beginning to train your dog. Before you start training your dog a command/cue, there are few nuggets of information that you’ll need to keep in mind.
First, in order for your dog to perform a command, he must know it is directed toward him. Every command is prefaced with your dog’s name. For example, “Fido <your dog turns his head towards you>, Sit.” If you say, “Sit, Fido.” your dog didn’t know you were talking to him, so he didn’t hear that first part, Sit.
Now that you have your dog’s attention, when you give a command say it only once. It is very tempting for us to repeat what we say over and over until our dog finally complies. This only teaches him that he doesn’t have to perform the behavior the first several times it’s said. He’ll learn that Sit = Sit, Sit, SIT, I said Sit your butt down now. Dogs are discriminate learners; meaning, they learn exactly as you teach. Say, “Fido, Sit” along with the hand gesture. And that’s it. Really, it’s that simple.
If he doesn’t Sit right away, hold the position (do not move!) until he Sits. This is an important step in your dog learning that he must do as he is told. If after a couple of minutes, you give up, your dog just learned that all he has to do to get out of Sitting is wait a few minutes and you won’t make him do it. Remember, you are the one training your dog, not the other way around.
It also teaches you not to throw out commands that have no meaning. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say Sit, Down, Stay but their dog never completed the first task before the human went onto the next one. I guess they were just hoping if you throw several commands, the odds are one of them will work.
Once your dog completes the cue you have just given, you have less than 3 seconds to reward. After 3 seconds, his ability to associate the reward with the behavior is gone. That is why it is extremely important, especially in the beginning, to reward quickly. As soon as the behavior is provided, tell him Good Boy! and pop a treat in his mouth. If you say, “Fido, Sit”, be sure to reward while he’s Sitting, not when he bounces back up to receive his reward. He’ll learn Sit means either 1) Sit and then Stand or 2) Stand (because that’s when he’s getting the treat).
Lastly, the leash is used sometimes for safety in certain environments. He can’t walk off or go after a squirrel if he’s tethered to you. But, it shouldn’t feel like a punishment from your dog’s point of view. Hold the leash loosely and do not tighten your arm while holding the leash. If you’re holding the leash tightly, your dog’s natural opposition reflex will kick in; he’ll pull away from you. See my earlier blog for more info as to why dogs pull on their leash.
Here are the training nuggets boiled down:
- Have your dog’s attention
- Say the command only once with the hand gesture
- Hold position with him until he complies
- Give the reward within 3 seconds
- Have a relaxed arm while holding the leash