Training Your Dog

A Very, Very Well-Trained Dog

The object of training is to teach your dog to understand and respond to simple commands. This will make everyday life more harmonious and enjoyable for you both. Training is much easier if your pet is confident, happy, and eager to please. That will depend on the relationship you have established with your pet and how well it has been socialized.

Starting with the Basics

Two of the most important skills for a dog are to walk at heel on a leash and to come to its owner when called. If your dog cannot be relied on to do these, you are likely to have problems whenever you take it out in public. You are at risk of allowing the dog to become a nuisance or even a menace to others. You cannot assume everyone it meets will be a dog lover.

Before teaching your puppy to walk on the leash, get it used to wearing a collar. Then, in the house or yard, persuade the puppy to follow you by concealing a tidbit in your hand.

Reward it when it does so. Now attach the leash and get the dog to follow you. Don't put any tension on the leash. Go for a walk, using the tidbit and praising the dog as it walks beside you. Tell the dog to "walk" or "heel" if its attention wanders. If all else fails, produce a squeaky toy from your pocket. Do not make the lessons too long and keep them enjoyable. Stop as soon as the puppy tires or becomes obviously bored.

To teach the puppy to come when called, get one person to hold it while you move away. Then call it to you by name. Do not reach out to grab the collar before the puppy reaches you. Praise it lavishly when it comes and reward it with a tidbit. Call the puppy to you every chance you have. Keep the puppy on a long leash and practice calling it several times during a walk. Once the puppy comes regularly to you, you can begin to let it off the leash for short distances.

Use the same system of reward to teach your puppy basic instructions such as "sit" (it should always do this at the curbside before crossing the street), "down," and "stay" (see below). Never use similar sounding command words for two different actions — you will confuse the puppy, who will not know what you want. Teach it a release word such as "OK" or "finish" so that it knows when to stop the exercise. Never shout at or strike a puppy who is slow to respond.

Training Classes

First-time owners will find their task made easier if they attend a course of training classes. They are also effective in dealing with a strong-willed dog that has proved to have bad habits. Even more experienced owners will often find that classes improve their training methods and help them understand their dog's behavior. Personal recommendation is the best way of finding a good trainer in your area. Arrange a visit without your dog being present to observe the class and see if you like the methods being used. Do not enroll for classes if the trainer relies on punishment rather than reward or encourages the use of choke chains or prong collars. Young puppies should not usually start classes until they are 14 weeks old. Make sure the class is small (6 to 12 puppies only) and that it is for puppies only. Your puppy will not benefit from being with adult dogs, especially if it is timid or excitable.

Getting Your Dog to "Stay"

  1. With its leash on, make the puppy sit. Reward it as usual. Stand beside the puppy and say "stay", If it remains sitting, reward it again.
  2. Gradually increase the duration of the "sit" and "stay".
  3. Tell the puppy to move by using a release word such as "OK".

Teaching Your Dog to "Heel"

  1. Have the puppy stand next to you on a short leash of about 3 feet (1 m). Reward it.
  2. Slacken the leash and move forward, saying "heel".
  3. If the puppy does not cooperate, stop walking. Recall it to your side.
  4. Start again. Praise it when it walks beside you.

Training Your Dog to "Sit"

  1. Kneel down in front of the puppy.
  2. Make sure it sees the food reward in your hand.
  3. Hold the reward in front of the puppy. As it follows it with its nose, raise your hand, forcing it to bend its hindlegs.
  4. As it does so, say "sit". Repeat the exercise over and over.

Showing Your Dog How To "Lie Down"

  1. As before, show the puppy you have a food reward.
  2. Move your hand down toward the ground in front of the puppy. It should follow it with its nose.
  3. The puppy should begin to lie down to get closer to the reward.
  4. As it does so, keep repeating the command "down".

Q&A

How can I stop my adult Collie, Peggy, from begging food from us when we are at table?

Try feeding Peggy just before you sit down to eat. If she still comes to the table and you cannot keep your family or visitors from feeding her, then tie her up at the other side of the room or put her in another room while you are eating. Save table scraps to put in her dish if you want to, and feed them to her when you have finished.

Wink, my crossbred puppy, has taken a step backward in his toilet training. After putting him outside, I stand in the doorway to watch him "perform," then reward him as he comes back into the house. Now he has started messing in the house even after a trip outside. What I am doing wrong?

Your mistake has been to reward Wink when he comes back inside, so he thinks you will be pleased if he relieves himself when he comes indoors instead of out in the yard. Go outside with him and reward him with a tidbit or lots of praise immediately after he has finished.

Our 2-year-old Pointer, Roscoe, pulls really hard on the leash. My daughter has real difficulty controlling him. How do we get him to hold back?

Try using a head collar; they are usually excellent for increasing control. You might also try playing a vigorous game before you go out for a walk. This will allow Roscoe to let off steam first.

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