Everyone wants a dog that will obey, but most people don’t have a clue how to get there. It’s relatively simple, BE CONSISTENT.
Don’t change the rules on a daily (or in some cases, an hourly basis.) Dogs are incapable of understanding subtle differences in scenario… If jumping up on you is okay when you’re wearing your sweats but not okay when you’re wearing your good clothes, then all your really managing to do is confuse the hell out of your dog. Luckily, most dogs aim to please. They love to see their owners happy. Happy owners=affectionate owners and what red- blooded American dog won’t do a little work for some attention, affection and play time?
One of the most crucial lessons that I can teach you is: Limit the affection you often give for free. Dogs really want to earn their keep, as well as your love. If there is no work involved, you’re fulfilling yourself and not your dog. This is backwards and it’s not at all effective in maintaining that happy, obedient relationship with your dog.
I won’t go into the “free love and affection” scenario right now, (that’s a whole blog post on its own,) however; I am going to repeat something my mother told me when I started dating. “He won’t buy the cow if he can get the milk for free.” I didn’t get it then, but after working with dogs over these last several years, it finally makes some sense.
Something as simple as asking your dog to sit before you pet him or feed him, can go a long way towards having that wonderfully obedient dog we discussed earlier. In fact I would go as far as saying this bit of sage advice is probably a little more apropos in canine training than it is in the dating world.
Sit is a very basic command. Once mastered, most dogs will comply without even thinking about it. It actually becomes a reflex action if it is practiced enough. I can’t even begin to tell you how many people I see on a regular basis that completely forget that this command is in their dog-care tool box.
I see people chasing their dogs all over the dog park, trying to get their dog to come to them. This brings me to rule # 1: Don’t chase the dog. (No rules are absolute in the dog world. I am certain that there are many situations where people should chase their dogs, but in most typical cases we’ll just say, it is not recommended, unless of course the consequences are life threatening or you really enjoy doing it.)
When I see this “Human Chasing Dog” game in action and notice the frustration and embarrassment on a dog owner’s face, I often ask this simple question. “Can your dog sit?” Pet owners often look at me like I am totally nuts. That’s usually where I introduce myself and kindly suggest, “Try yelling Sit and see what happens.” The frustrated dog owner then yells “sit” and magically the dog that they’ve been chasing for the last 20 minutes, obediently sits and awaits their next command, allowing a tired and frustrated dog owner to calmly approach and clip on the lead.
This brings me to Rule #2 do NOT punish your dog for a transgressions such as these chase games. If it’s been more than 2.5 seconds since the offensive behavior, it is too late for attrition… Nuff said?
For those of your keeping score:
Rule #1: DON’T CHASE YOUR DOG… (Unless of course, you happen to really enjoy it…) I can guarantee that your dog enjoys this, but most humans? Not so much. It just proves over and over how much more maneuverable they are than us. Once the chase game is on, it’s on until the dog is tired of the game. Trust me, your dog can play chase for way longer than any human wants to.
This is rule #3. Never, EVER punish your dog for coming to you. This is something I see far too frequently. The dog does what the owner wants, (finally comes to them,) but It simply didn’t happen within the time frame that the human found acceptable and a verbal punishment was delivered to the dog. The way the dog sees it, he did what was requested, when it was convenient for the dog and he got yelled at for it. He likely won’t make that mistake again, command is broken. Dogs have a much different concept of time than we humans do. Continuing this practice will destroy any success you’ve previously had with the come command. Just don’t do it. Try instead to be more exciting than the environment and or deliver bigger, better or surprisingly delectable rewards for more prompt responses.
Wow… I’m already 500+ words into this post and I still haven’t explained how Sit can save your dogs life. I guess I truly am a world class procrastinator…. I am getting there… It begins with yet another story about the late, great, Starbuck.
Starbuck was the first dog that Steve & I had together and the one that inspired me to learn about training dogs. She had an independent streak a mile wide. She loved to “perform” her repertoire of tricks for everyone but she was also an incorrigible escape artist. She loved other dogs and little children so much that she was willing to travel to find them whenever she could. This often meant hopping fences, waiting until my back was turned for a split second and basically being very sneaky, all to get to the prize: The companionship of kids, canines or an opportunity to meet new people.
I was not yet an experienced pack leader… I’d had dogs as a kid, but they were little, yappy things. Yep, the kind of dogs that ran the entire household. All of a sudden I realized, I’d never owned a dog that knew how to walk on a leash, sit, stay, lay… and I wanted Starbuck to be a good dog.
Luckily, I wasn’t in this alone. Steve and I were both injured at the time we got Starbuck, being off work to rehabilitate gave us the time needed to get a handle on this willful dog. I also had Steve, Debbie (Steve’s sister,) and his dad, Paul to help guide my way.
It was in this same time frame that I met Stormy. Stormy was a beautiful, pedigree Black lab from championship lines. Stormy belonged to Debbie, Steve’s sister. I knew right then, I’d never seen humans with such command over a dog. A typical heel wasn’t good enough; Debbie and Paul had done the work to turn Stormy into a precision, polished, dog-on-a-string, kind of dog and Stormy loved every minute of it! Stormy’s field trial trophies and ribbons still line the walls and mantle of Debbie’s living room.
‘Heel’ meant line up perfectly with my left heel, ‘here’ meant turn to the right, ‘Sit” meant your butt doesn’t leave the ground until I say so. It was heady, amazing stuff. Stormy was the precision machine dog owners dream about… all with keeping her happy dog attitude. Starbuck on the other hand, was a Heinz 57 variety mutt, and frankly, Starbuck had other plans.
So I hit the book store. I wanted to understand the terminology that flowed out of these 3 experienced dog owners mouths and I wanted a taste of that Stormy like control over my feisty young puppy, Starbuck. Luckily, the first dog book I picked up was Nancy Baer’s “Leader of the Pack.” This book opened up my eyes to the “Dogs crave & need leadership” concept. While it didn’t explain in detail why dogs do the things they do, it did provide me with a starting point on my quest for knowledge and it helped me to be a better leader.
Starbuck was one of the friendliest, happiest, most playful and fiercely independent dogs I’ve ever had the pleasure to have known. This comes with its own unique set of challenges. Independent dogs put a higher value on their agenda than that of their owners. This doesn’t mean that she didn’t want to please us, because she did. She learned very quickly that certain behaviors have consequences, but if the payoff was great enough, she’d do them anyway. What it really meant is that I had to really control her environment as well as ensure that the rewards for good behavior included the things that Starbuck wanted to do, instead of simply relying on treats as so many dog training books recommend.
Starbuck was also very smart and intuitive. I had a friend teach her to “Speak” while I was in the bathroom. That command was instantaneously and permanently ingrained by the time I returned less than 3 minutes later. One of the problems with raising smart dogs is that the handler has to be smarter than the dog they’re training. This wasn’t always the case with Starbuck and me.
Starbuck taught me so many things. They say that you don’t get the dog you want, but you get the dog you need. I do believe that statement to be absolutely true.
I quickly learned that a game of fetch was far too boring for the likes of Starbuck. Sure she’d do that long enough to please me and burn a little energy, maybe 6 or 10 throws, but that was it, even though she was mostly lab, retrieving simply wasn’t her passion. Once I discovered she craved mental stimulation, socialization and play time with children and other dogs more than anything else; things went much more smoothly. Luckily Steve, Paul and Debbie helped me to identify what motivated Starbuck or her energy could have very easily turned into destructive behaviors.
Enough reminiscing about my girl, it’s time to tell the story of how the Sit command saved Starbucks life.
We were living in a dumpy apartment building s on the corner of 116thand Bothell Everett Highway right across from Silver Lake. Starbuck was still a young puppy, (maybe 5 months old,) and although not well trained yet, she knew the basics. (Sit, Stay, Lay, etc.) The sounds of children playing down the street had wafted into the yard. I had turned my back for less than 5 seconds and she was gone off to investigate. I too heard the sounds of children playing and yelled for Steve to help me locate and gather the dog. To cover all of our bases, Steve went one way & I went the other. Steve spotted her immediately and she was already in dire trouble.
Apparently Starbuck had trespassed in the wrong yard where she encountered two large, viciously protective and territorial German Shepherds. These two dogs were hot on her trail and they were chasing her straight towards the busy traffic on 116th. Starbuck was in full flight/survival mode and wasn’t responding to Steve’s “Come” command. The Shepherds owner was also in pursuit, trying to call his dogs off, but they too were caught up in the moment and in full chase mode. With mere seconds to spare before her trajectory intersected with busy traffic, Steve used his most effective command voice and yelled “Starbuck SIT” at the top of his lungs. (She knew Sit and was very solid with this command, but it had never been tested in such an intense scenario.) To Steve’s relief and the amazement of the owner of the pursuing dogs, Starbuck sat so quickly that she actually skidded almost 10 feet on her butt. Steve caught up to her, put the leash on and walked her back home. The owner of the other dogs got them under control and all ended well for us. It could’ve easily gone the other way and to this day the thought of it makes sweat bead up on my brow.
I felt incredibly guilty for a long time after that day and my heart pounded in galloping rhythms each time I couldn’t see her in the yard. Training Starbuck to sit saved her life that day, of that I have no doubt. So please keep this story in mind whenever your dog won’t respond to the come command. It’s probably that come isn’t ingrained as a reflex yet… (Or the rewards for coming to you have not been high enough.) Keep working on it with happy voice and energy, and it will be. Practice “sit” in a variety of situations and environments and practice it every day. You’ll never know when it very well could save your dogs life.
One last tip before I sign off… Professionals train their dogs to sit until released. Why train two commands when one will do the trick? A well trained dog will “Sit” until the handler gives the “Release,” “ Free,” or “Okay” command. (Your command, your choice.) Remember that “Okay” comes up frequently in casual conversation so you may want to think about choosing a less common command word. Practice long sits frequently and always remember to praise and always release your dog after a good “Sit”
Kerri — The Alpha dog’s wife