Teaching your dog to obey you isn’t as difficult as many people think. A combination of verbal commands, hand signals, and rewards is usually the most effective way to communicate with your dog. Once you’ve opened the doors to communication, you’ll find that training Rex or Lady is much easier.
Before you try teaching your dog a command, look over the following guidelines for your own behavior:
- Be consistent. Don’t tell your dog to “sit” and follow through only occasionally. It’s not okay for your dog to listen to you only some of the time. A well-behaved dog obeys commands consistently.
- Speak in a confident tone. Don’t ask, “Heel?” You’re in charge. Tell him what to do.
- Initially, feel free to reward with food and praise. Dole out treats less frequently after your dog knows the command.
- Use the leash as an aid to help you maintain your position as leader.
- Avoid confusion by saying one thing (“No!”), but communicating the opposite meaning (patting your dog’s head).
- End all training sessions on a good note. Finish with a command your dog knows, and praise him liberally when he obeys.
Once you understand the general guidelines for training, you can start to teach simple commands.
The “Watch Me” Command
Getting and maintaining your dog’s attention is the first step in successful training. To get your dog’s attention, say his name, point to your eyes, say “Watch me,” and hold his gaze for ten seconds. You can do this on or off leash. Then release him, saying “Good dog!” Repeat this in several places.
If he walks away, follow him, bring him back to where you were, and try again. Once your dog has learned the “watch me” command, he’s ready to learn hand signals. Dogs can learn to sit, stay and come as long as the hand signals are clearly distinguishable.
The “Sit” Command
While maintaining eye contact, gently place your dog into the “sit” position, repeat the command and reward him. You can also take a food treat and place it just above his nose, so he has to sit to reach it.
The “Stay” Command
This is a more difficult command. The key to success is to start slowly. Initially, praise your dog if he stays for 5 seconds. Then gradually increase the time. After he can sit still for a few seconds, begin moving away. If he breaks his stay, you may have moved too far or waited too long. Just place him in the sit position again, and decrease the distance and the time until he knows to stay until you call his name.
The “Heel” Command
Begin this training indoors. With your dog on a leash, have him sit to your left side. Hold the leash as if you were going to pull, and, using your dog’s name, say “Rex, heel!” That tells your dog to move. If he decides to run ahead of you, when he reaches the end of the leash, execute a quick U-turn. He will be surprised and forced to move with you. When he catches up to you, praise him. Repeat this several times.
Now it’s time to teach Rex to walk next to you. Seat him to your left, say “Rex, heel!” and start to move. If (and when) he moves ahead of your left thigh, pull the leash in a corrective jerk motion (not too hard!), and U-turn again. Repeat this exercise over the days that follow, and your dog should learn the command quickly.
Give your dog constant feedback during training. A firm “No!” expresses your displeasure when he’s not behaving. Reward appropriate behavior with treats and praise, and your dog will know exactly what to do to please you—a dog’s ultimate goal!