Basic Dog Training
Dog training is a necessary adjunct to keeping dogs as pets. Dogs, particularly larger ones, must be obedient, or keeping them becomes a burden.
In addition to their appreciation for being fed, as pack animals dogs have natural instincts that favor training. These instincts are manifested as a desire to please a master. This gives the dog trainer an unbeatable edge in shaping the dog’s behavior.
While dogs can be trained for complex behaviors, such as rescue work, circus acts, or medical diagnosis, there are certain elements of training that almost all dogs can learn, to the benefit of both dog and master.
The Dog Trainer: Who Trains the Dog?
While there are many professional dog trainers, most in fact train people how to train their own dogs. This article assumes that the dog’s owner—also referred to by different people as the dog’s master, guardian, or handler—is the person training the dog. The term owner or master is not meant to disparage the relationship between a person and a dog. Dogs are not humans and having a master does not make one a slave.
Everyone who handles the dog should take part in the training, including the puppy kindergarten, because the dog should be equally obedient to everyone in the family or household. If you think your neighbor might have to call the dog in your absence, then you can work to help the neighbor learn Come and Sit, although it may not be necessary for the neighbor to learn more.
It is crucial for the trainer and the dog to attend class together, to learn more about each other and how to work together. Inexperienced people may believe that dogs know basic commands such as sit and down instinctively and are therefore excessively harsh when a dog doesn’t immediately obey; it’s important that someone new to training a dog learn what a dog does and doesn’t know and how dogs learn.
Training and The Dog’s Life Cycle
Dog training begins virtually at birth. Dogs that are handled and petted by humans in the first eight weeks of life are generally much more amenable to being trained and living in human households.
After eight weeks, and up to approximately 14 weeks, dogs are ready to bond for a lifetime with a new master. Even adult dogs can adapt to a new master, but the ideal situation for training is to raise a puppy from early life. For one thing, humans can easily handle puppies of any breed, and the dog becomes accustomed to the idea and retains a respect for humans even after growing to full size, when otherwise they might be harder to handle.
True training, in the sense of taking a dog to a formal class and developing very specific behaviors, does not begin until the age of three to six months; however, including commands for simple behavior as part of daily play begins when the dog is weaned, or even earlier. Masters new to dog keeping can benefit from attending so-called puppy kindergarten, where both dog and master learn to work together. Most puppy kindergartens teach the commands given below.
Most training revolves around giving the dog treats and praise when it obeys, and withholding treats and praise when it does not. A sharp No is useful. Out and out physical punishment rarely works, although a light smack when the dog gets over-eager with teeth or paws is neither cruel nor painful.
The Command Voice
An authoritative tone of voice is crucial to exacting obedience from a dog. This tone may seem harsh or overbearing to new dog keepers, but the dog responds best to this kind of “bossiness”. For more pleasure-oriented interactions, such as praising the dog, feeding, or play, a higher-pitched tone of voice is useful, but for simple obedience, the human equivalent of a bark seems to work best.
In all training and discipline, the dog’s name is an important command component. In early training, most commands are prefaced with the name: Ginger, come is more forceful to a young dog of that name than a simple Come. After the dog is trained, the name need not be used every time, but when used, the name always adds emphasis to the command.
Here are a few commands that almost every dog should respond to:
- Come: This command, also referred to as the recall, is crucial. If the dog won’t come when called, it is not an obedient dog. One method for training begins by allowing the dog to wander out on a long leash or line, then calling it by name and the command Come. This method might require a quick, light tug on the leash to get the dog moving when first teaching this command. Like all commands, it is successful only if the dog is rewarded when it completes the command and only if the practice is repeated—under different circumstances and distances and gradually removing the controls—until the dog performs flawlessly.
- Sit: This command is also crucial. Sitting dogs are under the handler’s direct control. It is common to precede other commands, such as the Stay command, with a sit command. One method for training uses a treat held in front of the dog’s nose and passed back over its head, forcing the dog to sit. Sit and Stay are used in conjunction with many other commands.
- Stay: This command gives peace of mind. An owner can park her dog while doing something else. One method of training involves placing the dog in a sit or a down position, then telling it to stay while stepping away from the dog. If the dog stays, the handler rewards it while it is still in the position. Indoors, use this command to park your dog under a favorite table or bench.
- Lie down or down : this command allows even greater control than sitting. One training method uses a treat drawn forward and down across the dog’s face, forcing it to lie down to get at it. Since even people without dogs are familiar with this command use it when dogs are bothering them, the better the dog is at it, the better it can get along strangers and visitors.
- Go to bed or get in: Directs the dog to go to its bed or into its crate and to remain there until released. The dog has freedom of movement in that location to stand up, turn around, or lie down, unlike when placed in a Stay. Useful to keep a dog out from underfoot and safe in a busy or complicated situation.
- Drop or drop it: Dogs pick up all sorts of things, some of which they shouldn’t have. A dog that drops anything on command, no matter how attractive (which to a dog can be rotten and smelly), is a dog under control that the owner can prevent from eating dangerous items or from destroying valued personal property.
- Leave it: An adjunct to Drop, directing the dog to not touch an item. Also useful before the dog has picked anything up. One method of training involves leaving a treat on the ground and walking the dog past it without allowing the dog to pick it up. Leave it is also used in conjunction with Take it.
- Take it: The dog leaves a desired object, such as a toy or treat, untouched until given this command. This can protect an owner’s, visitor’s, or child’s fingers.
- Heel, Close, By me: The dog walks with its head directly next to the master’s leg and does not deviate until released. One method of training accompanies the command with a slap to the thigh indicating where the handler wants the dog’s head.
- Okay, Free, or Release: Releases the dog from Stay, Heel, Sit, and so forth. Also a general release to play.
The specific command word is not important, although the preceding list covers some of the more common words. Short, clear words that are easily understood by other humans are generally recommended; that way, people will understand what a master is telling his dog to do and other masters have a good chance of controlling someone else’s dog if necessary. In fact, dogs can learn commands in any language or other communications medium, including whistles, mouth sounds, hand gestures, and so forth.
While dogs can be trained far beyond these rudiments, a dog that obeys these commands will be a pleasure to keep and take out. Off-leash obedience is the hallmark of a well-trained dog.