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August 23, 2013

Teaching Basic Commands

Good manners are as necessary for dogs as they are for people. A dog that jumps, pulls, barks, or lacks self-control often finds itself left out of family activities.

Teach your dog a few basic obedience commands (such as sit, down, come, and stay) using positive training methods, and you will be rewarded with a well-behaved dog who can handle most everyday social situations.

Timing is everything

Timing is very important. You must mark your dog's behavior the instant he complies with the command. Saying a single word such as "Yes!" or using a clicker is a good way to mark a correct behavior. It lets your dog know immediately that he's been successful.

A note: bribing versus rewarding 

Rewarding your dog's good behavior with a treat is an excellent training tool, but if rewards are overused, they can become bribes.

To avoid the treat becoming a bribe, stop luring your dog with the treat as soon as he begins to catch on to what you're asking him to do. Ask him to "sit," wait two or three seconds for him to comply, then give him the treat if he sits.

Life rewards

Food is the easiest reward to use when you are just learning to train your dog, but it is not the only reward you can use. A toy, a game of fetch, or going for a ride in the car can work, too.

For example, let's say you want to train your dog not to run out the door when you open it. Try this:

  • Tell your dog to sit-stay by the front door of your house.
  • If he complies, praise him, open the door and let him go outside. Going outside is the reward.
  • If he gets up as you open the door, close the door and try again.
  • Repeat the process until he stays in position while you open the door. Only then does he get the reward of going outside.
  • Use the same technique for opening the car door so your dog can go for a ride. If he remains in position, he is rewarded by getting into the car and going for a ride.

Mind your P's and cues

Your posture and body cues tell your dog a lot. Your dog learns to read your body language much as you learn to read his.

  • Stand up when you give your dog a command. If you only give commands while sitting or squatting on the floor, your dog will learn to respond only when you're in that position.
  • Keep your hands out of your pockets. If his treats are in your pockets, hands in the pockets becomes the cue that he will get a treat if he does what you ask. You want your command to be the cue, not the hand in the pocket. If your hands are always in view, you can keep him guessing.
  • Similarly, don't hold a bag of treats in your hand while training. Your dog will learn he only needs to comply with commands if he sees the treat bag, not every time you ask him.
  • Train your dog everywhere, not just in one room of your house. If you only practice in the kitchen, your dog will learn he only needs to do a command in the kitchen.
  • As your dog learns to do a command reliably in one location, move to other rooms of the house and the yard. Practice wherever you can, even on your daily walks.
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