Teaching the Basics
In the last installment we talked about how important it is to develop trust and respect between you and your dog. You do this by being fair, even-handed and involved. You make sure the dog has good food and bedding, toys and outside exercise. You never try to intimidate a dog to do what you want by displays of anger or hitting the dog.
That will just cause him to lose respect for you. Dogs are pack animals and highly intelligent, which you already know. The dog looks to you as a pack leader. So be a leader.
How do you do this? You give the dog jobs to do that make the dog feel useful and you praise the dog when it does what you want. You also want to stimulate your dog by getting him to think. Why should you go to the trouble to teach your dog things like teaching him to sit, or not to jump up and pummel visitors greeting them at the door?
First of all, remember, the dog most of all wants to please you. Dogs thrive on rules, consistency and expectation. A dog that feels useful, who pleases and receives praise, is a happy dog, one who has less a motivation to get stressed out and chew your furniture while you’re at the corner store.
The place to start is to teach your dog two of the most basic commands and the easiest for the dog to learn, how to sit, and to stay. Always start with the easiest commands. After all, you’re learning just like the dog is, in your case, how to train the dog you’re training.
How to sit. Take a treat, a dog bone or other, and hold it slightly above the dog’s nose. Your dog will be saying in his mind, oh boy! Gimme! Now, saying the word “sit, sit,” bring the bone slowly back over the dog’s head. The dog will follow the progress of the bone and likely sit.
When that happens, make a clicking sound with your mouth (clicking with your mouth somehow gets the dog’s undivided attention), and then give the treat and praise and pet the dog. The dog knows he’s done well.
If the dog keeps backing up and won’t sit, start the exercise with the dog backed up to a wall to prevent a further retreat. Remember, in teaching a dog to do anything, be patient and consistent. Do not make punishment or angry voice part of the curriculum. The dog will simply say to himself, I refuse to learn from a jerk. I’ll go chew your sofa instead.
Repeat this again and again. Remember, consistency. It won’t take the dog long to know that when you say “sit,” and when he does it, a treat and praise are forthcoming. There is also a bond that perhaps you lacked before developing because the two of you are working on something together.
Once you have taught your dog how to sit, you can teach him how to stay. You will attempt to teach the dog to remain in a seated position for longer periods of time and holding the position as you move away. You do this by getting the dog to sit, and then count to two before you make the clicks and give the treat. Slowly increase the time between the time the dog sits, and when you give the treat.
When you reach ten seconds, and the dog is still seated waiting for the treat, put a flat palm out toward the dog and say, “stay!” Now, instead of just “sit,” the command also includes “stay.” The dog is learning a two-part command.
The second part of this training is getting the dog to remain in position while you move farther away. If the dog successfully remains seated, click and treat. If he doesn’t, make a smaller movement away. You practice until the dog realizes it should stay in one spot.
If the dog fails to perform two times, change position or lessen the distractions.
You want to introduce small distractions at first, to challenge the dog to remain in place. For example, taking a step right or left, increasing the distance from the dog and the time lapse before you give the treat. Never remain in one spot too long without giving the treat, and don’t stand still too soon or your dog will break concentration and run to you.