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.