It’s back to school! Even for Fido!
Let’s all be honest. We’ve been to friends’ houses who had, er…annoying. (Okay…flat out horrific, out-of-control, make-you-kinda-have-some-issues-with-the-owner kind of dogs.) You know, the one that as you arrive it jumps up onto your car door scratching the paint, and as you get out, it jumps onto you with muddy paws. Later you get told by your hosts not to put any food on the tables because “Rover just loves to eat the food off the plates! We can’t put any appetizers on our tables, because Rover thinks it’s for him”. Hmmmm. Grrr. Now I’m annoyed. I just want to go home and get away from “sweet Rover” .. and who in the world put Rover in charge of this household anyway??) Got the picture?
So there are a few little pointers to know when you first get a dog — whether it’s a puppy or a grown dog. Like kids, dogs need parameters. If it’s an adult dog when you get it, it’s still new to your house, so introducing new rules to it should not be to difficult. (New environments mean new rules — as long as you enforce from the get-go.) Your house rules are what it will live by — IF you teach him with consistency. So first off and simply put, no means no. Period. The way to take charge: teach basic obedience.
The first two commands we teach here are, I believe, the key commands to making a dog great. They’re pretty simple: sit and down. Plenty of dog programs don’t push the “down” command. I do because as long as a dog is sitting, he is perched to move forward again. He’ll relax and really stay if you teach him to lie down — even in an exciting environment.
Let’s start at the beginning. You have a new dog — puppy or not, here’s the first command we teach around here:
The easiest way to start the sit command is over food. There’s nothing worse than being overrun by a dog who wants his food. Why not have him sit and wait until you say it’s OK to eat. This also teaches the dog that you’re in charge — even when it comes to food. It doesn’t take long for Fido to figure out that he won’t get fed until you say OK, and it’s easy to instill in little pups even as little as 7-8 weeks old.
So here’s what you do: prepare his food. Walk with him to where he’ll be fed each day, and tell him to sit. Push his bottom down and hold it down as you set the dish on the floor. (Dont say STAY….tell him to SIT — sit should mean stay. Stay shouldn’t be a command.) And don’t keep repeating it. Only say SIT again when you push his bottom back down and want to reinforce the command. (If you keep repeating sit, siiiiiitttttt, siiiyyyyaaaattttttt, sit, ssssiiiiiiiiiaaaaaaaaaattttttttt, sit, sit — he’ll think that he’s free to go once you stop making those silly noises. Sit means sit.)
Once he gets it over food, you’ll be able to get him to sit easily anywhere else. Just remember that repeating sit and stretching out the word puts the dog in charge — you’re in charge, and as little voice command repetition the better if you want a well behaved dog.
“Sit” or “Down” MEANS Stay. Stay shouldn’t have to be a command.
This is easy to teach and reinforce at the same time you’re teaching the sit command over food. Once he knows to sit, tell him to sit and take a step away. If he comes towards you, step back and gently push him back to where he was sitting, make him sit again and tell him sit. (Don’t say NO! He isn’t in trouble, he’s learning. If you “NO!” him too much, he has no idea what he did that warranted the NO!. ) I usually hold my hand flat in front of his face — (that way later he won’t need voice commands to know I’m asking him to stay where he is). Do this just a few times and reward him when he stays even for a moment. He’ll begin to understand. This will take a little time, but he’ll begin to hold for longer and longer and you’ll be able to get further and further away. As you move further away, when you’re ready to release him, call him to you or go to him and reward him like crazy. (I don’t usually reward with food or treats. But some go that route. Either way works, I just like to know it’s love he wants, not another chip of kibble.) It’s extremely important always to “release” your dog from sitting or lying down. Otherwise, he learns to just stay there only as long as he feels like being there.
Once he’s holding for longer periods, you can even step out of sight (around a corner, behind a tree, etc.) for a moment and then come back quickly and extending that “invisible” time a little more each time. This teaches him that you WILL come back and that it’s safe to stay.
This is my favorite command because of the confidence it instills in your dog. It can be challenging to teach, but SO rewarding once you get it through. The reason they don’t like to lie down on command in the beginning is because lying down is a subservient behavior for them. Plenty of dogs don’t really like that idea. Remember who’s in charge? You CAN teach this, and you ARE doing your dog a favor when you do because once they get past the subservient thing in their heads, they realize that you’re not doing anything but loving them and telling them they can “stay” in a more relaxed way. The down command makes them more fun to have around a mealtime, or when you have friends come by and you wand Fido to stay with you but out of the way. There are countless ways for you to benefit from this command, and Fido benefits because he’s calm and comfortable.
You got it. NO! No means no means no mean no. Got it? Who’s in charge? You are. So no, Rover, the food on the table is not yours. No, Rover, you won’t jump up on cars. No, Rover, you can’t jump with your muddy paws on the elderly lady who has had a recent hip replacement and is teetery. No, you’re not allowed to jump all over the little 5 year old. No you can’t chew on shoes.
So how does one teach no? It’s easy with consistency. It’s impossible to teach if you don’t enforce your rules. To teach Rover not to eat what’s on the table, you have to be tough on him the first time, and the second time and so forth until he understands. This is tough if he’s an older dog that’s new to you and has been able to get away with sneaking food off the table for years. But pups and young dogs will learn this quite quickly — if you’re consistent. Similarly, teaching not to jump up for puppies is as easy as it is for big dogs: the way we teach this is to hold onto one of his front feet when he jumps up — and then when he wants to get away, he can’t. Hold one of his feet or even better, a toe and say NO! Pretty soon, for him it’s not worth jumping up and taking the risk of not being able to get his foot back.
Once dogs learn that no means no, you’ve now set him up to be a happy confident dog.
The key to a great dog is confidence. And confidence comes from knowing boundaries and being able to thrive within them. Take the time to be consistent and kind, and you’re setting yourself up to having not just a good dog, but one of the greats.