Training: How to use commands correctly

I’m doing a series of blogs on basic concepts of dog training.  The last post was on Location, Distance, and Time.  If you haven’t read it, please do that first.

In this one I will cover how to use a command correctly.

For best results in training, I first teach the dog what I want without speaking.  I use a clicker or a verbal “yes” to mark a behavior.  You can lure the dog into position or physically put them in position, then mark with a ‘yes’ and give them a treat.  I will do this over and over until I know the dog is likely to do the behavior.  Then I will add the word for that behavior when the dog is doing it without a lot of help from me.  Why is this better?  Because you do not have to time the word to the action.  You want the dog doing the action before you give it a name.  Less things for the puppy to remember.  Less verbal clutter for them to have to deal with when learning what you want.   Let’s say you wanted to learn sign language.  It would be easier first to learn how to make the sign, then learn what that sign means?  Correct?  Same thing with dog training.  Teach the position, then teach them the word.  Breaking up training into steps makes for quicker learning long term.  When the dog is older, you can add a word to a behavior much sooner, because they know it will have a name.  They understand the game.  Right now with puppy training, they haven’t a clue what all this is really about.

So the order of training would be:

1.  Teach the behavior.
2. Link the behavior to the word and/or hand signal, until you are pretty sure the dog knows the new name of the behavior.
3.  Test the dog to see if they know the behavior by asking for it by name alone (or hand signal).  If they do not respond, place the into that position by luring, using the leash, or using your hands.  Repeat, repeat, repeat.

There are a few rules.

1.  When you ask a dog to do something, ask once then lure or place the dog into that position.  Sometimes you will wait a moment to see if the dog understands the command.  That is fine, but do not repeat your command if they fail to respond.  If they are not focused on you and are distracted, you need to work on attention training and focus, then move back to obedience.  Without the dog’s attention, you will get little accomplished.    Nothing produces a deaf dog like “Sit, sit, sit, siiiittt, SIT”.  Be consistent.  Ask them to sit… then if they do not sit, place them into a sit.

2.  You need to have a clear understand of what you mean by the command you use.   What do you want ‘come’ to mean?  Is it ‘you must be near me now, no questions, this is not a drill’.  Or does it mean ‘Hey, let’s keep moving, get over this way we have stuff to do’.  It can’t mean both.  You need to be consistent in the use of your commands.  This will make for a better trained puppy who fully understands what you mean at all times.  If I say “Let’s Go” my dogs know I want them to get near me and keep moving forward, we are not stopping to visit, etc”.  If I say “Come” it means “return to me now and sit in front of me”.  This is a control word for a dangerous situation.   If they hear ‘come’ they know I mean business and better get their butts moving now.  A similar thing happens with ‘stay’ and ‘wait’ in my home.  If I tell the dogs to ‘wait’ it means to hold back and wait for a second command to follow.  Something is going to happen very soon.  On the other hand, ‘stay’ means do not move your butt for any reason at all until I return to your side.  Stay is a safety command with rigid rules.  Wait is more subjective and means ‘patience grasshopper’.

3.  If you can’t make something happen, do not ask for it.  If you can’t make your dog “come”, do not use the word “come” until you have trained it enough you feel pretty darn sure that dog will come.  Instead of saying ‘come’ to a young puppy with little training, you simply go get that puppy when you need to do something with them.  If you can’t keep up with your puppy and they are running off, you need to have them drag a line so you can control them without stress to you or the dog.  Then you need to train more recalls.

4.  When you are done with training a concept, release the dog by using a word.  I use “FREE”.  Some folks use “OK”.  Whatever you want to use is fine, but having a release word is nice so the dog knows when they can be less focused on you and are free to move around.

One thing to note, dogs pick up hand signals very quickly because they are visual communicators.  I generally suggest teaching the verbal first, then later adding a hand signal.

The next post will be on building eye contact to gain focus with your dog and will include a video.  As Lina is a very submissive dog and does not like eye contact, I am going to video her and attempt to show what to look for and how to encourage it with your new dog.  The pups I raised should not have any issue with eye contact.  I have worked them over and over, showing them it is not threatening and building their confidence.  However, you need to put it on cue, it will make your life so much easier in the long run.




Training: Location, Distance, & Time

Location, Distance, and Time will directly influence every thing you do with your dog.  In this blog post I will attempt to help you understand each of these and what they mean when training.  Every single thing you teach your dog will be tested by these three factors.

Location:  When you increase (CHANGE) the location, the dog will regress in training.

Distance:  When you increase the distance, the dog will regress in training.

Time:  When you increase the time, the dog will regress in training.

So, how do you juggle the training of a young dog with these three factors?  The best way is to only increase one and at the same time decrease the other two.

Let’s say you are working on a sit stay.  You will first teach this concept in your home.  The location is familiar and thus less of a distraction.  A nice quiet room, some treats, some toys,  and your dog.  Training can now begin.  In this location you can teach sit stay, but you would do it up close, with no real distance from the dog or puppy.  What you will be working on is time.  At first you will reward the sit every few seconds.  Then increase the time between treats.  If you decided to step away from the puppy, thus increasing distance, you will now decrease time (step away, step back, treat for staying).  You will slowly add time to your distance (step a way, two breathes, step back, treat), in the familiar location.


Now your puppy has had a few training sessions of 10 minutes each.  His ability to hold his sit stay with you up close is incredible.  With you across the room, he seems calm and comfortable for a minute or two.  Move the location.  You can go outside, either back or front yard, but when you do you will need to decrease both distance and time.  It might only take a few moments for the puppy to grasp he needs to hold that stay outside, but there will probably be a moment where you have to remind him what he is doing.  This is good!  Without a mistake, the puppy cannot learn.   Remember increase time first, then increase distance.


The training needed to proof these concepts becomes less as you go.  What took you 2-3 training rounds in your home when learning a new concept, might take one or two outside, then only one at the park around a bunch of kids.  The dog will start understanding “Oh, I have to do this everywhere we go”.  There might be a place that causes your dog to go into complete spasms of delight.  For Jazz it is watching other dogs run in Agility or Lure Coursing.  If that is the case, you will have to decrease location (get farther from the fun) until you have the dogs mind back on you, then you can work on training.  Always keep these concepts in your mind and if your dog is having trouble, you will need to decrease one or two until full understanding is achieved.

A word about distractions.  This is a 4th factor in your training, yet it is often linked to location.   You can control the amount of distraction’s a location has by time of day.  The park at 5AM or 8PM is less crowded than at 8AM and 5PM, as an example. Train during a less busy time, then go back and train when the distraction level has increased and see how your pup does.  The same holds true for walks around the neighborhood.  Remember you will need to decrease time and distance, when increasing to a distracting location.

If you cannot go outside without your puppy thinking everything is more fun than working, you need to do a few things.

1.  Make sure the puppy has acquitted exercise.   Go for walks, make sure you play some ball and burn off a little bit of energy.

2.  Give the puppy a clue you are about to work by saying “Ready to work?” and show them the treats and leash.  Get them focused on what you are doing.  If they do not want to work, back inside and to the crate for a short nap, then try again.

3.  If they are not highly food motivated, make them work for a meal.  Switch one meal to something suitable for training like boiled/grilled Chicken, Bil Jac frozen food, Fresh Pet, freeze dried raw food, etc.   Something you feel comfortable giving them as a meal, but also something supper yummy and easy to eat as a training treat (not to squishy!!)   Break the meal up into 2 trainings in the evening will work well, with a ‘jackpot’ at the end for doing such a super job (meaning you do not have to train until the food is gone, just give it to them in one big lump).  If they blow you off when you go outside, back in the crate, no meal.  Try again in 15 minutes.  Repeat as needed.

When I post a training video or blog, understand each time I do something with my dogs, these concepts are inherent in my work.  I will jump back and forth, decreasing my time, increasing my distance, switching them up so the dog doesn’t get bored, pushing the dog’s limits yet always keeping these in my mind and how the dog might react in each situation.  I will test, see if a dog can handle the stay, like I did on the video with Sonata.  I watch my environment.  A car drives by, I will decrease my distance from the dog.  A bunch of kids run up, I decrease my distance and maybe even release the dog depending on where we are in training.   This is why an experienced trainer makes training a dog (horse, cat, bird, dolphin) look easy.   They unconsciously live these concepts without thought.  It is like driving a car.  We have been doing it for years, with many different animals.  We makes fewer mistakes, and because of this the dog has a clear understanding of what is wanted.  With time it will become easier, just as driving a car and knowing the rules of the road.  However, these first few months will be hard.  You will feel overwhelmed and it will seem like you are constantly messing up.  Do not feel bad.  We have all been there.  Enjoy the experience and relish in the fact you are learning!  The quickest way to stay young is to constantly challenge the mind.

Maybe that should be my new mantra… Youth through dog training!!!  


PS.  Camping this weekend was so much fun.  The kids and dogs had a blast and it was a much needed break.  Here is a photo just because.


Marlane - February 2, 2014 - 11:38 pm

Jazz makes me smile…..she always has a “ready, set, go” body attitude :)

Glad you can have some relaxing family time too……memories!

VIDEO: Crate training and training in general

This blog has been around for a few years now, yet I have never covered crate training.  Why? Mainly because there are a lot of good video’s out there on the subject and there wasn’t a huge demand.  With 11 new pups in homes and several people emailing me with questions on barking, howling at night, etc I thought maybe it was a good time to a small video on crating.

Some things to note.

For the next few months of your puppies life, they should get a treat for going into their crate.  Every… single… time!  It can be a hard treat that they must crunch up and eat or it can be a few softer treats.  Also acceptable are treat ball toys, food puzzle toys, a meal, pigs ear, hard bone, etc.  If you ask them to go into the crate even for 1 minute they should get a treat.

There are 4 times your dog should get treats.

  1. When the dog is crated.
  2. When the dog is tethered.
  3. When the dog is on a place mat.
  4. When the dog is training.

At no other time should you give a puppy food.  Unless you are actively engaging that dogs mind or attempting to socialize him into enjoying a situation, he gets no treats.

BUT… when are you training?  Training can include asking the dog to go potty and they do so they get a “TREAT”.  Calling the dog over while it is playing and thus leaving a great fun place to come be with you “TREAT”.  Sitting quietly while you cook dinner “TREAT”.   Each situation is training, because you are rewarding the dog for doing something you like.  Reward what you like and you will get more of those things.

When should you not treat?  If the dog is barking.  If the dog runs over and bumps into you or jumps up on you.  If the dog is out of control in any way.  If the dog is demanding something from you, like pawing you to get you to give him something.  You can turn your back and ignore the wrong behavior or you can give them a sign that is not desirable.  I use “AHH”  or “wrong” or some audible sound to let them know that is not something I enjoy (like popping the top of the crate in the video and saying “Quiet!” when they are barking. ) Sometimes the dog needs a clue what exactly they are doing wrong.  Yes you can get the desired results from removing the dog and yourself from a situation, but it takes longer to see results because the dog will have to think harder to figure out what it is doing to make you just go away.

Put yourself in the dogs shoes, think about learning a new language.  What is the quickest way to learn?  You will learn best if you have a clear understanding of “YES” and “NO”.  So, teach your dog what yes means and also teach the dog what no means.  Otherwise they will have to figure out what exactly caused you to go away.

Example:  Dog is in the crate.  It is sitting and howling.  You leave the room.  The dog has to first understand you left because they were doing something wrong.  Which thing was wrong?   Sitting or howling?

If you are constantly rewarding sit, they will learn that is something you like.  How do you teach them howling is not something you like.  If they are crated, you can pop the top of the crate and say “HUSH”.  Or you can cover the crate with a blanket and say “QUIET”.  The act of covering the crate will be interesting and likely make them stop for a minute, then you can tell them ‘good job’ and treat them for quiet.  There is nothing wrong with teaching your dog what “WRONG” or “NO” or “AHH” means and why they should respect that word.  Push them in the shoulder and say “Quiet”.  Interrupt the behavior.  Do not hurt them.  Do not frighten them.  Simply let them know you do not like it when they howl, it is not acceptable behavior.

Dog training is not easy, because our dogs are watching us constantly.  They see when we are not consistent.  They note when they can get away with something.  They are very much like a toddler, noting everything you do and finding the best time to test how serious we are about that specific rule.   If you pay extra attention to your puppy now and for the next few months, it will pay off 100 fold in the years to come.


Jill - January 31, 2014 - 1:20 pm

Thanks Becky! This was great again. Do you feed all their meals in the crate too? I have a big play pen set up to separate Mel from the kids. (Sometimes I think they drive her crazy!) She will play in there when I can’t watch her closely, and I have been feeding her there too.

Also, Mel gets really nippy and jumpy with the kids and the baby especially. I have just been telling her No, and then putting her in the play pen to calm down. It isn’t always Mel’s fault because my kids get her so worked up. What is the best way to handle this. I’m trying to teach my kids how to be gentle, but they are very loud and like to run and pick her up.

A trick series would be so much fun! We have been working on sit, stay, up, down, and speak with Mel. She picks it up fast!

Thanks for everything!

Douglas UPDATE! (River and Zelda Litter)

I love hearing from puppy owners.  Pamela has Douglas and they live down in San Antonio.  This lovely boy is from the last litter born here in our home… over 2 years ago!  My how times flies.


From Pamela:


Douglas wants you to know that he turned two years old on Jan. 18th.
One can certainly say he takes after his dad River and his loving
mother Zelda.  I love your blogs and study them time and time again.
Please continue your magnificent work.  Your studies are unparalleled
and your breeding practices are unequaled!  You are, quite simply, the best.
Such a sweet update.   She tells me his health is excellent.  One ear infection, which they nipped in the bud and all is well.   So far so good!  I need to ask her who her groomer is for those of you down that way.  That topknot is really nice!!


Lisa Garza - February 2, 2014 - 12:37 pm

What a gorgeous boy!

Ziva has been bred!

Success!!  Kelsey and Gloria braved the horrible icy weather to pick up Mr. Jordan on Saturday.  He is enjoying his time at Tintlet, there so many lovely ladies between the two homes of Gloria and Kelsey!  I imagine he is not happy about being limited to just one girly.  In any case, yesterday the happy couple were successful in their endeavors!!  All that is left is the waiting.   Puppies will be due the last week of March, ready for homes the 4th week in May.   I will be driving to North Carolina around the 18th of May to pick up all the pups not kept by Kelsey for their breeding program.  I’m excited, it has been over a year since my trip to their home.  The mountains are beautiful and you can’t beat the hospitality!!

For information on this litter, read this blog post: ZIVA IS IN SEASON, then contact me with any questions or to request an application.  I have a fair number of people interested in this litter, but it is much better to have your name in the hat than to miss out.  Often people decide the timing is not right and I have to move on down the list.

Kelsey and I were talking last night.  It is a good thing I am not there or I might want to keep Jordan.  She said he is my kind of dog, a pleasure to have visiting.

The Jazz and River babies are now all in their new homes!  Sonata left for Dallas on Saturday and I think his family is very pleased.  It is so quiet, with only two adult Standards and one Mini girl.  The furniture has all returned to it’s normal locations.  The whelping box and puppy bedding is packed away in the storage shed.  I feel like I have loads of time, which is why Jazz and I start a nosework class down at Austin Canine Central next week!  I’ll let everyone know what I think as we progress.


Marlane - January 28, 2014 - 2:29 pm

Congrats Ziva and Jordan….now the hard part – the waiting – begins.
Becky, I know you’re glad to have a break, however short, but then…you deserve it. Whelping puppies and readying them for new homes the way you do it is HARD WORK!
Thank you for all the blog updates….first thing I look for when I walk through the door :)