Why Obedience-Train Your Dog?
Once you begin a structured obedience program with your dog, many bad habits will disappear on their own. Obedience training will give your dog a way to please you. It will also teach your dog to take you seriously. Training will help your dog develop a "conscience" -- which your dog will need if he is going to remember not to repeat the crime.
Formal obedience training is also vital for your dog's safety. It gives you and your dog a common vocabulary to work with. Teaching your dog the meaning of various commands before a dangerous situation arises may save his life one day. If your dog knows what "come" and "stay" mean, you will be able to control him when it is most necessary.
Obedience training is a form of quality time between you and your dog, and it opens the door to communication between you and him. It also helps to establish you as pack leader. This strengthens his allegiance to you, and a stronger bond develops as a result.
Some dogs have no idea how they fit into their human family, and they are visibly relieved once formal training begins, because they finally have a lead animal (you) to follow! On an exercise as simple as the sit-stay, the eye contact between you and your dog can take on a whole new dimension, as your dog suddenly sees you in a different light.
Dogs of all temperaments and personality types can benefit from structured training. It will help a wild, unfocused dog center his attention, focus his thoughts, and calm down. A dog who is very submissive and timid will gain confidence through obedience training. For a dog who thinks himself higher than his human in the pack hierarchy, obedience training is a kind and safe way to slowly change his mind about his perceived status and begin to view you as the lead dog.
The obedience lessons presented here are sit, sit-stay, heel, down, down-stay, and come. Read each exercise several times and visualize what you'll be doing.
Make the training sessions fun for your dog. Give him lots of encouragement and praise, and vary the command sequences to keep him guessing about what's coming next. Start each lesson by reviewing the commands he knows best. Practice heeling to wake up a lazy dog and to exercise an active dog, changing your pace and direction frequently. Keep his tail wagging! Speak in a whisper sometimes, as though you are sharing a secret together. Other times, be animated. If you are in a bad mood, don't train your dog. Just take him to the park and relax with him.
Each training session should contain three elements: focused learning, play breaks, and calming massage. The play can be as simple as throwing a toy for him to play with, and the massage can be done casually while he is seated by your side. Be sure to end each training session before your dog gets bored and after he has just done a good job following your instructions.
Dogs learn best in short, frequent training sessions. Practice, for example, three times a day for ten minutes each session, for a total of thirty minutes a day. Or hold two sessions a day of twenty minutes each, for a total of forty minutes. The younger the dog, the shorter his attention span will be; a puppy will be happy with two to five minutes of focused learning repeated three to five times a day.
Remember to give your dog the corresponding hand signal every time you give the verbal command. This will help him learn the commands, and eventually he will respond to the hand signals alone. This can be useful in noisy situations or when you need to be silent and subtle about giving commands (such as when your mother-in-law is asleep on the couch!).
Surprise your dog with quickie drills on commands that he knows fairly well -- for example: heeling with sits, a sit-stay followed by come, and then a down-stay. The entire sequence can take three minutes and can be done anywhere.
When you are training your dog, it is important for him to respond quickly when you give a command, but don't drill him over and over again to try to perfect something that is good enough already. If your dog chooses to sit casually on one hip while you chat with a friend, that's fine. As long as he is cooperative, pays attention, and is happy to respond to you, don't worry about perfection.
The basic obedience instructions here are not meant to be a substitute for the help of a professional dog trainer. There are other more advanced commands that your dog would benefit from and that you might enjoy teaching. If you are having problems, do some research and find a trainer whose methods you like and respect. A little help goes a long way. If you want to prepare your dog for competition in the obedience ring, you will need to enroll in a specially designed class.
Copyright © 1995 by Jeanne Carlson with Ranny Green