Training Commands

By David Schmucker

General Rules

1. Exercise, Discipline then Affection.  Run or walk off the excess energy before training. A dog cannot concentrate if he is pent up.  Use discipline to ask your dog to “earn” his affection and rewards.  Receiving random affection without some structure confuses the mind and creates frustration.  Be as clear as possible with what the dog needs to do to be rewarded.  Use common sense.  It is not necessary for the dog to earn every reward.  Have a set number of behaviors that must be earned.  For example; when going outside on a walk the dog should be calm, not excited, and accept the collar willingly and easily.

The word ‘discipline’ has taken on a more severe meaning than is warranted.  Here are the first two definitions from the dictionary.

a.         Training expected to produce a specific character or pattern of behavior, especially training that produces moral or mental improvement.

b.         Controlled behavior resulting from disciplinary training; self-control.

2.  Acknowledge the dog’s lineage.  First and foremost your dog is an animal, then a dog, then its particular breed, and finally your family pet.  If you treat your dog only as a member of the family, it will become unbalanced and troublesome.

3.  Don’t use the dog’s name to scold or correct.  Make the dog’s name a sound that he wants to come to when called.  Encourage this with chicken or another treat when he responds to his name. When the dog responds routinely, reduce the treat over time to zero.  If the dog “softens” when called, reintroduce the treat as needed.

4.  Use a Sharp Sound when correcting.  In addition to a pull or quick tug on the leash, you can correct the dog with a sharp sound (do not use the dog’s name).  For instance “HEY!” spoken sharply will get the dog’s attention and generally get him to stop what he’s doing.

5.  Avoid repeating a command.  It is better to issue a command once, making sure the dog has heard you, and then two seconds later correct with the leash.  Repeating a command over and over again floods the dog’s mind with a word he may not understand.  A dog will always understand a physical command (pulling on the leash or bumping him with your leg).  He will later connect the physical to the verbal.

6.  Increase the intensity of a command or correction until the dog responds.  A soft command issued to a very excited dog, most likely will not work.  Over time, it is desirable to teach the dog to respond to less stimulus.  Using your natural voice should be enough to have the dog responds to your commands. Make a game out of how quietly you can speak a command and have the dog respond.  You may be surprised how little a voice is needed.

7.  Be aware of how your voice affects the dog.  If you use a high-pitched excited voice expect the dog to be more excited.  Dogs can hear even better than humans.  So shouting with anger or frustration in your voice is something to be avoided.  Simply stated, if you are calm and assertive you dog will be calm and submissive.

8.  Restart Your Dog. If the dog makes a mistake or isn’t listening simply move the dog as necessary to the starting position and try it again.  Reward ANY, small, itsy-bitsy, tiny, minute, detectable, incremental, minuscule or modest improvement.  Get it?  Move your dog towards the goal in the smallest steps you can think of.  It’s your job to communicate in any way that the dog can understand. Don’t ask the dog to understand you.

9.  Mean what you say.  Act in a way that conveys to the dog that the commands are NOT optional.  Dogs (and people) know when you are serious and when you are not.  This does not mean shouting.  It means being a leader and asking the dog to follow. Use a firm, calm, no nonsense voice. Use your body and lean forward for emphasis. 

10.  Leadership with dogs is different than leading people.  Dogs follow a strong leader.  The dog’s leader goes where he or she wishes, the follower dogs move out of the way.  In the dog world this isn’t being rude.  It is conveying leadership with physical movement.  The leader goes first and advises the followers of what is going to happen next.  The leader decides when the followers go through the door, when to get up, when to sit down, when it is OK to approach the dinner bowl.  Get your dog to be a follower and you will notice a happier, more secure pet.

11.  Speak up and tell visitors and your Vet how to be around your dog.  If the dog is excitable, ask them not to say anything but just pet the dog, etc.  Better to tell the visitor ahead of time than have an excited dog jump up and lick their face. 

Note: Scratching a dog under the chin is preferable to on the top of the head for a couple of reasons.  First, the dog’s view of you is not obstructed so he can feel more comfortable. Second, should the dog want to bite, it is much more difficult for the dog to reach when a hand is under the chin rather than on the head.  Third, they like it better and it encourages the head to be up which, in a dog’s body language, indicates they are proud, happy & friendly.  The mind follows the body language.

Suggested Commands

Walk — With this command you are asking the dog to stay by your knee when walking along.  The dog is not to be sniffing, pulling or otherwise distracted from following your direction and pace.

Get Busy – The dog is now free to roam within the confines of the leash length and relieve himself.  Do not permit the dog to “pull” during this time.  If he does, retrieve him back to your side and start again.

OK — This is a general release command, which is used to signal the dog that he is free to go move and is no longer bound by a command.

Sit — The dog is to stay seated until he has received the release command of “OK.”  Lengthen the time that the dog sits without trying to get up.  Put him back in the seated position if he moves on his own.

Cross— A good habit is to have the dog sit beside the handler before crossing a street.  When the dog is settled and is waiting for a command, announce “Cross,” which signals the dog that it is now time to cross the street.  A dog that is used to sitting every time he comes to the curb is far LESS likely to run out into traffic.

Stay — This asks the dog to remain in any position – standing, sitting or lying down – until released by “OK.”

Wait — This is a more restrictive command than “stay.”  We are not only asking the dog to keep his feet in the same place, but also his head.  This can be very helpful when the dog is learning new tricks. 

Settle — This is asking the dog to settle down.  When a dog is in an excited state he is much more difficult to handle. Teaching a dog to settle sets up rewards for being quiet and attentive.  One way to build this behavior is to repeat the word and then reward ANY (no matter how small) improvement toward the goal.  Ask the dog to “settle” before removing him from the kennel.  The “reward” is to be with you.

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David Schmucker & Tessie

Senior Trainer

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