How to Train Your Dog
By Awake! writer in Mexico
“MY DOG won’t come when I call him.” “My dog barks so much that the neighbors are complaining.” “My dog is always jumping on me and on my visitors.” In all such cases, frustrated pet owners are asking, “What can I do?”
The answer is probably to give your dog basic obedience training—teaching it to respond to simple commands. Of course, it is best to begin while your dog is still a puppy. But even older dogs can learn. Marcos, a professional dog trainer in Mexico, says: “The minimum age of dogs that we receive for training is four months, and the maximum is five years. But I have taught basic obedience to dogs that are even ten years old.”
Dogs are intelligent. They have been trained to sniff out drugs and explosives, assist the handicapped, and perform search-and-rescue missions. But how can you train your dog to obey you?
First, you need to know about the genetic makeup of your dog. Like wolves, dogs are hierarchy conscious. They instinctively gravitate toward living in a pack under a leader, or alpha dog. Your family is your dog’s pack, and it needs to understand that you are the leader.
In a wolf pack, the leader chooses the warmest, most elevated spot to sleep. It also eats before the others. So if your dog is allowed to sleep on your bed or get on the furniture, it may conclude that it is the leader. The same might happen if it is fed tidbits from the table at mealtime.
Even as a puppy, your dog can learn that it is subordinate to you. How? Try holding its gaze with your eyes until it looks away. Also, rubbing the dog’s belly while it is on its back is a good exercise, as this puts it in a submissive position. If your dog is being a nuisance and does not stop when you say “No,” try ignoring it or leaving the room.
When your dog responds to your commands, it is acknowledging that you are in charge. If you as the owner do not establish your position of leadership, your pet may conclude that it is equal or superior to you, and this might affect its behavior.
How to Teach Simple Commands
To teach your dog basic commands, you will need a collar, a leash, and plenty of patience. One training manual recommends the following: (1) Give a simple, one-word command, (2) demonstrate the desired action, and (3) immediately give praise when the action is performed. Your tone of voice is more important than the words you use. A command should be given in an affirmative tone, and praise should be given in a happy, affectionate tone.
Physical punishment, such as hitting or kicking, is not necessary. “I simply say ‘No’ in a sharp tone, prolonging the vowel, so that the dog will know that I am displeased with its performance,” says Marcos, the trainer quoted earlier. He adds, “A dog is intelligent enough to know when you are rewarding and when you are reprimanding.”
If anything more drastic is needed, you might grasp the dog by the scruff of its neck and shake it lightly while saying “No.” Reprimands should be given during or immediately following the undesirable behavior. Remember, a dog cannot discern why it is being scolded if the scolding occurs minutes or hours after the act. Neither does it understand why a certain action is acceptable on one occasion but objectionable on another. So be consistent.
The foundation for all obedience is the command “Sit!” If your dog knows this command, you can control it when it becomes overly active. For example, you can tell your dog to sit when it begins to jump on visitors. To teach your dog to sit, put the leash on it, and give the command while pushing down on its hindquarters and gently pulling its head up with the leash. Give praise immediately. Repeat these steps until the dog obeys the command on its own.
To teach your dog to remain in the sitting position, use the command “Stay!” while standing in front and putting your hand out with the palm facing flat toward the dog. If the dog moves, say “No” and place it back into position. Repeat the command, and praise your dog when it stays sitting for a short period. Gradually increase the time it sits and then the distance between you and your dog as it responds to the command.
The best way to teach a dog to come to you is to use a long leash and give a gentle tug while calling your dog’s name and giving the command “Come!” Back up as the dog moves toward you, and continue giving it praise. Soon it will respond to your call without being prompted by the leash. If your dog gets loose and will not respond to the command “Come!” call it and run in the opposite direction. Often, a dog will instinctively give chase.
A word of caution: Never use the word “come” for a negative reason, such as to give a reprimand. Your dog must learn that responding to “Come” will bring pleasurable results, whether praise or a food treat. If you lose your patience while teaching this command, your dog will learn that coming is unpleasant and is to be avoided.
You can also teach your dog to walk by your side without pushing ahead or lagging behind. To do this, use a link-chain training collar and a short leash. With the dog on your left, give the command “Heel!” and step out with the left foot. If your dog attempts to push ahead or lag back, give a quick, sharp jerk on the leash and repeat the command. Give praise for compliance.
How can you keep your dog from jumping up on you? One method is to back away while using the command “Off!” followed by “Sit!” Another is to catch a forepaw in each hand and step toward the dog, repeating the “Off!” command. Give praise when it obeys.
A Loyal Companion
Remember, a dog is a social animal. Long periods of confinement can lead to hyperactivity, excessive barking, and destructive behavior. With training, your dog can become a delightful, loyal companion—instead of a nuisance.
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Tips for Training a Dog
1. Be consistent in your use of words for commands.
2. Dogs like to hear their name, and it gets their attention. So use your dog’s name along with commands. (“Rover, sit!”) But do not use your dog’s name in conjunction with a reprimand, such as “No!” Your dog must learn that responding to its name brings positive—not negative—results.
3. Use liberal praise as a reward. Many dogs will do more for affection than for food.
4. Keep training sessions short and pleasurable.
5. Do not inadvertently reinforce negative behavior by giving your dog a lot of attention when it misbehaves. This will only result in repetition of the undesired behavior.
Adapted from Never, Never Hit Your Dog and the American Dog Trainers Network.
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Housebreaking Your Puppy
A puppy can be housebroken when six to eight weeks old. According to Dog Training Basics, the keys to successful housebreaking are confinement, training, timing, and praise. A dog does not normally like to soil its sleeping area. Therefore, keep your puppy confined when unsupervised. Know its schedule, and teach it a designated toilet area. Take it (on a leash) out to this area immediately after it wakes up, after a meal, after a play session, or before bedtime. Praise it as it eliminates. You may want to teach it a trigger word.
When your puppy is not confined, be alert to signs that it needs to relieve itself, such as an abrupt stop of play, circling and sniffing, and running out of the room. If you catch your puppy in the act of eliminating in the house, scold it, and take it outside immediately.* Again, no good will come if you give correction long after the act. Clean up any accidents with vinegar water to remove the scent; otherwise, the dog will continue to use that place to eliminate.
Urination during an excited greeting is an involuntary, natural behavior in dogs. Sometimes called submissive urination, it can mean that the dog recognizes that you are the leader, or in the alpha position. Reprimanding your dog in this situation may only worsen the problem, as this may cause it to urinate more in order to show further that it views you as the one in charge. Usually, this behavior stops by the time a dog reaches two years of age.