- Treats – Treats should be small, bite-sized and easy for the dog to swallow whole. Soft treats can be swallowed quickly and are preferable to hard and crunchy treats, which require considerable time to chew and swallow.
- Only ask once – One of the most common errors people make is repeating their commands. If your dog doesn’t sit when first asked, you ask again. When you still don’t get a sit, you ask again and more loudly. After a while you find when you want your dog to sit or come, you can hear yourself saying “sit-Sit-SIT!” or “come-Come-COME!” What you have inadvertently done is to teach your dog to wait patiently until the second or third command before he/she really has to do what you have asked. If you find that you have taught your dog to come or sit on the second, third, or even fourth commands. don’t fret. Start reinforcing the first request the way you did when you taught it to start with. Consistency is the key with any training you do with your dog. It is often said that when a mistake is made, you can bet the person and not the dog first made it.
- Praise – There are many ways to praise a dog. Some live for the food and others for attention. Still others just want you to throw the ball or Frisbee after they have done the right thing. It is up to you to figure out what gets your dog excited and use that for their praise.
- Voice – There is no need to bark a command or yell it. Your dog is perfectly capable of hearing a potato chip hit soft carpet. For sensitive dogs, a barked commands may seem like scolding.
- Hand Signals – A dog can perceive a spoken command or hand signal with equal ease. Hand signals are best given so that the movement of your hand or arm is in silhouette. If you are back lighted or wearing clothes that match your skin shade, your dog will have trouble discerning the movement.
- Word Choice – You can have many signals for a behavior, such as a hand signal, whistle or spoken word. Each command must be recognizable from every other command. Sit, vs. down works fine, but “SIT-DOWN” is ambiguous. GO may be confused with NO. Be aware of the commands you use and how they sound with your dog’s name. If your dog’s name is Joe, “no” may be a confusing command. Try “ah” instead.
- Session Length – Keep training sessions short so as not to overwhelm your dog.
- Have fun!
Here is a very easy way to teach sit and provide a visual command along with the verbal.
- First, get your dog’s attention with a piece of really yummy food.
- Be sure your dog is looking at you, bend over the dog’s nose with the food between your thumb, middle and ring fingers. Hold your index finger straight out. Let the dog sniff the food in your fingers, then say “sit” while moving your hand from their nose over their head towards their back. Do this very slowly. The dog’s nose should follow the food and force the dog to sit.
- Be very happy, say “yes” and “good boy/girl” so the dog is rewarded with a treat and loving attention. Be very steady with your movements and keep your hand an inch or so above the dog’s nose to discourage him/her from jumping out of the way or twisting.
- Once the dog is easily sitting, stand up straight and hold your hand the same way, with the food. Say “sit” and give the dog a moment (only a moment). If he/she doesn’t sit, immediately move your hand the same way, but stay standing straight. When the dog sits, give the treat with lots of praise.
- If the dog doesn’t sit, go back to the original exercise. Eventually (usually in the same training session), your dog will sit when you hold your finger out in front of you and say “sit.”
- Be sure to praise and give treats.
- Once you and your dog get good at this level of the game, you can begin holding treats back every so often, to wean your dog from treats and on to praise. As you progress with this exercise, you will be able to quietly say your dog’s name and very discretely hold your finger up and your dog will sit. You won’t even have to say “sit.” Visual cues are very useful when attached to a verbal command. You may not always be able to use the verbal or your dog may not always be able to hear you, so it is great to have the back up. For example, you’re probably not thinking about your dog being old, but as he/she ages their hearing may go. Having these visual cues deeply ingrained, may save your dog from an impending disaster in old age. It may also keep your level of frustration down, when you think your dog isn’t listening to you. If you think you’re being ignored, try the visual command. If the dog responds, that may be a tip off to a hearing problem.
The Jelly Spot
- Once your dog knows sit but is refusing to do it because it is distracted or is just being stubborn, you can use the jelly spot to gently force a sit.
- Ask your dog to sit.
- If he/she doesn’t, then take two fingers spread about three inches apart and press gently into the “jelly spot” just in front of the hip bones where the muscles is kind of soft (the waistline). If you’re dog doesn’t sit, say “sit” again and press more firmly, but be sure you’re in the right spot. Your dog will mostly likely sit. Then give him/her praise and go back to the command “sit” or the finger to reinforce the desired sit.
- If you try to force your dog to sit by pushing over his/her hips, your dog will likely resist and try to remain standing. A tap on the jelly spot and they sit down fast. The first couple of times, you have to press a little bit. After a few times of being told to sit with a poke on the “jelly spot,” your dog will sit quickly and will happily go back to the verbal or visual cue.
Eye Contact Game
Taken from Chris Bach’s “The Third Way of Dog Training”
You cannot teach a dog anything unless the dog is paying attention to you, looking at you. To teach a dog eye contact, reward the dog by using the indicator word “Yes” followed by giving food or some type of reward when the dog makes eye contact.
The Choice Method
- It’s important that you smile all the time while playing this game.
- Put your dog in a sitting position. Stand facing the dog and show the dog a piece of food. As the dog is finishing the piece of food, show them another piece of food.
- Stand up straight and hold the food out to the side, away from your body. The dog will most probably look directly at the food in your hand. If the dog should jump up to take the food from your hand at any time, simply bend your elbow so that your hand moves up in the same motion as the conventional hand signal for “sit”. As soon as the dog is again in a sitting position, bring your arm down and out to the side again. As you stand waiting, if the dog glances at you, say, “Yes” and give the food as a reward. Timing is important. You want to reward the glance.
- As the dog finishes the food, show him/her another piece and play again.
- After playing the game three times, say, “OK” and release the dog. If the dog solicits the game again, play it.
What do you do if the dog will not glance at you?
- Be patient. Sometimes you just have to wait a little longer.
- Escalate the type of food you are using as a reward. In other words, give them something really tasty like salami or liver.
- Use an intermediate step. Reward if the dog just glances away from the food. No matter why or where the dog looks, as long as he/she looks away from the food, say “Yes” and give the reward. After the dog has learned to look away from the food in order to get it, do not give the food when the dog glances away from it. Wait a little longer. Watch and wait for the dog to glance at you, immediately say, “Yes” and give the food reward. Repeat.
- This is not contained in Chris Bach’s materials, but using the word “watch” to get the dog’s attention on you is an excellent tool/command later. If you need to pull the dog’s attention from something but don’t necessarily need the dog to come to you, you can simply say “watch” once he/she is really good at the game. It’s best to use the watch command at the start of the Eye Contact Game.
- Once the dog is consistently making eye contact when you hold the food out to the side, gradually increase the amount of time that eye contact is maintained before the you say the word “Yes” and the food reward is given. It’s also fun to gradually move your hand closer to the dog’s face while the dog maintains eye contact. Eventually, the dog will continue to hold eye contact with you even when the food is centimeters away from their nose.
- Once the dog has learned the Eye Contact Game, that the word “watch” means that we’re going to play the Eye Contact Game, and he/she is an eager and willing participant. Also start using the word “watch,” followed by an excited, sing-songy “ready” just as you begin each training session. Eventually, the dog learns that the sing-songy “ready” means that you’re going to work now and you want them to pay attention. Ultimately, this transfers nicely into the obedience ring (for those that want to show obedience) as the judge always asks if you are “ready” before beginning each exercise. You can answer the judge with my sing-songy “ready” and immediately have the dog’s attention.
- During each early training session, use the word “Yes”, immediately followed by food and a lot of praise to reward desired behavior. Over time, continue to use the word “Yes” and a lot of praise to reinforce the desired behavior, but stagger the offering of food so that the dog doesn’t know when food will be offered. The end goal is to get through the training session using only the word “Yes” and praise, and withholding food until the training session has ended.
- A special note for agility or herding – These two activities require the dog to not be looking at you, but listening and working with an ear turned to you. If they are looking at you, they can’t be watching the sheep nor can they be looking ahead for the obstacles. So, you will want to teach this game only after they have the basics of agility or herding down. When you’re ready to teach “watch,” putting a collar on the dog can be an excellent cue since most herding and agility is taught without the collar. This can help the dog understand the difference between the two. “Watch” makes a terrific obedience dog, especially for heeling. As soon as you think the dog understands the game, move the dog to heel side and start working there so that they learn to look at your face from the side while sitting and then work it into moving.
Start with the dog in a seated position.
Using a clicker
- Touch a treat to the dog’s nose and slowly move it straight to the ground, to a point between her paws, under her chest. As her nose catches up to the treat, she should be seated, and slightly humped over. Click and treat. Repeat this routine several times until she can easily follow your hand to the ground. If she attempts to stand, say “ah-ah,” in a neutral tone of voice, and return her to a seated position. Try it again.
- After she is consistently following your hand to the ground, add a second stage to the behavior. Move your hand straight to the ground and wait for her to touch your hand with her nose. Once her nose touches your hand, begin to move the treat along the ground, toward you. The dog’s nose will follow the treat. If she moves either of her front legs forward, click and treat. Try to get her to stretch a little farther each time. It is unnecessary to get the whole behavior at one time. Be satisfied with steady, small progress. If she raises her rear end, say “ah-ah” and try it again.
- As your dog stretches farther and farther, she will eventually walk herself into a “down” position. Click and treat. As she begins to gain some confidence and speed, wait a few seconds before you click and treat, so that she must hold the “down” position for several seconds. If she jumps up, say “ah-ah” and repeat the behavior. Try to get 10-20 repetitions of this simple behavior. NOTE: If the dog jumps up AFTER the click, give the treat anyway. Remember, the clicker also acts to end the behavior. After the click, the repetition is over and the dog does not have to “hold” the “down.”
Without a clicker
You can use the same technique, except use “yes” or “good dog” when you give the treat. If your dog is resistant, try applying gentle pressure between the dog’s shoulder blades immediately after you’ve said “down.” The pressure must be constant and firm. The dog will lie down. As soon as the dog goes down, give plenty of praise and treats.
- This takes incredible patience and timing on your part. If you stick with it, you will realize the fruits of your labor in many ways. “Stay” is much easier when the dog is lying down. Once, your dog gets good at “stay” in the down position, you can move to the “sit”.
- Start with down.
- With your dog lying down, take the palm of your hand and “bop” towards your dog’s nose. Don’t touch your dog with your hand. Say stay as you “bop” your hand.
- Stand up. If your dog stays for even a second give him/her lots of praise and treats.
- Be sure you step forward to praise instead of allowing the dog to come to you. If you allow this, you are not teaching stay, you are rewarding the come. You want your dog to stay down until you’ve released him/her. Repeat the exercise.
- Gradually, you will back up from your dog and have him/her stay longer and longer. If your dog breaks a stay, lunge forward towards your dog and say loudly “AH!” Then place your dog back in the down position and start again.
- If your dog breaks the stay every time, then you’ve progressed too quickly. Back up and take baby steps. This is a very tough one especially for the high- energy dogs.
- Once your dog can stay in one position for a minute or two, begin doing exercises like count to 10 while looking at your dog, then walk around him/her, and come back to the front of your dog with praise and lots of love and treats.
- Gradually add more distractions like you jumping up or going to the door.
Basic Recall (“Come” or “Here”)
First, play the eye-contact game, which you reward with loving eye contact and a food treat. The eye contact and visual checking in will be the basis for your continuing efforts at dog training.
- To begin teaching your dog to come, start without a leash in an area that has few distractions. Have your pockets full of really tasty treats that you know your dog loves.
- Walk around in the room and watch your dog very closely. If he/she moves toward you, give the dog the treat while you say come and give lots of high pitched enthusiastic praise. Convince your dog that you are the best party around. Do this several times until the dog is wise to the fact that you have great stuff happening by you.
- Then rest and ignore your dog for a few minutes so he/she stops staring at you or bugging you for more treats. When your dog has stopped trying, turn to your dog, crouch down and say “come” in a high-pitched, happy tone. Give the treat and lots of rubs and praise.
- You may also want to add a visual command as you crouch such as sweeping your arm from your side in an arch around to your front. Sort of like you are scooping water into your body. Later, this will be all you need to do to get your dog to come. And much like the visual sit, it comes in very handy as your dog ages or has difficulty hearing you. The crouch is also a visual command.
- Once your dog is consistently coming in this environment, move to an area where it becomes a little more difficult. Put yourself further away from your dog, but be sure he/she can still see you. Go through the same process. If your dog has trouble adjusting, go back and work some more on the original exercise. You will progress over the course of several days to moving outside.
- When you move outside, it may be necessary to put your dog on a long leash. There are so many distractions; you will want a quick and effective way to regain your dog’s attention. This is also an excellent application for the watch game. When you call your dog and he/she doesn’t come, gently “reel” them in by the leash while you smile and praise.
- You are not mad at them because you are teaching them a new version of the game. Each distraction you add, is a new lesson so keep it very fun, and give wonderful treats like roast beef or liver and tons of praise.
- As your dog becomes consistent with the leash on, let the leash drop and start again. If your dog doesn’t come, you have the leash to grab and reinforce your request. You will gradually build your dog’s reliability over the course of weeks and sometimes months depending on how often you can practice. Keep in mind, your dog will slip many times throughout it’s life, so it is good to periodically go back and practice these exercises. Most importantly is to remember to keep it fun so your dog WANTS to come back to you.
- One of the biggest mistakes dog owners make is when their dog does not come on the first call. They will keep calling. The dog may not come until they see the owner moving toward them or they decide the owner is really mad and it’s time to listen. So, the dog moves towards the owner all happy as if to say, “Look at me. I’m coming!!! Aren’t I good?!” The owner waits and when the dog arrives the owner reprimands it. All this does is teach the dog he/she was bad for coming. They do not understand you’re mad because it took them so long. Whatever you do, do not get mad at your dog for coming, no matter how you feel. Always praise the come and know that you need to go back and practice for a more reliable recall.
- Teaching a reliable recall is one of the most valuable lessons we’ll ever teach our dogs and certainly one of the most important for them to learn. Therefore, the dog’s response to the recall should result in the dog receiving very high-value rewards. To work, the reward should be more rewarding to the dog than what the dog was doing before he heard the verbal cue “come.” For example, if you’re calling the dog away from something it really loves you are ruining his/her fun. So you must be sure what you are offering is better than anything else out there.
Rex doesn’t want to come when you call him.
Here’s how to change that around. During a leashed walk, you permit him/her to sniff a bush or two, say “Do your business” to give him/her permission to lift his leg and when he has finished, give him a treat and say, “Good boy, Rex.” Then, start your walk with him. If he should attempt to sniff the ground or a bush again, you simply shorten up on the lead, and then interrupt the behavior with a sound cue, “This way, Rex” as you start walking briskly at a 90- degree angle away from the direction Rex had been headed. But watch him with your peripheral vision. Just the nanosecond he turns his head toward you, praise him to mark his giving you his attention. Mostly likely Rex will come trotting quickly to receive his treat. Rex’s treat may very well be to play fetch or tug-o-war. It will be up to you to figure out what makes him happiest. The important thing is to reward Rex for voluntarily choosing to abandon the old sniffing routine in order to rush to be by your side again. Then continue on your way together. If you are patient, fair and consistent, and you play an active role in getting and keeping Rex’s attention, then you’ll see huge gains with this skill. You will also find that your bond will really strengthen.
Rex still doesn’t want to come.
There is another option for a dog that not only refuses the recall but is chasing something and is so excited he can’t hear you calling. Suzanne Clothier does an excellent job explaining this phenomenon in her training booklets; do an internet search for her methods. First, prepare a distraction before letting your dog off leash. If he/she is stick, ball, Frisbee or anything else driven, use that. While you are on your walk, be very aware of the approaching stimulus of squirrel, duck, cat, etc. Pull out your distraction and get your dog very excited about playing with it. If this doesn’t work, you can use your body as a physical distraction by getting in between the stimulus and the dog. Then as the dog turns away from the stimulus (you may have to be persistent and unrelenting), you may step to the side and give the dog a choice to chase the stimulus or the distraction. Offer a quiet but firm recall and a choice to play with his/her toy or get a treat. The first time he likely will try to chase again. Repeat the above until he gets it right. But be timely on your reward of the toy or treat. Your timing must be excellent.
Whistle train your dog for a reliable recall. This one takes a few days to train. This exercise assumes you haven’t used a whistle with you dog before to teach a command.
- When your dog isn’t watching, get out some cheddar cheese or other yummy treat. Cut it up into small pieces, and put into a baggie. Then hide the baggie somewhere up high and out of sight for a moment.
- For no reason apparent to the dog, suddenly toot the whistle and give your dog a couple pieces of the treat. Whistle or toot three times in a row. At this point you are teaching the dog the sound of the whistle, just like you would condition him/her to the word “come.” Three times is enough for now and then take a break.
- After an hour or so, and your dog is relaxed watch for it to walk towards you and then suddenly toot your whistle and give him/her a treat.
- On the second day, when you are in a room without your dog, toot the whistle and your dog should come running to get a treat. If he/she doesn’t, remind them what the whistle “gets them.”
- Move to a room without your dog and try again. Once your dog gets this, progress to another floor of the house, such as an upstairs bedroom or the basement. Toot the whistle and as soon as your dog comes running, give it a bunch of treats at once (a bigger reward because he/she made a greater effort to find you).
- On the third day, take this game outside and play fetch, or some other favorite game. Have a great time playing, and then suddenly toot the whistle. Only give a treat if your dog comes promptly.
- By day four, you will be outside with your dog and at a relaxed time, just walk casually away and head towards the door to the house. Toot the whistle before you get to the doorway yet. All your dog sees is you going away from them. As the dog comes running, give him/her a higher-powered treat such as a lovely slice of roast beef. Make it a bigger reward because they ended their playtime to come to you.
- From here on, it’s simply a matter of building distance. In addition, you will want to go back to the beginning and build in ever-increasing distractions while you go through the process again.
Walking on a Leash
- The fastest way to teach a dog not to pull on a leash is to put them on the leash and start off for a walk. The dog will usually charge out ahead (having been thoroughly self-reinforced for pulling in the past by the euphoria of slight oxygen deprivation).
- When your dog does this, stop walking. Use your hands to cushion the leash. NO JERKING and turn around to walk the other way. When the dog is near your hip, praise him/her verbally and with a treat. Be sure your praise and treat are given when the dog is by your side. By turning around and walking the other way, it gives you a chance to catch the dog when he/she is in position at your hip.
- If you can’t keep your dog from pulling while on the leash, we would suggest you get a sporn collar. It will take just a little bit longer to put on – but it stops the lunging and pulling instantly.
- Initially, you must take the time fit it snug and adjust the fleece-padded straps so that it’s comfortable. The interesting thing about the sporn collar is that besides stopping the pulling, it seems to settle the dog without you doing anything but holding onto the leash. It is self-correcting and unlike a pinch collar there is no pain involved. Unlike a halti or gentle leader, you cannot accidentally jerk the dog’s head and inadvertently injure their neck. The sporn can help your dog stand calmly at your side.
Encountering other dogs on your walk
- Take your treat bag along with some yummy treats. When you see another dog, talk to your dog in a sing-songy tone about the dog you see “Oh, look Rex, it’s Harry! He’s a good dog. I like him. Let’s go meet him.” Invent a name if you have to until you know the dog’s name. Give Rex a treat. Continue to walk towards and past the dog talking all the way.
A tip for non-toy or non-food motivated dogs
- One way to get a “non-toy” motivated dog more interested in toys is to cut a small slit in a tennis ball and stuff it with the smelly food treat of their choice.
- A way to get a non-food motivated dog weaned off of his toys is to feed him/her a treat, then toss the ball, feed treat and toss ball. Soon treats become a predictor of balls and the dog will be more food motivated.
- For dogs that care little for treats or toys and only for people, try this. If your dog loves to be with you, you can be his/her reward. Think of ways to build on this idea. For example, a long down/stay might be rewarded by lots of hugs and belly rubs or doing something he/she loves to do with you like running in the yard. You might also consider learning Tellington Touch to build on his/her desire to be with you. Although, it might just be that you haven’t found the perfect treat yet. Your dog might be waiting for you to figure out they love liverwurst, salmon soufflé, or any number of yummy, smelly tidbits.
To expand your dog’s repertoire, try this new behavior: identify an object by name. Hold an object (car keys, wallet, newspaper, etc.) in front of Rex’s nose, click and treat if he investigates it. Repeat the process several times. When Rex is repeatedly touching the object for treats, start naming it just before he touches it. Teach at least two more object names and then put all three objects on the ground and ask for them by name. Reward only correct identification.
In essence, a clicker is an abbreviated way of saying “good dog.” It identifies for the animal exactly which behavior “caused” the reward or praise. Because the clicker is faster than verbal praise, it is more precise. In the time it takes to say “good boy” an animal may perform the desired behavior and then move to an unwanted response before the verbal praise has time to register. In other words, if your timing isn’t just right, you may end up rewarding the jumping up on you rather than the sit. The clicker bridges the gap from the instant the dog performs the correct response and the time it takes to actually deliver a treat. The clicker can take your dog’s mind off the actual reinforcement. Some dogs are so food crazy that they cannot learn new behaviors in the presence of food until the task is established. The clicker also helps to define the end of the behavior. When teaching a dog to stay, for instance, the click indicates how long the animal must remain in one spot before the praise is awarded.
How to use the clicker
- The first step in “powering up” your clicker is to associate it with positive reward. If your dog already knows some obedience behaviors, merely replace your use of verbal praise with the clicker. For example, say “sit;” Rex sits; click and treat. The sequence of “click then treat” is critical. If your dog does not yet know any formal behaviors, simply click the clicker and give the dog a treat. Do this about 20-30 times until the dog visibly startles at the sound of the click. Then move to shaping your first behavior.
- When offered a favorite snack, most dogs will sit expectantly and wait for the treat. After a few seconds of waiting, your dog is likely to get impatient and fidget in some way. He may turn his head, backup, speak, or lift a paw. Wait for the first thing he/she offers, click and treat. For this first session, the behavior you pick is not important. If Rex turned his head a little bit for the first click, wait a few seconds; he’ll do it again. Click and treat. Continue this process and watch how his behavior changes. If you continue to click and treat each time he moves his head, the behavior will become stronger.
- Now try waiting a second before you click. Try to get two “head turns” for the price of one treat.
- Once you have a clearly definable behavior going (head turning), start saying, “Turn your head” just before you think Rex is going to do it. If the behavior you shaped was lifting a paw, say, “Give me five” just before you think he is about to perform the behavior.
- Learning to use positive reinforcement to shape behaviors is a fun process. For your first project, learn to relax and see what behaviors your dog wants to offer. Your initial goal should be to simply watch how your dog’s behavior changes and see how the clicker helps you to identify correct responses.
- If a behavior fails, drop your standards and review the behavior from the beginning. In the early stages of shaping a behavior the dog can become easily frustrated by repeated failure. Dropping your standards allows your dog to get back on the right path. Once the behavior is re-established, start gradually raising your standards again.
- It is important to get “two-fers” (two behaviors in exchange for one reinforcement) early in the shaping process. You must teach the animal “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Animals that are experienced with this method of training are often willing to perform long routines in the absence of actual reinforcements.
- Don’t be afraid to shape behaviors just for the fun of it. Your skill and timing can only be improved though practice. Learning tricks can be a rewarding and stimulating experience for you and your dog.
- These exercises can be the foundation for a great deal of fun for you and your dog. While pushing and shoving can develop control over behaviors, hands-on training is very limited. Using the click to signify “Yes, do that again” and reinforcing the behavior, you are limited only by your imagination and your dog’s physical and mental abilities.