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Basic commands

Teaching your dog can be a fun and rewarding experience. Dogs are fast learners who rely on you for their training. Training also helps to nurture your relationship. Together, the basic commands - "Come", "Sit", "Stay", "No", "Down", "Leave it" and "Off" - will shape a good canine citizen. Reliably trained dogs have an easier and less stressful life than their untrained counterparts, and are less liable to stray.

Young puppies make eager pupils, so as soon as your new arrival comes home, it's time to start training. It's a myth that puppies must be six months or older before they can be properly trained. Once they're up and about, the younger they are, the easier it is to teach them and the faster they learn! Puppies are like sponges, waiting to soak up all the learning you can throw at them.

Here you'll find some advice on the basics, for more detailed or advanced training advice, try contacting a professional trainer (visit www.capbt.org or www.apdt.co.uk) invest in a training DVDs and read some of the many good books available on the subject.

Clicker Training

A clicker is a small plastic box (available from pet stores) that fits in the palm of your hand. Press one end with your thumb and it makes a distinct double 'click' noise.

  • To tune your dog or puppy into the clicker, arm yourself with a dozen treats.
  • Hand them to your pet one by one, with a short pause between each one.
  • At the exact moment he or she takes the treat, give a click.
  • Your dog will soon realise that the click means a treat, and will begin to work hard to earn his click. It becomes a 'yes' marker - a way of telling your dog he or she has done well at the moment of the action.
  • Many training classes use the clicker. But the exercises below can be done with or without a clicker.

Training Rules

  • Keep training sessions short and sweet. It's better to do six five-minute sessions than one half-hour each day - young puppies often lose concentration easily.
  • Only train when you are in a good mood, or you may take your stress out on your pet.
  • Always end training sessions on a good note with an exercise you know your dog can do easily; so you finish with the taste of success.
  • At first, train with no distractions. Establish what you are trying to teach in a quiet environment and only add distractions later, so that your dog learns to respond in a range of environments.
  • Training must always be reward-based; treats, toys, games and cuddles. Negative, compulsive, punishing techniques are cruel and don't work. Never use a choke or check chain as you can injure your dog's neck very easily. If you need more physical control or a calmer dog, or one who communicates better, fit a headcollar such as a Gentle Leader.

Sit

The first training exercise you should attempt.

  • Take a treat, and show it to your pet.
  • When your dog shows interest in it, he will follow it with his head, trying to get at it.
  • Hold the treat above your dog's head, so he looks up, and take it to just behind his nose, so that he has to move his head backwards.
  • The only way your dog can reach the treat is to put his bottom on the floor.
  • The moment he does so, click, and give him the treat and lots of praise.
  • Within a few attempts, your dog will know how to earn his click and treat, and his 'sit' response will get quicker.
  • When he fully understands what is expected, say "Sit" as he sits, so he learns to associate the word with the action.
  • Now you have added the cue, with practice, you will be able to ask him to sit rather than lure him into position with the treat.

Down

This is the command to get your dog to lie down. Don't confuse your dog by saying "Down" to get off the sofa; use "Off" for that instead and reward him when is back on the floor.

  • Hold a treat in your hand, with a bit sticking out so your dog can see it.
  • Show it to your dog, and then place your hand on the floor. Your dog will try every which way to get at the treat.
  • Eventually, he will lie down. The moment he does, click and treat.
  • Keep at it, and when he understands that your hand on the floor means 'lie down' add the command "Down" when he does the action.
  • With practice, he will go down on command, without the treat.

Come!

Teaching your dog to come when called (known as the 'recall') is probably the most important thing your dog will ever learn. Calling your dog back if he is heading towards a busy road can be a life-saver, and teaching him to stop playing with other dogs when asked will save your time and temper. The key is to start young (from six to eight weeks), as young puppies love following their owners around. By six months, your dog will be more independent, and the recall will be far harder to teach.

  • Ask a friend or family member to help you with this exercise.
  • Get your assistant to kneel on the floor, keeping the puppy close in a 'sit' position.
  • Sit right in front in front of your puppy and call him to you, by enthusiastically saying his name followed by the word "Come!". He will only have to reach forward to get to you
  • Look at your puppy, and hold your arms out wide as if to embrace him. You must look and sound very excited to see him. It may help if you hold a treat in your hand or his favourite toy.
  • Now start with him a couple of paces away and repeat. If you look irresistible, your puppy will race over to you. As soon as he comes, click, treat, and praise him like there's no tomorrow!
  • Practice little and often, gradually increasing the distance your puppy has to travel before he reaches you. Always remember to shower him with praise when he comes to you.
  • Once your puppy will perform the recall reliably, start calling him when he cannot see you. Play hide-and-seek games in your home, so that your pup has to track you down.
  • Move outside into your garden, and introduce controlled distractions, such as a friend walking past. If you don't have a garden of your own, use a friend's. Never start this phase in a public park.
  • Only when your puppy is reliable in an enclosed garden, with distractions, is it time to take your training to the park. Put your dog on an extendable lead or a long training line, perhaps in combination with his headcollar. This will give him a sense of freedom, but will ensure that you remain in control.
  • Practice a few recalls. Remember that you will have to make yourself super-enticing in a park; there's loads of fascinating distractions for a growing puppy.
  • If your puppy shoots off in another direction and ignores your calls, don't chase after him; he'll think this is a great game! Instead, run off in the opposite direction (still holding the end of his training line). Your puppy will be confused, and will end up chasing you. If you run off, it will teach him to keep a close eye on you when he is out, in case he accidentally loses you!
  • It's a mistake to shout at a puppy for not coming, or to tell him off when he does finally arrive as this will confuse him. You want him to associate coming to you with being rewarded. Be patient and practice often.

Stay

'Stay' is probably the most difficult exercise to teach. Puppies just hate being still! But with short, frequent practice this exercise can be mastered, and is useful in a number of situations, such as when your dog is about to dive out of the car before you put his lead on.

  • Start with the 'Down-Stay'. Ask your dog to go 'Down'.
  • Say "Stay" in a steady tone of voice, and put your hand out in front of you with your palm facing forwards.
  • Wait a few seconds and then click and reward your dog for staying put. Practice this several times.
  • Next, ask him to go 'Down', take a step back, and say "Stay".
  • After about three seconds, click, step forwards and reward him. Praise him for being really clever.
  • Gradually increase the length and the distance of the 'Stay'. But don't try to do too much too soon.
  • If your dog breaks the 'Stay', don't shout at him. Simply not clicking or rewarding is lesson enough. Getting cross is counterproductive.
  • Once your dog has mastered the 'Down-Stay', teach your dog to 'Stay' in the 'sit' position, and finally in a 'stand' position, using exactly the same technique.

No!

Most training succeeds by rewarding good behaviour, and ignoring unwanted responses. Your dog wants your approval. But sometimes it's necessary to tell your dog that his behaviour is not on. Rather than yelling or constantly saying 'No', fast progress can also be made through first teaching your dog a 'no' signal, that tells him to stop whatever he is doing whenever he hears it.

Ideally, unless your dog has a nervous disposition and is easily frightened by sudden noises, you need some dog-training discs. These are five metal discs rather like mini cymbals, joined together on a key fob. They can be held silently, and, at the precise moment that you need to indicate "No!", they can be dropped, to make a unique sound that is unlike any other the dog is likely to encounter.

  • To teach "No!", first get some treats. In the same way that you would teach the dog to associate the click with a treat, you now need to teach him that the sound of the discs means the loss of access to the treat.
  • Place a treat on the floor. As your dog goes to eat it, rattle the discs in your hand. Remove the treat as you rattle the discs but say nothing... let the sound do the work.
  • Over a few repetitions, your dog should stop being startled by the sound and will begin to associate the sound with not getting a reward. Eventually, he won't even attempt to take the treat, anticipating the discs, and give up, looking disappointed.
  • Now get him to perform another action, such as a 'Sit', for which he will given a treat, thus relieving his previous disappointment and frustration.
  • Soon your dog will associate the actions where he has encountered the disc with ones that fail, and will cease trying without you having to use the discs.

Leave it!

  • Your discs can also be used to teach a "Leave it" command.
  • Put something tasty on a table, within your dog's reach. Tell him to "Leave it", count to three, and then give him a treat (but not the one that he has been told to leave).
  • If he goes to take the treat, sound the discs.
  • Over several practice sessions, increase the time he has to wait before he is given a treat.

Off!

  • If you find your dog on the sofa, tell him "Off", and then encourage him to come to you.
  • When he comes 'Off' reward him calmly with praise and a 'click', and use your basic training to ask him to 'sit' or lie 'down' instead. This can then also be rewarded.
  • Consistency is all-important. If one member of the family turns a blind eye to the house rules, you've had it!
  • If he growls at you for attempting to remove him, back off, and seek the help of a qualified behaviourist via your vet’s referral as soon as possible (see www.capbt.org). Never attempt to tackle any aggression problems yourself, as you may make things worse and put yourself at risk.

The information contained in this article is not a substitute for individual veterinary or behavioural advice and is for information purposes only. You should always consult a veterinary surgeon if you have any concerns about your pet’s health. He or she will be able to take a complete medical history and physically examine your pet, to then recommend appropriate individual advice or treatment options. For detailed behavioural advice tailored specifically for your pet, we recommend that you contact a qualified pet behaviourist. For further details of local canine and feline behaviourists practising in your area and how they offer help for with problem pets, please contact The Coape Association of Pet Behaviourists and Trainers at www.capbt.org, or the Association of Pet Dog Trainers at www.apdt.co.uk. Do bear in mind that while dog trainers can take you on as a client directly, pet behaviourists will always require a referral from your veterinary surgeon.

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