The 21-Day Basic Obedience Course
The single most frequently asked question about dog training is "When can I start training him?" There's no dog too old to learn, for one answer, but that isn't what the question usually means. What people are asking is "How young can I start training him?"
There's no set answer to when a puppy can profitably begin obedience training. Certainly no dog is too young to learn things. Puppies start to learn about the world the moment they leave their mothers' wombs. But most trainers agree that the attention span of a young pup is just too short to allow for rigorous training sessions. Mostly, the results of very early obedience lessons of the classic type are frustration for both owner and dog. You can't figure out why nothing is getting across to him, and he can't figure out, can't even remember from one minute to the next, what it is you want him to do. The best advice is to hold off on formal training sessions until the puppy is from four to six months old. By that time, some of the newness of it all will have worn off, and the dog will be ready to concentrate just a wee bit on what you're telling him.
Of course, you're training the dog in basic household manners long before six months, and you're training him in lots of other things, too. You're showing him just what to expect from his association with you and with other human beings. You're teaching him the exact meaning of lots of words and phrases that will later be used as commands. And you're training yourself to be aware of who this pet of yours really is. By the time you're ready to begin formal obedience training, you should be well aware of what this dog likes -- what constitutes a genuine reward for him. Would he rather have his ears scratched with your knuckles than gnaw on a big knucklebone? Wonderful! Now you know just what to do to reward and praise him in training. And you'll be able to keep the butcher's bills down a bit, too.
In short, your dog's puppyhood is a time of the two of you getting to know each other. He's also getting to know the whole wide world at the same time, so it's clear why people who start advanced lessons early are usually disappointed. Like all other animals, immature dogs have certain periods when they are most open to new knowledge. Early development proceeds in such a way that puppies are more responsive to human handling when they're three weeks old than when they're two months. This is why home-raised puppies make much better pets than those raised in cages at the pet shop, or all alone with the mother out in the barn. It's simply that if puppies are handled early by people, they associate such handling with pleasure. If it never comes until they're much older, it's associated with threat.
Years and years and years of training experience have taught us that the period of openness to real obedience training never begins before the pup is four months old. Seeing Eye dogs aren't accepted for training until they're fourteen months old, and many trainers of circus dogs refuse to even look at a pooch until he passes his second birthday. So don't feel that the one-quarter-year mark is the moment of truth. It may be that a dog whose training starts at four months and a dog whose training is postponed until one year will both know exactly as much at eighteen months. Nobody has ever tested this one to be sure, but early learning may be much more for the sake of the master than for that of the dog. In any case, if it's very rapid progress you're after, wait until the dog is about two. But if you have the patience to work with the younger dog's shorter concentration, you'll find him a slower but willing pupil at about four to six months. When you start depends on what you hope to accomplish, how fast, and why.
Whatever your dog's disposition, you can be sure he loves praise. The only exception is the dog who isn't really on good terms with his master. But if you and your pet have established a normal relationship during his puppyhood, he has probably learned to value your approval over everything else, including snacks and tidbits. If you really pay attention, you'll soon discover exactly in what form Pluto likes his praise. Some dogs would rather be tickled; others want to be pounded on the back. Still others, the verbal types, would rather hear the approval than feel it. Whatever form it takes, positive reinforcement should always come in the form of praise or affection. A well-fed family dog has little need and even less desire for dog biscuits and bits of meat to encourage him to perform. And artificially starving your pet will only spoil his concentration and make him uncomfortable during every training session.
As for negative reinforcement, it's advisable only in cases in which you can convince the dog that the bad consequences came from the environment, not from you. The effects of old-fashioned punishment on any animal are to make him hate and fear you. True, he may perform in order to escape punishment, but only when you're around or when he thinks somebody else might come down on him. If he thinks that bad consequences are in the nature of the world -- like getting wet when you go out in the rain -- he will avoid the behavior that causes the uncomfortable feelings. If he thinks bad consequences come from you, he'll devise ways to avoid or sneak around you.
One of the best ways to distract a dog from undesirable behavior without getting him mad at you is to call him, then praise him for coming. Any command or sharp noise will turn him away from what he's doing momentarily. Call out, "Stop, Nestor!" When he looks up, call him over, and give him a pat for obeying you. Instead of making him resentful by punishing him, you'll make him more likely to come or stop, or whatever you want, the next time. Naturally, you'll have to use negative reinforcement sometimes, but tricks like this one will help keep it to a minimum.
Besides the emphasis on positive reinforcement, our training technique stresses operant conditioning. What this means to you is that to be effective, a trainer must wait until the behavior he wants to reinforce occurs naturally. Because this technique follows the natural behavior patterns of your pet, it requires perhaps a bit more patience in the beginning than other training methods. And it's quite true that you can teach Buster to "Sit" by just pushing down on his rear over and over while you repeat the command. Eventually he'll learn to associate the one thing with the other, and you'll have the feeling of having showed him how to do something he couldn't otherwise have figured out. What may surprise you is that this method actually takes longer than ours, and is less effective. An animal is really quicker and more willing to associate something he does all by himself -- and gets praise for -- with a command than he is to associate what you want from him with force. If you force him into a sitting position, he'll sit, all right, but he'll feel coerced, pushed around. If you just wait until he sits of his own accord -- and he will eventually -- you can accomplish more with a few words of praise than with ten dog-training classes.
The truth about those famous classes is that they train more owners than dogs. There's nothing wrong with that, of course. Lots of new dog owners don't know the first thing about dogs and their needs. A little training, or even a lot of training, can't hurt. But traditional training classes aren't the best way to build a working dog-master team. They make use of artificial military-type situations that have little or no resemblance to the dog's home environment. They offer the twin distractions of lots of people and lots of dogs to take your mind (and your dog's) off your work. And they substitute rote drill for the natural learning situation in which every other kind of learning takes place, for human and animal alike. It's no wonder that dogs trained this way are at their best in dog-show obedience trials and other formal occasions. These are the situations that most closely approximate the conditions under which the dogs learned obedience.
If you have ambitions for entering your dog in obedience trials, it might be a good idea to get him used to the hustle and hurry by taking him to a few old-style dog-training classes. But most of your training should be done on a one-to-one basis. Just you and the dog, and plenty of time to wait for the behavior you want to occur spontaneously. If you don't want to compete, there's no reason whatever for you to subject yourself or Wolf to any classes. If you want to engage in group activities, a cocktail party or a soccer game might be more to the point.
Here are some basic rules, distilled from years of working with dogs, to help you on your way to the well-trained pet. In fact, though the object is for the dog to be trained, these rules aren't about the dog. They're about you. If you conduct yourself properly, the dog will behave naturally and do just what you want. Though trainers sometimes speak of the limitations of the animal, the master really has to worry only about his own limitations. Your dog has, for example, infinitely more patience than you do. His whole life, after all, consists in learning how to get along with you and derive pleasure from your company. You are probably impatient to finish up with Ol' Spot and get back to The Wall Street Journal. A training session hardly ever has to be stopped because a dog loses his temper. The same cannot be said of trainers. Your dog will be more consistent than you are, and more attentive. The notion that dogs have short attention spans probably derives more from the impatience of owners than from any real failing on the part of the canines. These rules, in short, are to allow not for your dog's faults, but for yours.
1. Consistency pays. In training, always use the same words for the same ideas. For example, if you want to teach "down," don't say, "Lie down, Prince" one time and "Down, boy" the next. Keep the commands short, but most of all, make them the same, exactly the same, every time. If you use hand signals, the same goes for them.
2. Introduce commands slowly, and only after the dog has performed the behavior you want spontaneously. You wait. He sits. You say, "Good boy, Nugget. Sit. Good dog." In this way, the dog learns to associate word with action with pleasure -- the only real winning combination in training anybody to do anything.
3. Make training sessions pleasurable for both of you. Play with the dog a few minutes before you start any kind of work, even just watching for the action you want to train. This doesn't mean you shouldn't be serious about training. You should. But be pleasant, friendly. The only taboo is laughing at the dog during training. You'll either humiliate him or turn him into a clown.
4. Keep sessions short, especially at first. Start with ten-minute sessions; work up to twenty. This is for your sake, really, so that you won't lose your temper and spoil all the effort the two of you have put in.
5. Patience, patience, patience. Not that the dog is such a slow learner. Far from it. But people often are unreasonable in their expectations. If your attitude is "Let's see what happens today," rather than "By gum, today he'll learn how to sit," you'll have better and faster results. If you manage to be relaxed and patient, you'll be rewarded in the short run by a pleasanter session and in the long run by a better-trained dog.
6. End the session before the two of you tire of it. If you feel yourself getting short-tempered, stop there, even if you've been at it only five minutes.
7. Use praise as a reward, not food. Jock will perform for food only if he's purposely starved, which will hardly make him look forward to the sessions. Dogs will do for love what they would never consider for just a bite to eat.
8. Be firm. Both with the dog and yourself. If you pay attention to what you're doing, praising and rewarding the exact behavior you want, the dog will learn easily and correctly after a few times. If you are inattentive or lax, you'll only confuse poor Marigold and make your job lots harder. Be sure you see exactly what you want before you give reinforcement. Between sessions, reward the behavior whenever you see it. But don't be fanatical. If an animal is led to expect praise every single time he performs, he'll be disappointed and confused on the inevitable occasion you miss. In giving rewards, most of the time actually works better than all of the time.
9. Never punish. What you must do is arrange for unpleasant consequences to befall the dog when he misbehaves. This is entirely different from punishment, and much better for the purpose of training.
10. Use the dog's own name as part of moving commands only. Say, "Lucy, Come," or "Lucy, Heel." There's no sound so winsome as the sound of one's own name. (Do not use the dog's name for stationary commands such as "Down," "Sit" and "Stand.")
11. When you first start training, do it in the same place every day, and make sure there aren't any distractions. This is one reason why a training class isn't the ideal place for real training, especially for beginners. After the pup has learned his lessons, you can work him in other surroundings so that he'll get used to performing under all conditions. At first, though, keep him isolated.
12. Never grab at the dog or run after him. At first, use only coaxing and praise. Later, work the dog on a leash with a training collar for control. If you chase or hit at him, you can make a dog hand-shy and almost impossible to handle.
13. Vary your tones with the appropriate words. Praise, of course, is given in warm, friendly tones. It doesn't matter a bit what you say, as long as it's the same every time, and as long as it's loving and warm. When a dog is new to an exercise, cajole him, coax him along. Later, when he can be expected to understand, use the commanding tone of voice. This last voice means you expect obedience, you demand it. Your dog is better than you are at recognizing shifts in tone, so be aware not of just what you say, but of how you say it. Avoid the irritable, crabby voice that sounds like whining. When that note starts creeping in, it's time to quit.
14. Be sure your pet is in the same happy mental state when you end the lesson as when you start. The simplest way to do this is to be sure your frame of mind is good. If you're still "up" and full of enthusiasm, the dog will be too.
15. Remember that commanding, and the sharp corrections that go with it, come only after the dog has learned to associate certain behaviors with praise and reward. In the beginning, you must wait for events to occur at random, then reward the ones you want to encourage. Don't bother to discourage behavior you don't want, unless it's extremely destructive, like biting.
For ordinary obedience training, you need very few articles of equipment. Basically, you'll need a leash, a training or choke collar, and a long line. Even these are optional, and should not be used at the beginning when you're seeking out the behaviors you want to reward. You'll also need a spacious place to work your dog, one that is reliably people- and dog-free at the same hour every day. Later on, if you want your pet to learn to jump hurdles or to fetch and carry, for example, you'll need more equipment. But for the 21-Day Basic Obedience Course, the leashes and collar are ample. Firmly implant the leash concept in the dog's consciousness. If your dog is a city pet, accustomed to taking all his walks on the leash, it's a good idea to train him on the leash from the start. You can use the training collar too, mostly to get him used to wearing it. This collar isn't really intended to "choke" the dog at all; it's used to allow you greater control than you would have with a leash and regular collar. In fact, you'd be more likely to really choke the dog with a leather collar than with a chain. If the dog is used to running free, use work on the leash only to put the finishing touches on a routine he has already learned. Make the training sessions a continuation of the daily routine, as pleasant to him as all his other outings with you. That way, Morty will come to look forward to these sessions as favorite times when you pay him a lot of attention.
A word about the chain collar. The leash, as you hold it, should be fastened to the end of the collar that passes around the dog's neck on the side nearest you. The tightening and loosening of the collar is much easier to control when the collar is attached to the leash this way. If you are right-handed, hold the leash in your right hand during training, teaching the dog to walk on your left. This leaves your left hand, next to the dog, available for patting and encouraging him. During ordinary walks, hold the leash in your left hand, leaving the more frequently used right hand free for other purposes.
Our formal exercises, while concurrent with the daily life of the dog, are really very intensive training sessions. The 21-Day Basic Obedience Course is designed to concentrate on just a few exercises, one every few days. But intense as they are, the exercise sessions should not seem arduous to either you or the dog. This is because the method is so natural, so easygoing, that neither of you may notice at first how much is being accomplished.
Days 1, 2, 3: Sit
We usually start with either the sit or the heel, depending on whether or not a dog is used to walking on the leash. For those who aren't, the sit is a good introduction to leash work. For those who walk on the leash every day, it may be easier to start with the heel. This is especially true if the dog has been taught good leash manners already. If not, this is the time to teach them.
The first time you and your dog go out for a formal training session, you must let him have his head. If he's on the leash, fine, but let him go where he wants to. We have found that the best places for training, particularly at first, are large empty spaces such as deserted school playgrounds, open fields, or public parks. The dog should have the impression that you're there to amuse yourselves, that it's all very relaxed and easy. In fact, though the purposes are more than just amusement, it should be a relaxing time, from start to finish. You've decided in advance what behavior you want to train, and your only job, at first, is to wait until it happens.
parThe minute it does, training begins. Your dog sits. Excellent. You pet him, praise him elaborately. Don't give him the rush, though. Keep everything low-key. The second time, you should slip the word "Sit" in among the "Good boys" and "Good dogs." "That's it, Poppy," you say; "good dog. Sit. Very good. Yes, Poppy, Sit." He'll be delighted at the praise, won't even bother to wonder what it's for. But the lesson will have begun to sink in, painlessly. Keep up the training session for as long as you feel comfortable and at ease. As long as you don't try to force any behavior, but just reward the behavior you want, even an hour of training will be no strain on the dog. As always, when you feel yourself getting cross and impatient, quit.
Although we strongly recommend formal training sessions every day, you can't stop there. The need for a regular time and place to train is more yours than it is Rover's. He doesn't stop learning just because the lesson hour is over. But you might forget that your intention is to train him well and regularly unless you adhere to a schedule. Whatever you do with your dog, you will train him. The question is, will you train him consciously and thoughtfully to do as you wish, or will you train him in a haphazard manner? If you aren't careful, you'll inculcate bad habits that will later be very hard to break. Therefore, use the daily training session, but don't stop there. Once you've begun to teach Muffin to sit, watch for the behavior, and praise it. We repeat, it isn't necessary or even desirable to praise her every time she sits. Just most times. You can train, in this sense, at any time, in any place. Whenever you happen to see her sit in the proper manner, go over to her and give her a pat on the head. Don't forget to say the word "Sit," so that she'll get used to the association.
About time limits: Our training method is so relaxed and easygoing, assuming that you're relaxed and easygoing, that there's no reason not to "train" up to an hour at a time. Remember, you're just wandering around with the dog, waiting for the action you want to train to happen naturally. During the 21-Day Basic Obedience Course, an hour in the morning and another in the evening would be fine, provided you're relaxed about it. If you follow this routine, and also "train" during other times when you think of it, the dog should certainly understand the concept of "Sit" within 3 days. Of course, the behavior will need more reinforcement than that. You'll have to continue to give your pet plenty of practice and plenty of rewarding praise for sitting. But he will know what's expected at the end of the 3-day period. He will have received the basic information. Any learning will die out if it isn't constantly practiced. The 21-Day program is for introducing obedience concepts to the dog. It's up to you to see that he performs every day. After all, that's why you're training him -- so that he will be civilized and pleasant to live with every day.
Notice that our method of teaching your dog to sit doesn't necessarily involve any leash work, nor does it operate by having you push down on the dog's rump, jerk the training collar, or apply any such forceful treatment. Walk him as you usually do -- not letting yourself be dragged around, but also not dragging the dog after you. Remember that you're trying to create a relaxed feeling. This is the only atmosphere in which the dog is likely to sit of his own accord. Most pet owners have no real need or desire for a militaristically trained animal who snaps to attention at the jingle of a leash. They just want a well-behaved canine member of the family; an animal whose behavior is reliable and friendly, and who won't make enemies among friends and neighbors. If this is what you had in mind for your dog, we believe our training method to be the most effective and efficient ever devised.
Just how perfectly your dog learns to sit depends on how refined your own demands are. If you're after the perfect sitting position, you must withhold your praise after a while except when the dog sits perfectly. A perfect sit is one in which the dog sits firmly on both hipbones, leaning neither left nor right. If you have the patience, you can train the dog to sit like this every time. At first, praise him for anything approximating a good sit. But after he's learned what the word means, be more demanding. Not that you need ever scold. Just hold back on your praise until you see the dog sitting as you wish. He'll quickly learn that "Sit" doesn't mean just putting his rump on the ground; that it means a very particular posture. One caution: if you really don't care how the dog sits, just so he's down, don't bother with the niceties. Training is for your convenience, and unless you plan to enter the dog in obedience trials, nobody but you will ever care whether the animal does an A sit or just a B-plus.
Days 4, 5, 6: Heel
Dogs are taught to heel so that walking with them will be a pleasure instead of a footrace. Untrained dogs either run out ahead of you, pulling you along by the leash, or else hang back, forcing you to tug on them. How often have you seen a harried dog owner, out for the last walk of the evening at eleven o'clock, pulling poor Phoebe down the sidewalk by her neck, swearing under his breath? How much easier and more pleasant for both of them if Phoebe had been taught to walk along by his side, matching her pace to his. Strangely enough, heeling is often neglected in simple obedience training. Most dogs learn to sit, one way or another, and to lie down, and to come when called. But few people see the value of heeling, thinking that it's a trick appropriate only to police dogs.
But the heel is really one of the basics of dog obedience. Far from being a specialized attainment, it is one of the essentials that help to make your dog into a true companion rather than a burden. The real trick in teaching the dog to heel is in teaching him to pay attention to you. He doesn't wander off to sniff at the flowers because he doesn't like you; he does it because his attention is distracted. If he learns to watch you, to notice how fast you're walking and where you're headed, he'll have more than half the lesson mastered. The other part is that he must stay near you when walking, no matter how many interesting things may turn up to compete for his attention.
It's best to train the dog to heel by using the leash and collar. That way, you can correct him when his attention wanders. Once again, we emphasize that you correct him in such a way that he thinks the correction a natural consequence of his actions, not a punishment initiated by you. Don't jerk the leash violently, so that Shep can see that you're doing the pulling. Instead, hold the leash in such a way that the dog is perfectly comfortable as long as he stays close to your left knee, but feels stress as soon as he moves away. Give plenty of praise whenever the dog keeps the leash slack by himself, but don't give him any slack yourself. As with the sit, you must wait until the dog is walking in the correct position, then reward him. Don't try to drag him into the heel position, though you can make it somewhat uncomfortable for him to strain on the line by just holding it firmly. Remember, when you're training the dog to heel on the left side, the leash should be held in your right hand. This gives you more control, and leaves your left hand free to pat him when he gets it right.
Remember that the point of this exercise is not for you to hold the dog at your side by force. The leash should be held slack when the dog is walking (or standing) in the right place. Whenever he lags behind or pulls ahead, give the leash a quick tug, then let it go slack again. Praise him when he returns to the correct position. But don't get into a fight with him. If you try to physically haul him into place, he'll resist, thinking it's either a game or a challenge to his honor. Either way, you'll be the loser. If he doesn't come into place on the first tug, give a series of sharp tugs until he reaches heel position. Don't look at the dog while you're giving these tugs, or in any way convey the impression that this is a contest of wills. Just wait until he finally does come alongside, then praise and reward him for doing right. If he experiences some discomfort when he's not at heel, you certainly aren't responsible for that. You're just pleased to see him walking so nicely, just as you wanted him to.
Once you've given your pet some practice in walking at your heel (at your knee, really), you must start giving the command, so that he can associate word with deed. Always speak in a pleasant tone, saying, "Good boy, Ulster; that's right. Heel. Good dog." As often as you can, correct him by urging and coaxing him to come along, rather than by pulling on the leash. Save that for real reluctance, after training has progressed for several hours. The point of this and all our training is to give the dog the impression that somehow, just naturally, doing things one way is very comfortable and pleasant; doing them any other way mysteriously leads to less comfortable circumstances. This is very different from leading him to believe that he has to do things a certain way to escape your wrath. In the first instance, the animal has no resentment or hostility. It's just the way of the world, the same kind of thing as when he learned that you can't step off high places or you'll fall and get hurt. He doesn't blame anybody for that; it's just natural. Remember, too, that training to heel must begin with patient waiting on your part. You must wait for the dog to come to heel of his own accord, then praise him for it. Of course, you help by making it just a bit uncomfortable for him to walk anyplace else. But you don't give commands at first; and you don't battle him into submission, then or ever.
Days 7, 8, 9: Turn
The turn follows naturally out of the training to heel. This is really just an extension of the heel training -- coaching the dog to follow you and stay in his place no matter what you do. It's fine to have a dog who'll stay at heel as long as you stand still or walk in a straight line. But it's really useful only if the dog will walk at your heel no matter what sort of fancy maneuver you perform. Once you've taught your pet these first three lessons -- the sit, the heel, and the turn -- he'll behave like the perfect companion when you take him walking. For most pet owners, that's half the battle. Many people never have any trouble they can identify with the dog as long as he's at home. But taking him out for a walk can be a painful ordeal. Either he's tugging at the leash, making you feel like the front part of a dogsled, or he's hanging behind, making you feel like a two-year-old with a pull toy. If you let him off the leash, you might not see him again for an hour. It is at this point that lots of owners begin to feel that they've taken on a bit more than they can handle. They either turn to some system of training -- or give up the dog.
Before you reach that point, provided you haven't already, resolve to follow the 21-Day course through to its end. If you do, you'll have transformed your dog from an unruly, essentially wild animal into a civilized companion. As you progress, you'll see how lessons blend one into another. Turns, for example, should be done on a leash, just as training to heel was done. Command the dog to the heel position, then walk with him. Remember to take small steps if your dog is a dachshund or other short-legged breed. Once he's trained, you can certainly expect him to walk with you at your normal stride. But for the purposes of instruction, it's better to try to match the length of your steps to his.
The important thing about teaching the dog to make turns with you is that you must make the turn first, then correct the dog for not watching. Correction, once again, does not mean punishment. It means giving a short pull on the leash, sufficient to let the dog know that he's not in the heel position, where he's supposed to be. You should do this when the dog isn't looking, so that he'll blame himself for his inattention, not you for your harshness. As you pull the leash, say, "Apricot, Heel." As soon as he returns to the heel position, praise him elaborately. You must also remember to praise him if he does it right in the first place. But if correction is necessary, do it with a jerk of the leash; then immediately give the command, and let the leash go slack again. To accomplish all this, you must make the turn yourself before you can correct the dog.
To make a right turn, pivot quickly on your right foot, immediately stepping away from the dog to catch him when he isn't looking. The left turn should be made on the left foot, right in front of the dog, so that you bump him with your knee. You must not do this vindictively or in any way give the impression that you're angry with the dog. You've just made a turn and he, through his inattention, has bumped into you. Unless you behave like a threatening monster, your dog will certainly assume that it's all his fault and snap back to the heel position. Just think of how apologetic he always is when you step on his foot by accident around the house. If he doesn't immediately resume the proper position, give one pull on the leash and the command "Moby, Heel."
Because teaching the dog to make turns at heel involves action, it's somewhat harder to apply our basic principle of waiting until the desired behavior appears spontaneously. But there will be times, more and more as the days go on, when the dog turns perfectly with you. Don't forget to be lavish with your praise at such times. The praise, as a reinforcement, has far more effect than the leash tugs and commands do. It is this positive reinforcement which really convinces the dog that he wants to do as you say. The corrections are just the way of communicating what is expected, and should be kept to a minimum. It is not necessary, in this or any other obedience exercise, to give candy or tidbits as rewards. Your approval is far more effective and better for the dog than food.
You should also practice making complete turns -- that is, about-face -- with the dog on the leash or at heel. You must turn rather quickly when practicing this, so that the dog will be caught looking away and have to scramble to catch up. Corrections are made in the same manner as with the right and left turns: just a quick pull on the leash if you need it, and the command to "Heel." As soon as the dog obeys, praise and pat him for his good behavior. Of course, if he makes the turn successfully without correction, you must also make a fuss over him. If you make a very quick aboutface to the left, you'll have to pass the leash from hand to hand in back of you. This may take a little practicing on your part before you start working with the dog. The other way to take a left about-turn is to walk all the way around the dog. Then he must walk around too, in order to stay at heel.
While you're practicing the heel and the turns, take some care to vary your speed of walking. The dog should get used to keeping up with you no matter whether you're in a hurry or out for an easy stroll. You, after all, are the boss, and the pace of your walk is determined not by how long your hound's legs are, but by how fast you want to go. Walk with the dog in heel position, and praise him when he does it right. Make quick changes from one pace to another, always giving rewards to your dog when he maintains his spot at your left knee. Try making sudden stops, to see if he'll stop with you. When he does, tell him he's a good dog, and give the command to sit. If you always remember to combine what he knows in this way, you'll soon have a dog who will automatically sit whenever you come to a stop. This will no doubt make him the best-behaved animal for miles around, and people will start to think you've taken old Red to some fancy school. An extra dividend from this good behavior is that your praise will become warmer and more genuine once you start to see a few results from all your effort. And when the praise is richer, it will be even more effective in acting as a reward and a reinforcement to your dog. That's why training progresses with gathering speed as time goes by. And that's what makes it possible to accomplish so much in well under a month.
A good exercise to do with your dog when you feel he's pretty good on the turns is the figure-8. This involves the use of two objects to circle around: chairs, trees, even people, if they promise not to distract the dog. Place the two objects about six feet apart, and move around them in a figure-8. Correct the dog if he tries to pass on the wrong side of the object. This will get him used to staying in the heel position in crowded street situations and other places where people or objects might get in the way. It's also a good way for you to check his progress as a well-trained heeler.
Days 10, 11, 12: Stand
Suppose you don't really want a dog who automatically sits whenever you stop? But you do want some command, don't you, to give him if there's going to be a delay, or if you just want him to stay where he is? The command is "Bobo, Stand." It can be taught on the leash, as can all the exercises in the program, but you have to remember in this one not to pull on the leash or try to use it for controlling the dog. Begin, as usual, by searching out the correct behavior and praising it. Stop during your walks with the dog, and if he stops and stands still, tell him, "Good boy, Andy, Stand." If he starts to sit down, try scratching his rump to make him stand up again, then heap on the praise when he does it.
At first, aim only at getting the dog to stand when you tell him to, rather than starting right out with the stand-stay. If he stands still a millisecond the first few times, that's enough for you to reward him with hugs of joy. As time goes by, however, you get a bit more demanding. If he breaks from the stand, you must gently lead him back to that position, tell him again to stand, then praise him if he does it. The back-scratching method is a good method of getting dogs to stand. If it doesn't work on your particular pet, find out what does, and use it. We feel that it is a bad idea to force dogs to stand by such methods as holding them up or dragging them up by the leash. But you will find that keeping the dog in a standing position is a lot easier than getting him back up again once he has sat or even lain down.
If you want to teach a dog hand signals for this or any other exercise, you must use them faithfully throughout the training. The traditional signal for the stand-stay is to drop your left hand to your side and hold it there, palm facing backward. It is the easiest thing in the world to teach a dog to respond to hand signals, provided you always use the signals when first training a dog in an exercise. If you do this without fail, you'll find it a simple matter to go back later and exercise the dog without speaking a single command. Some owners don't want to be bothered with hand signals, but others find them incomparably useful in situations where they don't want to be barking commands. If you plan to hunt with your dog, or just take him to a lot of crowded public places, hand signals might be just what you need.
The stand exercise extends naturally into the stand-stay. You don't need a separate command for this one, since the dog is supposed to catch on that "Stand" means to stand until he's told differently. You have to gradually extend the time you require your dog to stand. Test him by stepping away from him. At first, just back off, watching him all the while, and giving the hand signal, if you use it. If the dog starts to break from his stand, or to sit down, try taking a quick step toward him. This will probably bring him up short, and give you a chance to praise him again. In our method of training, we aim to increase the number and frequency of right things the dog does. Any means you can devise to get the dog into the position you want will allow you another chance to praise him. And the more praise he gets, the quicker he'll learn the trick. Keep walking toward him, if necessary, in order to make him hold his position. Eventually, when he's really steady, you should be able to walk all around him without causing him to leave the standing position. The first time this happens, you'll probably be ecstatic. But don't give in to the temptation to rush the dog and give him a big hug. This will certainly make him leap out of position, and will defeat what you're trying to accomplish with the use of positive reinforcement. Be generous with praise, of course, but never get yourself or the dog overexcited.
Days 13, 14, 15: Sit-Stay
It's usually better to teach the sit-stay after the stand, since the notion has already been introduced that you expect the dog to stay where you put him. Having learned this idea gradually in the course of the stand exercises, he'll readily understand what you mean when you tell him to sit and stay. At this point, if you haven't already, you'll have to introduce the command "Stay." Since Poochie knows how to sit, just tell him to sit-stay. Move away from him, and praise him when he stays seated. Be careful not to be too effusive in your praise, or he'll leap up to be at your side. Just speak soothingly, telling him he's a good dog and repeating the command to sit and stay. The gentlest way to correct a dog who refuses to remain in place is to move him back -- picking him up if he's small, leading him on the leash if he's big. Put him back where you want him to sit, then reward him with praise if he stays there. If you want to, you can teach the sit-stay on the leash. For this one, it's better to use the long line mentioned as training equipment. This allows you to move quite a distance away from the animal, still maintaining contact via the leash. If the dog starts to inch toward you as you move away, try flipping the leash sharply so that it nicks him under the chin. Once again, this has to be done in such a way that he doesn't blame you for punishing him. Never call out, "No!" as you do this, or do anything else to give the impression that you're angry.
Once the dog is a bit steady on the sit-stay, test him by walking around him, just as you did with the stand. If he breaks while you're in back of him, or across the yard, go over to him and put him back in place. The worst thing you can do is to start yelling at him from several yards away, to rush him menacingly, or in any other way to threaten him. For this reason, you can't correct him from a distance. Retain your composure, go back to where your dog is, and lead him to the spot where you want him to sit. As in all exercises, you must give praise in graduated stages. At first, you reward the dog for any approximation of the correct behavior, no matter how brief. If he stays for one second, you tell him he's a good boy. But after a while, he has to stay for a significant length of time before he wins your approval. Since the ultimate object of the sit-stay training is to make your dog stay until you tell him not to, you must always extend the time before he can win praise by just sitting. When he's perfectly trained, he'll get his reward when you call him to you, thereby breaking the sit.
As the dog gets better and better at the sit-stay, you test him in more and more demanding ways. Walk away from him until you are out of sight. Get a chair and a book and sit down behind him, pretending to read. At first, when he sees you actually ignoring him, the dog will undoubtedly break and come over to get your attention. But you don't let him get away with it. He must learn to stay whether or not you're watching. Take him back to his place and admonish him firmly to "Sit-Stay." A well-trained dog will sit for fifteen or twenty minutes while his owner is out of sight or otherwise engaged. You'll be able to teach him the basic concept in well under three days, but he needs constant work to reach the level of patience you want. Like all the exercises of basic obedience, the sit-stay should be practiced every day. Don't forget that a dog -- or a person, for that matter -- can be untrained if he never uses his lessons in everyday life. Do everything you can think of to increase the dog's steadiness on the sit-stay. Make noise, whistle, bang things, send a bunch of children chasing a ball past where the dog is sitting. He has to learn that absolutely nothing constitutes a legitimate excuse for breaking from the sit.
At about this point in the training period, you may begin to experience the plateau effect. In the first few days of training, it's all great fun for the dog. He's getting so much attention from you that this seems like the best time he's ever had. But after a while, he perceives that a lot of demands are being made on him, and boredom may set in. You must convince him with firm authority that this is the way things are going to be from now on and that if he wants your approval (which he does) he has to practice willingly and regularly. Or maybe you're the one who will experience the slump. The first thrill of progress is beginning to wear off, and the dog seems to be slowing down in his learning. You start to feel a distinct longing to play tennis in the evenings instead of training Junior. But this is exactly the crucial time. Be firm with yourself as well as your pet. Once you get past this sticking point, the pace will pick up again, and both of you will accept training as part of your daily lives. Remember that in any learning, there are periods of rapid progress followed by periods when nothing seems to be happening, at least to an outside observer. But these blank times are when the temporary new learning is being transferred to the permanent memory. Practice must be kept up during these apparently fallow times; otherwise there will be backward progress. If you realize that this is the normal way the mind works in assimilating new ideas, you'll have more patience with the dog through the slow stretches.
Days 16, 17, 18: Lie-Down
Except possibly for the sit, the lie-down is the most important household command. If your dog is utterly reliable in this matter, you can take him anywhere. He'll be a welcome guest in even the most fastidious homes (barring allergy) if you can order him to curl up unobtrusively in some corner and count on him to stay there. If you use hand signals, you can command your dog to drop at a distance, even if he's too far away to hear you clearly. All in all, it is extremely useful to train this command carefully and thoroughly. The traditional hand signal for the lie-down is to raise your hand as if you were going to strike the dog. Don't worry about bad associations on the part of the dog. As long as you aren't in the habit of striking him, he'll learn only that you want him to lie down.
What's different about our way of teaching the lie-down is that we emphatically don't recommend that you push the dog into the down position, pull him down with the leash, or in any other way use force. The trick is to teach Fala what you want without pushing him to perform. Performance comes later, after you're sure he understands what's expected. The method is the same as in all the other commands. You must wait until you see him doing what you want, then offer praise and encouragement. Of course, you are free to start encouragement long before you're ready to initiate formal training. Whenever you see him lying at ease, give him a pat on the head and say, "Good dog. Lie down. That's it; good boy." Soon he'll associate the words with the idea. After that has been accomplished, you can reasonably expect him to learn to obey the command when he hears it.
As to which command to use, there is some disagreement among trainers. Some people think that just plain "Down" carries more force, while others prefer "Lie down." Whatever word or phrase you use -- and it can be in Urdu for all the difference it makes to the dog -- use it with absolute consistency. If you do, it won't take your pet long to understand. After that, it's just a matter of practice. Make him lie down with gesture and command. If he gets up again before you've released him, give the command again. You may have to put him back in place sometimes, using the time-honored method of pulling his forelegs out in front of him and lowering him back down from the sitting position. If you like to use the long line, practice dropping him from a distance while he's attached to the line. If he fails to obey, just give a short tug on the lead to remind him where his duty lies. This isn't the same thing as pulling him down by force with the leash, which we discourage. Be sure that you keep one hand -- always the same one -- free to give the hand signal if you use it. Signals must be used with absolute consistency if you want the association among command, signal, and action to be complete.
Although it's basic to good obedience, the lie-down is often harder to teach than the sit, heel, or stand. This is probably because a dog feels very vulnerable in the lie-down position, and his instincts tell him not to stay that way for long. If anything attracts his attention or interest, not to mention exciting or scaring him, every impulse tells him to get to his feet. Nevertheless, good training can overcome all these impulses and cause him to obey only you. Some dogs, however, fight hard before they learn to be reliably steady on the lie-down. Rather than forcing a reluctant animal to lie down by pulling or pushing him, you must redouble your efforts to reinforce his every positive action with lots and lots of praise. You may find it much slower going than the other exercises you've encountered so far. Or you might be pleasantly surprised to discover that your dog accepts this as just another requirement of living with you, no better and no worse than all the others.
Some trainers who are inclined to use positive reinforcement with most other commands recommend force with the lie-down. Since some dogs, particularly large ones, can be rather hostile about being commanded into what they consider an inferior or indefensible position, some handlers think that the only way to win is to cuff, switch, force, or otherwise coerce the animal. We do not subscribe to this notion. Quite the contrary. Since the dog feels particularly threatened by this command, you should go out of your way to make him feel that there is nothing more pleasant than obeying his master and winning his approval. Instead of beatings, you should provide much reassurance and encouragement to the dog who feels hostile or fearful about the lie-down.
Days 19, 20, 21: Come
Also known to dog handlers as the recall, this is the final exercise in our 21-Day Basic Obedience Course. Most dog owners find that their dogs come pretty reliably without any training at all. After all, if the relationship between trainer and animal is a good one, the dog wants to be where you are. He's overjoyed to hear you call his name, and just as happy to be summoned to be with you. But the truly obedient dog comes when you want him to -- every time. Ninety-percent obedience just isn't enough.
The reason that your dog is already fairly good on the recall is that you have undoubtedly used, without even noticing it, our method of positive reinforcement to encourage this trick. You've been doing it, just as we suggest, since the very first day Buster came into your house as a tiny puppy. By now, he feels, at least most of the time, that the very most pleasant place to be is at your side. He expects, and usually gets, pleasure from obeying the call to "Come." The trick now is to make the association so strong in his mind that he'll be utterly reliable. This isn't just for the sake of precision obedience, but for the dog's safety as well. If he's ready to drop everything and come when you call him, you can stop him from darting into the street, running into the path of a weapon, or any other dangerous situation he might not be able to handle alone.
To steady your dog on the come, it's a good idea to make use of the long line. Hook it up to the dog's collar, and call him from across the yard. If he doesn't respond immediately, give a sharp, brief tug on the line. You may have to do this more than once before he gets the idea that you want him not just to come, but to come right away. A well-trained dog responds snappily to your commands and comes at a brisk trot when he's called. Don't forget to lavish praise on him when he does come. You probably won't have to use the line very much at first, since the dog is used to obeying this command. But keep the exercise up and after a while he'll get a little bored. He may start to come to you, then be distracted by something in the yard. As soon as he shows any signs of inattention, give him a little pull with the leash to remind him of his duty. If you spend three days of short sessions this way, he'll get the idea that you really mean business. Exercises like this one -- done on the lead and with some rigor -- can't be pursued for an hour or even half an hour; ten to twenty minutes at a time is plenty, though you can schedule two such sessions a day if you think it's necessary.
Another trick is to throw something at the dog when he isn't looking. The idea isn't to hit or hurt him, but to startle him out of his reverie and make him remember what he's supposed to be doing. You can use the short and noisy length of chain left over from other exercises, or anything else that will have a surprising and slightly unpleasant effect. Be sure that the dog doesn't see you throwing the object, or he'll feel threatened. If you can, get the cooperation of one or two friends who will do the throwing; that way, you won't be the guilty party at all. Other people can be useful in another way. Station a few friends around the yard with instructions to rebuff your dog when he comes up to them. It's quite all right if these people threaten him mildly, since you want him to feel that the most pleasurable thing he can do is come to you. Call him, and if he feels like running away, he'll probably run up to one of your friends for protection. When he does, he'll be surprised to find that the person he chooses offers no protection whatever. It won't take him long to realize that doing what you ask -- every time -- is the best policy.
For the dog who isn't reliable on the recall at all, you'll have to use more coaxing and soft words. Train him on the long line, but keep it slack most of the time. When the dog hesitates, pat your leg, clap your hands, and cajole him with a soft tone. Another trick that often works with the reluctant dog is to turn and walk away from him when he won't come. He'll probably start trotting to catch up. When he does, turn and face him, and make him sit at your heel. Then praise him extravagantly -- scratch his back, whatever he likes the most. Since he's slow to come to you in the first place, he may have bad associations that have to be broken through. Or maybe he just hasn't been made to feel that there's much pleasure to be expected from coming when called. In either case, you have to train him for a while to like coming to you. If your dog is in this latter category, you can profitably train him a bit longer than ten or twenty minutes. The rule is, if you're working on beginning exercises, the ones that involve a lot of praise and very little demand, you can keep it up a bit longer. As soon as either of you shows signs of irritability, it's time to stop. The dog, by the way, will seldom get impatient unless you do. Remember to test your dog on the recall at times other than the training period. Call him from across the yard when he's playing with the children, for example, or any time when he's busy with his own affairs. If he's well schooled, he should drop everything to come to his trainer. The only exception that comes to mind is just after the dog has been given a new bone. It's really too much to expect him to drop the bone to come, and he might suspect you of wanting to take it away from him. If he refuses to come at this time, don't fault him, as long as his other performances are good.
These seven exercises -- the sit, heel, turn, stand, sit-stay, lie-down, and come -- are the 21-Day Basic Obedience Course. When you have finished this program of training, your dog will know how to do these things. But remember, he'll know them the way a second-grader knows how to read. Without continued practice, he'll tend to forget his training. At the very least, he'll forget that he's expected to obey every time, whether he feels like it or not. It's a good idea to work your dog for a few minutes every day, just as you would if you used him for hunting or farm work. Here are a few combination exercises you might want to use when putting your pet through his paces. This will vary the action and keep both of you from getting bored with it all.
This is simply practice in going from the lie-down position to the sit and back again. If you have been training the dog to recognize hand signals, this one will be easy for both of you. The signal for the sit is to turn the palm of your hand upward, giving a slight upward motion, as if you were directing somebody to hang that picture just a little bit higher. Since he knows the command "Sit," he shouldn't have any trouble figuring out what you want, but the hand signals make it that much more graphic. When he's in the sitting position, drop him to the lie-down with command or signal or both. Keep this up until he responds quickly to your commands and stays in the desired position until you tell him to break it. You may want to use the leash for this exercise, just as a reminder. Don't forget to praise him every time he performs, at least in the beginning. After he seems to be obeying quickly and without reluctance, you don't have to reward him each and every time. If he comes to expect unfailing praise, he'll hold it against you on that inevitable occasion when you forget.
Obviously, this is a comprehensive review exercise, including all the really basic ideas of simple obedience. Actually, we usually practice the skills in this order: Come-heel-sit-down-sit. But your well-trained dog should be able to act out any combination of the basic exercises. Don't work the dog too fast at first, and don't confuse him -- and yourself -- with commands like "Come" when you and he are in the same place. The object of the combined exercises isn't to attain lightning speed, but to get the dog used to obedience in any combination of circumstances. You'll be very disappointed if your pet behaves perfectly in the training yard and runs away from you out on the street. For this reason, you should start to work him in strange places, in crowds, even in the car. He mustn't get the idea that obedience is place-connected, or even person-connected. Let others in the family work the dog once in a while, so that he won't think you're the only one he has to obey.
If you follow the exercises outlined in this chapter, you will indeed produce a fully trained pet in only 21 days. To summarize, these are the major points you should keep in mind while training your dog:
1. Positive Reinforcement. Much more is done -- by humans and animals alike -- to get something positive than to avoid something negative. It is well known that dogs will go through fire, quite literally, to help a master they love. Pain and punishment are poor teachers, and some of the lessons they teach are the ones no master wants his dog to learn. Punishment tells your dog to be afraid of you; not to trust you; to do what you wish out of intimidation. Positive reinforcement teaches him that the most pleasurable thing to do is just what you tell him. Sometimes dog owners are deceived by what seem to be the instant results of punishment. One spanking seems to make a dog obey, while it takes many, many trials with praise and patting to show appreciable results. In fact, negative consequences do show quicker results, but the undesirable side effects are immediate too, and very long-lasting. Once a dog has been taught to be afraid of a person or people, it takes months or years to coax him out of it. Praise and love make for slower progress, but each step is in exactly the right direction, with no built-in conducement toward errors that have to be corrected later.
While we discourage trainers from the use of punishment, we do advise occasional correction. The difference, as you have seen, is that correction must be seen by the dog as coming from the neutral environment, rather than from an angry or hostile master. You do not punish your dog, but you arrange for unpleasant consequences to befall him. This notion virtually precludes hitting, since most dogs will be quick to figure out what happened, even if they weren't looking when the blow fell. But flinging something noisy in the dog's direction often works well, as does a very quick tug on the leash, followed by release. If you do it right, the dog will always blame himself for having been so foolish. He might even look to you for comfort. If he does, be sympathetic. This kind of training establishes trust between dog and owner while it enforces obedience. It is this combination which makes for great working teams.
2. Operant Conditioning. This means that you wait for the behavior you want, then reinforce it. This is different from, and better than, forcing the dog to do something and then praising him or rewarding him for it. It takes a little more patience on the part of the trainer, since you have to just sit and wait until the dog happens to do what you want. But you can do this any time you see the behavior -- not just in a formal training session; so if you're in a rush, you can still train very quickly. Like negative reinforcement, forcing the desired behavior has unpleasant side effects that are difficult to get rid of. Most dogs feel some resentment when they are pushed into the sitting position, for example, or choked by the collar to keep them lying down. Dogs trained this way often think up unusual ways of defying their masters, or else they harbor a secret hostility that makes them unreliable as companions. Force works, especially if the dog is then rewarded, but patience works even better in the long run. If you wait for the dog to act, you give him the impression that he does what he does of his own free will. Training by operant conditioning produces a dog who obeys joyfully. He's under the impression -- not entirely false -- that he obeys because he wants to. Naturally, this makes him a more joyful and fulfilling companion.
3. Intermittency. This just means that you don't have to try to reinforce your dog every time he does what you want. Most of the time works better than every time. We humans shouldn't try to make our pets think we're infallible. They may be so disappointed when they find out we're not, they'll have a nervous breakdown. Or at any rate, a breakdown in training. Be steady and consistent, but not compulsive.
4. Patience. This isn't exactly a separate psychological principle, but it can hardly be overemphasized. Whenever you lose your temper, you're punishing the dog. And punishment works against you almost as much as it works for you. Remember that the dog is much more patient than you. If you don't get crabby, neither will he. Watch yourself for signs of irritability, and when you see them, stop training. You'll accomplish nothing in that mood anyway.
5. Forgiveness. This is mostly for yourself. Of course, perfect patience and nonviolence are the ideal. But no one should expect himself or his dog to live up to the ideal all the time. If you do lose your temper and whack poor Buck, don't go into shock. Make it up to him with a little love, then go on as before. The only thing that leads to trouble is if you make it a principle to use punishment. Believe it or not, your dog understands that everybody has a bad day. Be ready to forgive yourself for a little irascibility. Be ready to forgive the dog, too, though dogs are invariably lots more patient than people.
Copyright © 1977 by Ventura Associates
Twenty One Days to a Trained Dog
* how to housebreak your puppy quickly and painlessly
* how to break your dog's bad habits (barking, chewing, chasing cars and bicycles, jumping up on visitors, howling when left alone)
* how to train your dog to follow simple commands (sit, heel, turn, stay, lie down and come)
* how to teach your dog to fetch, jump, catch, carry or retrieve an object.
The simple Maller method is your guide to raising a happy, obedient dog -- one who follows your orders not out of fear (as in traditional training methods), but out of delight in pleasing you -- every time.