Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Why did you get your dog?

Training Your Dog with Patience and Kindness, Part III

Why did you get YOUR dog?

By: Rio Sawhill


The reasons that people end up with their canine companions are as diverse as the people of our island. Some folks get a dog and treat it almost like a child, pampering it as if it were human. Many others get dogs for protection and security, to alert them to people on their property. Some people can’t help themselves when they see a puppy; it is just so cute that they take it home. Still others don’t really plan their dog ownership, but by feeding a boonie dog it becomes their dog by default.

It doesn’t matter if you want your dog to be a guard dog that is never around strangers, or a friendly lap dog that will allow everyone to pet it, there is some basic training that will make you and your pets lives much easier.

We have explored most of the basic ideas that make up the foundation of a dog’s training in the first two articles of this series. In this final installment we will explain the finishing touches and talk about what may be needed to remind your dog of what you expect as it grows and matures.

First let’s look back at the basic commands that we have tried to teach our dog so far1:

* EASY: Our dogs, as well as our selves, need to be able to stay calm.

* ORIENTEERING: A sound or word that grabs our dog’s attention.

* RELEASE: Lets our pet know that they are free to be a dog.

* SIT: Basic behavior here…a sitting dog is NOT jumping on people.

* STAY: Basic at first, but staying for a short time is necessary for later lessons.

* HEEL: By keeping the dog near our heels as we walk, we teach the dog who is in charge.

* DOWN: Lying down is relaxing for dogs and can help to calm them.

* COME: We definitely want to be able to summon our pets on command.

We also began to train our dogs in proper off-the-leash behavior, starting with some psychological “leashes” that help ensure they will stick around when the real leash comes off in an open area.

All of these commands build open each other. It is quite possible to have a dog that will come when called, but it has a hard time being calm. And just like with children, repeating a command over and over again may dilute the message. I can’t count the number of people I have seen repeating “NO!” to their dog as it continuously jumps on someone, or nips at another dog, totally oblivious to its owners words.

So we try our best to teach our dogs all these basics, for the safety of others and, just as importantly, for our dogs safety. Nobody likes to see a dog get hit by a car; a dog that heels and obeys the “STAY” command has a better chance at avoiding that fate. And one who has been trained off-the-leash is even more likely to follow these commands.

At this point we have been training our dogs in an enclosed area, getting them used to being off the leash and coming to us, and heeling with the leash looped loosely around their necks. For the second phase of our off-the-leash training, we begin with the leash still looped so loosely around their necks that it is not even touching them. We are trying to control our dogs with our voices-not by the leash. Don’t forget the “easy” chant that we learned at the very beginning to help soothe our dog’s excitement.

Once we have confidence that our dog is responding to our verbal commands, it’s time to remove the leash. You can just slip the loop off their head, or if that excites them too much, try letting the end of the leash drop while holding the loop and it will just come undone. Either way, once the leash is gone we give a command to our dog. Whatever the dog is best at is a good start. Tell it to “sit”, or step a few feet away and tell it to “come”. Don’t try the hardest commands right off the bat, we do what our dog knows BEST!

As the dog continues to obey while off-the-leash, slowly increase the distance and time between commands. It is important to make this process gradual, and to pay attention to the dog’s attention. In the beginning, it may only be a few moments of total control while our pups are unleashed. Make the most of it, but be ready to re-leash the dog if necessary. And just like before, balance training time with a healthy amount of just-for-fun time for the dog. Nobody performs as well when it’s all work and no play.

Above all, remember that a dog is still just a dog, and it will probably make a run for it at some point. That is almost a given. The key is to STAY CALM and not turn to a ranting, yelling psychopath chasing after a fun-loving pet. Chasing a dog usually has the opposite effect of the one intended; dogs seem to think that pursuit equals play-time! So above all, when the dog decides to take advantage of its new-found freedom, try not to overreact. Follow after the dog slowly; repeating calming verbal corrections like “easy” and the dog’s name, until you are close enough to say “come” in a normal voice. It is generally not helpful to repeatedly shout “COME” for minutes on end.

Once the dog does come, PRAISE it for obeying. Do NOT punish it for its initial mischievousness! This can be a hard, especially if you have been chasing the dog for a while. This is the time to praise the dog for coming. Scolding the dog at this point will only confuse the animal. Just prepare yourself that this is going to happen, as the animal is going to test his/her boundaries. As long as we begin these lessons in a safe area, we can be okay with situations like this at the start.

Practice everything that we have learned with our dogs up to this point. Tell the dog to sit and stay. Then walk away, reminding the dog to stay if necessary. Get far away and tell them to lie down, and then call “Come!” Walk with them and allow them to move ahead of us and then use the “heel” command to bring them back to our side. It is so wonderful to be able to walk away from our dog for fifty yards, then turn around and find them sitting right where we left them! And then having them come as we call, sprinting towards us with their tongues flapping out of their mouths! It’s a sight you have to behold for yourself.

Continue to practice all of these commands according to your dog’s needs, realizing that some canines learn certain commands more quickly than others. If we are having trouble heeling off the leash, we can go back and practice the psychological links that we discussed in lesson four. If our dog is excitable, we get back to the “EASY” chant and petting that helps to calm us both down.

We can now begin to incorporate these commands into our daily routines. Use “sit” and “stay” as we are moving around the house and yard doing activities like going into the fridge or going into the garden. Surprise the dog with “come” when they least expect it. And always remember the “easy“ command. Praise often, telling the dog what a good job he/she is doing is an important reinforcement of their new behaviors.

Last but not least, love them as best you can. They will return it ten-fold. We wish you the best of luck with your furry companions. Be kind.


1 The dog training methods provided below were obtained in full from The Gentle EasyKind Way: Behavioral Training Methods. By Carl A. Koski.

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