Dog training as a whole and teaching your dog to obey your commands isn’t as difficult as it may appear at first. A combination of verbal commands, hand signals, and rewards is usually the most effective way to communicate your requests with your dog. Once you’ve opened the doors to communication, you’ll find that training your puppy is much easier.
Before you try teaching your dog a command, it is important to change your own behaviour first.
As UK dog owners it can’t be stressed enough how much your behaviour and tendencies will rub off on your puppy.
Some things you need to look out for with yourself when dog training are:
- Be consistent. Don’t tell your dog to “sit” and only follow through occasionally. It’s not okay for your dog to listen to you just some of the time. A well-behaved dog obeys commands consistently.
- Speak in a confident tone. Don’t ask, “Stay?” You are in charge. Tell him what to do with confidence without shouting.
- Initially when dog training, feel free to reward with food and praise. Dish out treats less frequently after your dog knows the command and delivers it with consistency.
- Use your dog leash as an aid to help you maintain your position as a pack leader. Your dog leash should be an extension of yourself.
- Avoid confusion by saying one thing “No!, but communicating the opposite meaning with a reward.
- End all training sessions on a good note. Finish with a command your dog knows, and praise him liberally when he obeys. Having play time ate the end of a training session is a great way to keep your dog interested in future training sessions.
Once you have grasped the general concepts and aligned your own behaviour, you are ready to start with some of the basic commands.
The “Watch Me” Command
Getting and maintaining your dog’s attention is the first step in successful dog training. To get your dog’s attention, say his name, point to your eyes, say “watch me,” and hold his gaze for ten seconds. You can do this on or off leash.
Once the command has been fulfilled release him by saying “Good dog!” and dispensing a treat. Your tone of voice is very important here.
Repeat this in several scenarios with different distractions.
If your dog walks away, follow them and bring them back to where you were to try again. Once your dog has learned the “watch me” command, they’re ready to learn hand signals.
Dogs can learn to sit, stay and come as long as the hand signals are clearly distinguishable from one another. Hand signals over voice commands are a choice of preference but both are highly recommended to all UK dog owners.
The “Sit” Command
While maintaining eye contact, gently place your dog into the “sit” position, repeat the command and reward him.
It is very important that you convey the command both as an instruction and as a confirmation once the technique is complete.
You can also take a food treat and place it just above their nose so they have to sit to reach it. This helps them to sit and keep their head high once seated.
The “Stay” Command
This is a more difficult command for new UK dog owners to master.
The key to success is to start slowly. Initially, praise your dog if they stay in place for 5 seconds. Once this short timeframe is achieved gradually increase the time.
After they can sit still for a few seconds, begin moving away from their position. If they break their stay then you may have moved too far or waited too long. In these instances; place your dog back in the sit position again and decrease the distance/time until they know to stay until you call their name.
The “Heel” Command
It is normally advised that you begin this training indoors away from distractions.
With your dog on a leash, have them sit to your left side. Hold the leash as if you were going to pull, and then, using your dog’s name, say “Spot, heel!” That tells your dog to move to the desired location.
If your dog decides to run ahead of you and pull on the leash, perform a U-turn and walk the opposite direction. Your dog will be surprised and forced to move with you away from what they were going towards initially. When your dog catches up to you, praise him.
Repeat this several times and don’t be discouraged as this technique can take time to master.
Now it’s time to teach your dog to walk next to you. Seat your dog to your left, say “Spot, heel!” and start to walk.
If your dog moves ahead of your left thigh then pull the leash in a corrective jerk motion and U-turn again.
Repeat this technique as consistently as possible varied over a few days per week and your dog should learn the command “Heel” quickly.
It is always important to give your dog constant feedback during training. This includes both positive rewards and corrective alignments.
When training a dog or rewarding good behaviour in general, treats and praise are your best tools. You may discover that your dog has a preference for one over the other, but generally the two should go hand-in-hand. Here are specifics on how both work.
Food Treats for Good Behaviour
Many UK dog owners express concern about rewarding their dog with treats, worrying that they will perform only for food or that they may get fat. However, UK professional dog trainers assure owners that food is a wonderful treat—as long as the owner is in control of it.
When you’re teaching your dog a new command, feel free to reward them with treats every time they get it right as outlined above.
Once your dog has mastered a particular command like “lay down” or “come” though, it’s time to use treats unpredictably. This is called random reinforcement. The principle behind random reinforcement is that your dog will perform, never knowing when a treat is forthcoming, but not risking missing out on a possible treat.
The best training treats are those that are scored or perforated and thus easily divided. They should be easy to eat without lots of chewing. The concept is a quick taste, not a meal. Bits of hot dog, chicken, or beef jerky work well, as does commercially-prepared freeze-dried liver.
Praise can be just as effective a teaching tool as food. Tummy rubs or stroking behind the ears or on the chest are almost universally accepted as terrific rewards.
Using a highly enthusiastic tone while saying “Good dog! Good girl!” will make your dog feel special. Having your dog react predictably to your tone of voice is a convenient communication and reward system.
Dealing With Disobedience
At times it seems your beloved dog is deliberately disobeying you. This happens mostly because the dog didn’t fully understand your command, or they didn’t know that what they were doing was wrong. Never take your frustrations out on the dog by striking him. A firm “No!” will suffice.
Redirect their behaviour and give them a chance to redeem themselves. For example, let’s suppose your dog sees a squirrel run by for the first time and takes off after it while they’re supposed to be sitting by your feet. You should first catch them and say “No!” while they’re still attending to the squirrel, bring your dog back, have them sit again, and praise them for sitting. Remaining consistent with praise and discipline increases your dog’s ability to understand your commands and mood.
Ever Thought of Obedience School?
If your dog’s not picking up commands or disobeys you even after patient training sessions you may consider obedience school.
Enrolling your dog in obedience school will help him learn commands as well as socialize them and it will teach you how to be an effective, consistent trainer. Classes generally meet once a week for six to nine weeks and cost between £30 and £50 per program. You can find the names of recommended obedience schools at your veterinarian’s office, local pet supply store or animal shelter.