Many people assume that the dogs belonging to dog trainers are highly trained, responsive dogs that always obey every request. Some trainers may have dogs like this, but in reality, most of us train our dogs to fit into our day-to-day lifestyle, and don’t bother training obedience behaviors that aren’t relevant to that goal.
For instance, I have no need to train my dogs to stay in one position for more than a few minutes, so I don’t bother training that. The fact that my dogs wouldn’t be able to remain in a cued stay for 30 minutes doesn’t indicate a lack of training skill on my part; I could train it if needed. I just don’t need it.
However, I do believe there are skills that every dog should be proficient at to not only make life easier for their families, but for reasons of safety. While your dog may be easy to live with most of the time, they are individuals with their own personalities that may lead to situations where you need to step-in. Training can help avoid disaster!
I had a student in a group class with an 8-month-old Goldendoodle. She was in the habit of allowing the dog off-leash in the front yard to play with the neighbor’s dog, also off leash.
This was fine when the puppy was younger as he would stay close to the house. But as he matured and started becoming more confident and independent, he would take off down the road and ignore calls to come back.
Dogs who get loose and won’t come when called, are dogs that are more likely to run into the road and get hit by a car. But training a solid recall isn’t a fast or easy thing. It takes many (thousands?) of successful repetitions so that when the dog hears the recall cue they don’t even think about it, they just automatically turn and go back to their owner.
The goal is to make a recall an ingrained habit, which takes a lot of practice with a variety of situations and environments. It also requires maintenance training once the dog is fairly reliable at coming when called.
Additionally, having a dog that comes to you when it’s time to leave the dog park, or when you want them to come in from the yard will make your life so much easier!
Recall games can help make the training of this behavior more like play and less like a chore, and also give you ways to practice in different scenarios.
“Wait” differs from “stay”. When we train a dog to stay we’re asking them to maintain a specific position at a specific spot until released. Wait simply means “don’t move any farther forward” or “don’t cross the threshold of the door”.
One of the questions I’m asked a lot is why you wouldn’t just tell the dog to stay instead of teaching a completely different behavior.
The fact is that stay requires a release cue, whereas wait does not. If I’m running out to do grocery shopping and don’t want my dog to follow, I can say “wait” and then leave. My dog is free to roam the house in my absence. If I ask my dog to sit-stay, technically my dog would have to maintain that position until I returned an hour later.
So many of the students I teach with adolescent dogs complain that the dog sneaks out when someone opens the door, and then runs around the neighborhood. (This is where that strong recall behavior would come in handy!) If you teach a good “wait” cue and train all your family members to use it you can eliminate this as an issue.
But one of the huge benefits of teaching “wait” is that it’s pretty versatile in the number of situations you can use it in. Opening the car door can be dangerous for a dog that would jump out without waiting for the owner to have the leash securely in hand. A good wait cue would prevent this.
I also use it on walks when I want to check for traffic before crossing the road. Giving a wait cue, looking both ways and then releasing my dogs so we can cross doesn’t take nearly as much time to implement as asking them to stay.
Wait is actually pretty easy to teach, and when used daily as part of your routine becomes useful fairly quickly.
If you don’t have your dog’s attention, you don’t have any chance of getting your dog to respond to your cues! Don’t expect to be able to “sit” when asked, much less come when called if their focus is on something other than you!
There is more than one type of attention, and I’ll talk about the ones I use with my dogs.
Many people wouldn’t see a reason to actively train their dog to respond to their name. After all, the dog does know their own name don’t they?
While this is most likely true, the real goal of teaching your dog their name is to get a response no matter what. So while you may believe that your dog knows their own name, can you honestly say that your dog would turn and pay attention to you if they were chasing a rabbit and you said their name?
Many trainers have their students work with their dogs on the name game. Spending a few seconds on this every day in a variety of different situations and environments will help your dog learn to pay attention when they hear their name no matter what!
Auto-watch, Look At That
I first learned about auto-watch from Patricia McConnell, and it’s very similar to Leslie McDevitt’s Look At That game.
With this particular method of attention, you are not asking the dog to give you attention, just teaching the dog to automatically give you attention in the face of something highly distracting. While these methods were originally created to help dogs who were reactive to other dogs or to people, it also works really well to dogs who get overly excited about specific distractions in the environment.
Basically, all you’re going to do is observe your dog at a far enough distance that your dog isn’t too wound up to think, and wait for your dog to look at you. At the moment that happens you want to market with a cue such as good boy or yes, and deliver a treat. The important part of this is that your verbal marker has to happen while the dog is still looking at you. If you don’t have a treat in your hand you still want to verbally mark it, and deliver the treat afterwards.
One of my dogs is not aggressive to other dogs but gets overly excited when she sees other dogs. I use this with Whimsy when we walk past a house where there is often a dog tied out in the yard. Whimsy is prone to lose her brain with excitement and start vocalizing.
At that point I knew that I needed to start working on it, so we started working on auto watch across the street from that yard. Over the course of a few days we were able to get closer and closer to the yard while Whimsy looked back and forth between the dog and me, and was able to control herself.
This is somewhat similar to Auto-watch in that you’re not asking the dog to look at you. While it’s unreasonable for you to expect your dog to give you undivided attention at all times, it is nice to have them check in with you periodically. This would be something that can be used if you’re at an off-leash dog park, or just on a walk.
The key to this is to make sure you are carefully observing your dog, and paying attention to them when they check in with you. So anytime your dog approaches you or turns and looks at you, you should be acknowledging them in a way that makes them motivated. You could give your dog a treat, pull out a toy and play with them, or just give them attention and be a little bit silly to make them happy!
The more you acknowledge these check-ins, the more your dog will check in with you.
I once had a client with an 8-month-old beagle that got into EVERYTHING. He was never still or relaxed, just went from one thing to another until crated at bedtime
Yes, young dogs need exercise, and if they don’t get enough they can be extremely difficult to live with. But sometimes people assume that an adolescent or young dog that can’t settle down isn’t getting enough exercise, and keep adding more to the workout routine, creating an uber-athlete.
Many of these dogs don’t actually need more exercise, but just haven’t learned how to relax during downtime. If the owner works hard to constantly keep the dog busy and exercised, the dog may not learn to entertain themselves and go lie down with a chew toy. Micro-management doesn’t allow the dog to learn to make good choices on their own.
So how do you teach this? By observing your dog and giving your dog attention when they choose to relax and settle down. Counterintuitive, I know, but it will work! You can also work on “go to mat” to help train relaxation.
If you have a dog that will relax or appropriately keep themselves occupied when you can’t give them your attention, it will make your life so much easier!
Let’s face it, dogs pick up things they shouldn’t. Sometimes what they pick up is our personal belongings that we don’t want them to have. Sometimes they pick up things that are disgusting (to us at least.) Sometimes they pick up things that could be dangerous to the dog.
Teaching your dog to voluntarily drop items when asked could make your life easier and potentially save your dog’s life.
There are many things dogs can learn how to do, from loose leash walking, stay or just learning some fun tricks. You definitely don’t have to be limited to training the 5 behaviors I’ve outlined in this post, but if you have limited time, these are the things that will be worth it to train!