Training Commands:(using clicker)
When giving commands you will always put the dogs name in front of the command. The only time you do not use his name first is when you tell him ‘no’. You do not want the dog to associate his name with a negative. The hand signals for training commands are generalized for a medium to large size dog, for a small dog you may have to start out kneeling on the floor so he can see the hand signals clearly.
Loading the clicker:
Call your dog’s name and as he gives you his attention click and treat. Repeat this several times until you no longer have to call the dog, but just the click gets his attention. When his attention turns to you each time you click, he is ready to begin. Should your dog be one of the few that does not usually respond to food as a reward then use his favorite toy instead. In this case you will click, praise and offer him his toy.
Getting your dog’s eye contact is important for these reasons; it shows that the dog is paying attention to you and awaiting your next move, and it puts you in the dominant position. You want your dog to know that you are the leader.
If your dog is small enough, place him on top of a table and call his name. The moment he turns his eyes toward your face click and treat. If you have a larger dog, contain him in a small quiet room, such as a bathroom, so he has no other alternative than to stay and look at you. Repeat this process until you are sure your dog will make eye contact each and every time you call his name. Should your dog find it hard to give you eye contact which sometimes happens with a ‘fear aggressive’ dog, or a ‘fear submissive’ dog, show him the treat as you call his name, then slowly move the treat up and even with your eyes. If the dog follows the treat to you eyes or anywhere near your face, click and treat. Repeat this process until the dog is comfortable enough to look at your face. If your dog is ‘fear aggressive’ or ‘fear submissive’ it may take him longer to look at you, as both types of behaviors make the dog leery and he does not want a confrontation. Eye contact is a dog’s way of being challenged by an intruder.
Sit is the easiest command to teach your dog but you must remember that it is a command that stands alone. Many people mistakenly say “Rover, sit down” The dog looks at you stupidly as if asking the question, “Do you want a sit or a down?” Sit and down are two different commands and should be used as such. At first you will not say anything to the dog. Hold the treat over his head until he is forced into the sit position by looking up at the treat. As soon as his bottom starts to hit the floor click and treat. Once he gets the idea that he must sit, make sure the next time that his bottom is planted firmly on the floor. Repeat this process adding his name and the command ‘sit’. (Example: Chance, Sit.) The hand signal/command for sit is simply raising your hand up from your waist to your chest area, palm facing up.
Use the vocal command and the hand command in conjunction when you first begin training. If your dog has trouble with a sit in an open area, try putting him as close to a wall as possible so as he backs up his only alternative is to sit.
Helpful hint: If you have your dog sit before feeding, petting, answering the door, or greeting you at the door, he will be less inclined to jump on people.
Whenever you teach a dog a command it is very important to also give a release command. This tells the dog that the command is over and he can go back to being his inquisitive self. You can use a short phrase such as the dogs name and ‘okay’ in a semi exited voice. (Example: Chance, okay!) Always remember to release the dog from a command. You will get longer stays if there is a release command.
Putting your dog in a down position may take a little more work. Dogs feel very vulnerable in the down position so it is important to take more time with this command.
While your dog is in the sit position, show him the treat and bring the treat down toward the floor near his front feet. As his nose follows the treat, drag the treat on the floor toward you and away from the dog. As he follows the treat his front legs should start to move down toward the floor, click and treat. Repeat this until you can get his whole body down on the floor. Once he has no problem with putting his whole body on the floor incorporate the command down. (Example: Chance, Down) Should your dog have trouble going down with just the clicker and treat, use the treat in conjunction with his leash. With his leash attached to his collar try pulling the leash down gently to the floor at the same time you are showing him the treat. Remember to click and treat the moment his body starts to hit the floor. The hand signal/command is done by starting with your right hand, palm down, just under your chest and bringing it down toward the floor ending just about waist level. Sometimes it is necessary to go lower, especially with a puppy, but once the dog understands the command completely , stopping at the waist should suffice.
With the dog in a sit at your left side, the leash in your left hand being held close to the dog’s collar, hold the treat in your right hand in front of the dog’s nose. Hold the treat as close to your left leg as possible, preferably at the outer seam of your pants. Say the dog’s name and the command Heel. (Example: Chance, Heel) The dog’s head should be even with your left leg, he should not go ahead of you. Always start off with your left foot when you heel your dog. This will give the dog a visual cue as well as a verbal command. As the dog follows the treat, click, treat, and repeat the command in succession.
As a Therapy Dog, your dog must be able to heel weaving in and out of obstacles, so you’ll want to teach heel as close to your leg as possible. It may be helpful to teach heel in a narrow hallway at first. This will insure that the dog stays close to you and you’ll get a straight heel as opposed to his head being near your leg but his body way out in left field! When training heel you should make right turns and left turns. A right turn is the easiest as all you are doing is turning right and asking your dog to follow you. A left turn heel is a little more difficult for some people and this is why it is so important that your dog’s head not be in front of your leg or you will find yourself tripping over the dog. When making a left turn heel, say the word heel and swing your left leg out and in front of the dog, if he is in the right position he will just continue to follow you. If he is too far in front of your leg he will get a bop in the head as you bring your left leg in front of him. Most dogs pick this up quickly as two or three bumps in the noggin is enough for them to remember to stay at your side.
To get your dog to always heel properly and consistently continue making right turns, left turns, and about turns (turning all the way around in the opposite direction)during your training sessions. If the dog is not sure what is coming next he will surely watch your movements closely.
When you come to a stop, you will tell the dog to ‘sit’ by your left leg, both of you facing in the same direction. The hand signal/command for heel is simply tapping your left leg with your hand and stepping off with your left foot.
There are some dogs that when asked to heel, find it more enjoyable to grab a hold of the leash and play a game of tug of war. To help correct this problem, ‘before’ the leash is put on the dog, soak it down with Bitter Apple spray thereby making the leash an unpleasant item to grab. Should your dog be the rare exception and not mind the Bitter Apple taste then try peppermint breath spray or Tabasco sauce. You will have to repeat this as the leash will not hold those ingredients for more than a day. Don’t fret, this is not a life long daily process, as soon as your dog regularly stops trying to grab the leash as you walk, he has gotten the idea and you will no longer have to spray it.
Put the dog in a sit command at your left side. Holding the leash in your left hand put your right palm in front of his face and say the word stay. Pivot in front of your dog starting with your right foot. (Remember that if you use your ‘left’ foot the dog will get the visual cue of heel) Stand about one foot or less in front of him repeating the command stay. (Example, Chance, Stay) Wait only a few seconds at first, if he stays, click and treat. Gradually you will increase the distance between you and the dog and the amount of time of the stay. Try to always catch his good behavior in the stay command by clicking and treating before he has a chance to get up and break the stay. By catching and rewarding him in a stay you are setting him up for successful behavior and not failure. Should the dog break the stay, just say ‘oops’ in a non threatening tone, place him back in the initial spot in the sit position, and shorten the stay time. The hand signal for stay is placing your right palm in front of the dog’s face.
Put the dog in the down position at your left side. Put your right hand in front of the dog’s face and give the stay command. Step off with your right foot. Again going only about a foot in front of him and repeating the command stay. Remember to click and treat for good behavior. Follow the above steps, gradually increasing the time and distance between you and the dog. The down stay position is the most difficult for the dog to perform as he feels very vulnerable and open to attack. Should he break the down stay, just say “oops” in a non threatening tone and start again at the place where the dog broke his down command. There should be no reason to use the collar correction in any stay command, however, once the dog is in the down position you may want to step on the leash to prevent him from getting up. This will only work if you are close to the dog but it is a start in getting a good stay. Holding the treat above your shoulder sometimes helps the dog remain in a stay command as his eyes are usually glued to the treat.
What is the difference between stay and wait? The stay command means stay where you are until I release you. A wait command may be given if your hands are full of groceries and you are trying to get through the door before your dog pushes past you knocking all of the groceries to the floor! Another example of wait is if the dog is in the car and anxious to get out, for a visit, or for other reasons, that he starts pulling on the seat belt or pawing at the crate, you will give him the wait command to calm him down. Should you choose not to use either safety device in your car, you would give the wait command before you open the door so he doesn’t jump out into traffic! Wait is more of a brief pause meaning stop where you are for a minute or two. I use the wait command for the above but also when I visit places that want to take pictures. The wait command lets the dog know that they will be in that position for only a few minutes. To get my dog Chance to sit for a nice picture I want his head up, so I also use human sign language for the meaning of wait, which is taking your right hand, placing it at your left shoulder, palm facing your shoulder, and wiggle your fingers back and forth. By doing it this way Chance’s line of vision is on my shoulder bringing his head up for perfect picture taking! When the picture is over I bring my hand down and he knows the wait is over and he may get up. Of course if you are coming through the door with an arm full of groceries using sign language won’t work, so you will always verbalize the wait command. To teach wait, bring the dog to a quiet room, have the dog sit, face the dog and say the word wait while giving the hand gesture simultaneously. Keep him there for only a few seconds at first, then drop your hand and turn away from the dog. At this point your dog will wonder what’s going on, no click no treat? Call the dog to you and when he comes to you click and treat. By clicking after you turn around you are rewarding the whole behavior of waiting. If you click and treat after the two seconds the dog will think it’s okay to get up, when in reality you don’t want him under your feet until you call his name. Remember that bag of groceries I told you about? If you told the dog to wait while going through the door with your hands full and wait to the dog only meant to stay facing you for two minutes, you would never be able to continue through the door as the dog would constantly be moving forward to face you. So you want the dog to know wait means until you call his name. Repeat the above until you can increase the wait time for at least two to four minutes. Of course your dog does not have to be sitting; standing in place is fine also. Once you’ve mastered the command in a quiet place bring your dog to the door with the leash on and tell him to wait as you open the door. You will then walk through the door and only after you are completely out and a few feet away from the door do you call his name. Click and treat. Should the dog try to squeeze through the door as you open it, tell him no, put your foot on the leash and give the command wait, again. If the dog is still giving you problems when you open the door, because lets face it, that rabbit on the front lawn looks mighty tempting, try this, tell the dog to wait, slowly start to open the door, as his head starts stretching toward the door, quickly close it. Repeat this as many times as necessary, and always put him back in the same spot before you give the command again. Now I must admit that occasionally the dog will be faster at getting his nose to the door than you will be at closing it so be prepared for a few nose crunches! Just make sure the pressure you are using to close the door isn’t so hard that your dog will get hurt in the process. Keep in mind that your own fingers may feel that same crunch occasionally.Once you’ve mastered the door wait it is time to try it in the car. If you were paying attention in the beginning of the training chapter you will know that dogs do not always carry a command over from one place to another. If you have a garage it is best to start in there with the door closed for the dog’s safety. If you don’t have a garage, attach the twenty foot lead to the dog’s collar and close in or tether to, a car door that you will not be using. This insures that if the dog does bolt out he cannot run out into traffic. You will give the command wait before opening the car door, only after you have attached his six foot leash to his collar and called his name may he get out of the car. He may try to bolt out for the first few times and this is normal as he is in a new environment, but having first mastered the wait command in the house he should quickly catch on in the car as well. Just be sure not to use the closing of the car door tactic that you used with the house door as it may hurt too much and you can ruin him from ever wanting to go in the car again.
Stand comes in handy when the dog needs to be groomed or examined by a vet. Start by putting your dog in a sit stay. Walk a few feet away and call him to you. Once he is in front of you place one arm under his belly near his back legs and the other arm under his neck grasping the collar. Give the command ‘stand’. (Example: Chance, stand.) Hold him there for only a few seconds at first, repeating the command, and clicking and treating as long as he is standing. Repeat this step until his stand gets longer. Do not forget to release him when the command is over. It may also help if while in the stand position, you hold the treat near his mouth and let him nibble on it as you repeat the command. The hand signal/command for stand is taking both hands, palms up and bring them from your waist to just under your chest. Of course you will not be able to use this signal until the ‘word’ stand is learned.
Targeting can help when your dog approaches a person in a wheelchair, or for approaching someone who is laid up in bed. By teaching him targeting eventually you can point to where you want the dog to put his head. Show the dog a treat being held in your ‘right’ hand, close your hand to make a fist surrounding the treat. Hold your right fist with the treat in it just a few inches from your dog’s nose and as your dog sniffs your hand to check out the smell of the treat, click and treat from your ‘left’ hand. After a few times, incorporate the command ‘Touch’. (Example: Chance, Touch) Once he is touching your hand on command, you can switch hands with the yummy the treat so he is never sure where the treat will come from but will happily oblige the command ‘touch’ to get one. Once he is touching both of your hands on command, incorporate other items, like a spoon, a book, a chair arm, etc. Use as many different items as you can find, especially items of different texture and size. Eventually you will point to where you want the dog to place his head while giving him the touch command. Then incorporate the stay command. Do this for only a few seconds at first as he is more likely going to look up at you for the treat. You can try holding the treat hand on the object you want him to stay on. Remember though, you must click before he has the chance to lift his head.
If you purchased an older dog from the local pound or if you have no history on an older dog, keep in mind that the commands ‘come’ or ‘here’ may be a negative word for him. It is possible that his former owner called him to come and then made the mistake of punishing the dog as soon as the dog came. In this case you will want to choose your command wisely and change it if necessary. I personally like the command ‘here’ because I find that the word come is used so often in a household between family members that the dog becomes somewhat desensitized to the word. For instance, “Come on kids, it’s time for school.” or, “Are you going to come with us?” Which ever command word you choose, here or come, be aware that this is the most difficult and most important command for a dog to recall. You will want to train this command in a quiet non distracting place such as a basement, garage, or hallway before trying it outside. You will also want to forego the hot dogs you have been using in lieu of a tastier treat like beef or chicken. When you think your dog is ready to try this command outside make sure the area is fenced and his leash is attached so there is no possibility of him loosing focus and chasing after a car.
Start out using the six foot leash. Put the dog in a down stay or sit stay, and walk to the end of the leash. Tap your right hand to your chest; say the dog’s name and here. (Example: Chance, here) As he starts coming toward you click, click, click and click, in succession. If he gets distracted along the way, gently reel him in toward you with the leash and continue to call his name and give the command. Once he gets to you, have him sit in front of you. Click and give him the mother load of treats for a job well done! In the next step, again using the six foot leash put the dog in a sit stay, walk to the end of the leash and give the here command. As the dog starts approaching you, you will start to move backward in a little jog repeating the command and clicking as long as he is following you. When you stop, put him in a sit in front of you, click, praise, and treat well.
Repeat this step with the six foot leash for one or two weeks three times a day.
In step two you will take the dog outside in as little of a distracting place as possible and use the twenty foot lead in place of the six foot lead. For the next two weeks or longer if needed, you will use the twenty foot lead in the same manner as the six foot lead. Remember, just because the dog does well while in a non distracting place, taking him into the outside world is a whole different story. There are so many neat things for a dog to check out. Why should he come to you when he can roll in cow dung, or chase a squirrel? That’s why the reward and praise he gets from you for coming is extremely important. You want your dog to think you are the best thing since roast beef was discovered. Never use the come/here command if your dog should get loose from you while he is in training or you will only show him that the command means nothing because he is free and can go where he wants without the lead there to reel him in. If by chance the dog gets away from you while training and is running off try playing the 'get me game'. Say the dog's name in a happy excited voice and start running in the opposite direction. Hopefully the dog will think it is time to play and turn around and start chasing you! Grab a hold of the leash at that time and do not scold him but give him lots of praise and with the leash attached continue playing the get me game so the dog doesn’t realize it was just a rouse to get him back in the car or house. It would also be a good idea to reinforce the come/here command through play in your living room. Have two people sit at opposite sides of the room, have plenty of treats and your clickers handy, call the dog back and forth between you using his name and the here command. Once the dog reaches each person who is calling him he gets a click, lots of treats, and overwhelming praise. If the dog goes to the person that is not calling him he should get no click or reward, and should be ignored by that person. Only when the dog goes to the person who is calling him should he get praise and reward. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to always praise your dog for coming to you when called. Too many people make the mistake of getting angry when their dog breaks loose and runs down the street that by the time they catch the dog, either out of anger or fear, they yell or hit the dog. This is the worst thing you can do, for it only tells the dog, “When my owner gets a hold of me I will be hit or scolded.” Would you want to go back to your father or mother if you knew you would get hit? Of course not. That’s why it is imperative that no matter the situation, you always praise your dog for coming to you, and give yourself a bop in the head for the mishap that put your dog in danger. Yeah, Yeah, I know accidents happen.
Once your dog has learned the above command you can start phasing out the excessive treat use. To do this, give him a command, click and treat. Then give him that same command, click and praise with words and lots of lovin’. Then move to treating every third time, then every sixth time, etc. You don’t have to give up treats altogether. You want the dog to think, “Hey, if I do that I may get a treat.” The operative word being “may.” You can still use the clicker as a behavior marker for any good behavior you catch the dog doing. If you’re ever out with your dog and have forgotten your clicker you can basically make a similar sound with your mouth.
The hand signal/command for come is taking your right hand and patting your chest.
The leave it command is extremely important to teach your dog. I am reminded of one of the dogs in our therapy group that ate a pill found on the floor of a resident’s room. The dog eventually went into seizures and had to be rushed to the vet. Thankfully everything turned out okay. To teach the ‘Leave It’ command, take a boring everyday treat such as a biscuit, show it to the dog and then throw it on the ground about three feet from the dog. Make sure you have your leash and Martingale collar attached to the dog for correction. In your right hand you will also have a very special treat such as chicken, or roast beef. You want to make sure the treat is one he does not normally train with and something very yummy. Give the command of ‘Leave It’ (example: Chance, Leave It.) to your dog as he eyes the biscuit on the ground. Walk him in the heel position around the treat at a radius of three feet. Should he go for the biscuit, and most dogs will, give him a slight tug on the leash and give the leave it command again. When he backs away from the biscuit or looks at your face wondering what you are talking about, click and give him the yummy treat from your hand. Repeat this process until the dog shows no interest in the object that was placed on the ground. You will also want to incorporate toys into the leave it training as some dogs are really toy motivated. The concept is to make the dog think that if he obeys the 'leave it' command something better is coming his way. Eventually as his training is well under way, special treats will be replaced with praise. The hand signal/command for Leave It, is taking your right (or left) hand and moving it in front of the dog’s face from left to right in a sweeping motion.
Another way to teach leave it is to take the boring treat and place it in your right or left hand, have the yummy treat in the opposite hand, show the dog the boring treat and as he goes for it close your hand around the treat making it inaccessible to him, after his sniffing, licking and pawing have stopped and he looks at you as if to say, “Hey, are you gonna’ give me it or not?” Click and reward with the yummy treat in your opposite hand. Eventually you will incorporate the command leave it.
Teaching a dog to drop it is almost as important as the leave it command. Should your dog take off with mother’s fine jewelry you’ll want to get that back. Or if he should happen to be walking around with your neighbor's cat in his mouth, well, that’s a definite no, no! While the dog has a toy in is mouth, give the command ‘drop it’ at the same time offering him a treat. I’m sure he’ll choose the treat over the toy. Once he drops the object click and treat. Repeat this throughout formal and informal training. Never chase a dog that has something you want or he will think of it as a game and continue running. If he you have taught a good sit stay command try using that.
Remember that off is a different command than down. Too many people make the mistake of telling the dog to get down from the couch while the dog is already lying in the ‘down position’ on the couch. To the dog, down means lying down, and since he’s already lying down he may get confused at to what you’re asking him to do. Make sure to use the proper command for what you expect. To train your dog the off command you may actually have to set him up with the behavior you don’t want. If he is already on the couch that’s great, if not call him onto the couch. Put a treat in front of his nose and lead him off the couch at the same time saying off, clicking and treating him as he makes his way off the couch. Repeat this when the dog is in a location where you want him off. Jumping on people is another good use for the off command.