You might not want your dog to be an obedience champion, but all dogs enjoy learning the four essentials – sit, down, stay and come – as long as you make training a fun and positive experience
Posted: 05 March 2017
Once upon a time, training used to be about making a dog work for an owner. Today, training is all about opening up a way for you to engage with your dog in a mutually beneficial activity that you can both enjoy. Learning how to train your dog can strengthen your relationship with them and help them to become a calm and valued member of your family and the community.
Training requires real effort from your dog, both physically and mentally, especially if there are distractions such as other dogs around – so using extra special food treats (that are reserved just for training) to keep their attention is essential. You can use specially-designed dog treats, or try irresistible bits of chopped-up chicken or cheese – whatever gets your dog’s taste buds tingling! Food – or a favourite toy for some breeds – coupled with lots of praise, is what dogs respond to best.
To make training your dog a successful experience, you need to be sensitive to their needs and understand that when your dog fails to do what you’ve asked, it’s because they need more training, or more motivation, or you’re not doing something right so he simply doesn’t understand what you want. By using positive, reward-based training techniques, you can start by teaching your dog the four essentials: sit, down, stay and come.
>> Using a food lure, slowly attract the dog’s head upwards, so their bottom goes down to the ground.
>> Immediately the dog sits, say ‘good girl/good boy!’ then reward them with a treat. Getting the sequence right is essential – engineer the action, praise them, then give the reward.
>> After a few repetitions, using the same luring action with your hand, but without food in your hand, reward the dog for sitting from your other hand, or from your pocket.
>> Once your dog is doing this easily, perhaps offering it without the hand signal at all, you are ready to introduce the ‘sit’ command. Just before you know the dog will sit anyway, say ‘sit’, then reward them. Repeat frequently over several training sessions. Once you start to see your dog pre-empting the luring action when you say ‘sit’, you know they are beginning to understand the word.
>> Lure your dog into a sitting position first, then lure their nose down towards the ground, dragging the treat towards you until your dog is lying down and immediately reward them.
>> When your dog starts to drop down of their own accord, following your hand, as with the ’sit’, start to teach a command to lie down by saying ‘down’. Once they’ve nailed this, you can start progressing to teaching them to go ‘down’ from a standing up position.
>> Learning to ‘stay’ is quite tricky for most dogs, and will take practice and patience. Once your dog understands how to ‘sit’ or ‘down’, keep facing them and move a step or two backwards saying ‘stay’, quickly rewarding them with a treat if they stay put.
>> Gradually move further away for longer periods (up to one minute), stepping back to reward your dog with a treat while they remain in the ‘stay’.
>> If they move, walk back to them and ask them to ‘sit’ or ‘down’, reward them, and start the gradual moving away process again, Eventually, your dog should be able to remain in the ‘stay’ position until you call them.
>> This one is much easier for dogs to learn and most pick it up very quickly! Try throwing a treat a distance away, then, once your dog has eaten it, call them back to you by saying ‘come’ giving them lots of praise and a treat when they run to you.
MORE TRAINING? If you decide you’d like some professional help, remember that there are no legal requirements about who can call themselves a trainer, or what methods they use. Before signing up, find out how they train – and check they never use punitive methods such as choke chains – training should always be reward-based. Ask your vet for recommendations, go and watch a class and talk to other dog owners.
>> The Association of Pet Dog Trainers provides helpful advice at APDT>>
>> The Kennel Club Good Citizen Dog Scheme is the largest dog training programme in the UK. There are four levels of courses from Puppy Foundation, to Bronze, Silver, and Gold Awards. The scheme is open to all dogs and dog owners. There are currently around 1,800 dog training clubs and other organisations around the country actively administering the scheme. To find your nearest accredited trainer visit The Kennel Club>>
>> To find a qualified pet behaviourist, both for training puppies and dogs as well as help with the treatment of behaviour problems, contact the Association of Pet Behaviourists and Trainers at capt.org>>