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There are virtually thousands of guides, books and videos on behaviors dogs need to learn. It’s hard to choose what’s important and what’s not. And let’s face it, after the dog figures out the household and settles down, many people rarely ask their dogs for much other than come, go, chill and stay.
One of the biggest challenges we have at pranaDOGS, is setting dogs up for success after they leave here. Ensuring that they succeed no matter the circumstances or situations they face. After working with dogs for more than 2 decades I’ve found that there are 10 specific behaviors, that provide them with these tools. Some may seem silly but all have a purpose.
Remember if you spend 2-3 months focused and training your dog, you’ll spend the next 10-15 years enjoying your relationship. But if you don’t put in the training time, you’ll struggle for years.
One last thing – dogs aren’t born knowing English. So don’t demand the behavior with a word, instead mark it with the word. For example, instead of saying “Joey sit, sit, sit” use a hand signal to lure Joey into a sit then say, Yes! Good sit Joey! And repeat over and over so Joey realizes what sit means. Then be sure to test both your hand signals (which should be getting smaller over time) and your words to be sure they’re both working and mean the same thing.
To end the behavior – any behavior – you need a release word. Many of us use OKAY, that’s fine but be consistent and be sure to use it.
Top 10 Behaviors
Sit – Lure dog into a sit by holding a treat at her nose and slowly raising it upward. Mark and reward as soon as her butt hits the floor. Repeat again and again. No touching the dog! Try not to lean over your pup either. Also if your dog is jumping up to get the treat, try to ignore that behavior and just wait for the sit.
Once the dog understands that your hand going up in the air means sit, it’s time to expand the sit to last 10 seconds. We don’t need drive-by sit’s – we need them to last long enough for us to go on to the next behavior. So ask your dog to sit and count to 5 then give them a treat. Repeat over and over with the goal being a 10second sit anytime you ask for a sit.
Down – While the dog is seated, lure him into a down by holding a treat at his nose then slowly moving it down to the ground. Mark and reward as soon as his belly hits the ground. Repeat again and again. 90% of dogs will go into the down position from the sit but some breeds pop-up then lay down. Let your dog show you what’s the most comfortable for them. Often when I’m first teaching a dog to lay down I’m on the floor but as they learn the behavior I stand up more and more so we’re both in normal positions by the end.
Look – While sitting, take your finger from the dog’s nose to your temple. As soon as their gaze hits your face, Mark(“Yes”) and reward. Repeat, asking for a second longer Look each time.
Anxious dogs love to look at you and thrive on this behavior. Over-the-top dogs struggle with looking at you and away from the world, but it’s a great behavior to ask any dog when you’re trying to get their attention.
Touch – While sitting, place the palm of your hand – fingers pointed down – an inch away from your pup’s nose. As soon as they investigate it with their nose (touch your palm) Mark and reward. Repeat multiple times, pulling your hand away only an inch until they understand.
Leave it – Start with your dog in a down position. Put a couple of treats in your hand and close it tightly. Hold it to your dog’s nose and let them investigate. Say Leave it and wait. As soon as they take their attention off the hand, even for a second, Mark and reward them. Repeat 3 times with each hand, then put the treats on the floor and cup your hand over top – be careful your dog never gets the treat on their own. Once your dog understands, pull yourself away from the treat for longer and longer intervals.
Stay – While seated or laying down, tell your dog to stay with the palm of your hand flat towards them; take a step back, pause for a second then re-approach your dog – Mark and reward. Repeat, taking an additional step backwards and pausing for an additional second. The speed you can progress depends on your pup.
Come – Ask your pup for a sit, stay. Take 2 steps back, reach towards your dog’s nose like there’s an invisible string attached to it. Pretend to pull the string slowly towards you, taking a step back at the same time (bending at the waist often helps). Repeat this exercise slowly adding a step at a time. And be sure to consistently Mark and reward every occurrence until it’s reliable.
Go – Have your pup do a sit, stay a foot away from their bed or a folded blanket. Lure your pup to their bed using a treat. This typically looks like an arc from the dogs’ nose to the bed as if you’re throwing the tasty morsel. Once they follow your hand, guide them into a sit and down using only hand-signals.
With me (heel) – First…start slow, have your pup on a short leash and be sure they’ve had a chance to walk, smell, or get out their ‘dog’ before asking them to Heel. If you cannot get your dog next to you, you cannot teach them to heel. Use management tools like a belly band to get them near you.
Hold your hand next to your leg with one finger pointed down, Mark and reward every time your dogs’ nose is next to your hand.
Drop it – Start with two tasty bully sticks (or something similar in size and value) and let your dog engage with one for a minute. Place your hand on the stick and tell them to Drop it, then wait. As soon as they release the stick – even for a second – replace it with the other from behind your back. Repeat. The goal is for your dog to not worry about losing out when they drop something out of their mouth.
*All hand signal images are borrowed from the internet
Mark and Reward – Timing is everything, even if it takes you a second to get the treat to your pup, be sure to verbally acknowledge (making eye contact is good too!) as soon as they perform the behavior.
When Luring your pup…the goal is for your dog to follow the treat…so you have to move slow enough that they can smell it, process, and follow. Think of 2 magnets – they have to be close together to have power; here too, the treat has to be close enough to the nose throughout the exercise to have power. Have them follow the treat two times in a row, then put the treat in your hand behind your back and have them follow your hand without the treat.
If you haven’t practiced a behavior in months or years it’s not realistic to expect them to do it correctly the first time especially if there are stimulations present, so be sure to practice (i practice a bunch before every outing) before you need it.
What do trainers do differently
Except for Leave it and Drop it; Don’t ask for the behavior (using a word) until your pup understands the behavior you want. Not sure? Test them. Stand in front of your dog and ask for a sit, down, etc, then do the same with only hand signals.
Don’t be stingy! I’m amazed at how quickly my clients push their dogs to excel. One minute their showing them Touch an inch from their noses, the next they’re 3’ away! Give your dog a chance to learn and create muscle memory by repeating simple behaviors over and over and increasing in small intervals.
Rewards – I always use treats to teach a behavior, while the dog is learning what I’m asking and what both the hand signal and words are. Then I switch up my rewards. Often, I’ll use celebratory rewards, especially for Come or Heel. I’ll throw my arms up in the air, say the dog’s name and repeat how good they are. You’d be surprised at how much dogs love this and how much they’ll work for a Hip Hip Hooray party!
Practicing in a new area or with different weather conditions or smells? Then make it easy, again. Go back to freshman level anytime you increase or change something. You’ll find you will be able to advance quicker and quicker if you always start every new adventure easy then reward the responses.
Give them hints – some exercises are not natural for dogs or are so natural they’re not sure what exactly they’re being praised for, so give them hints. For example, when teaching Look, say Yes with a smile over and over to increase the time they hold eye contact. The same can be done with Come, especially if they get distracted and think about making another choice – give them a hint that they’re doing it correctly by softly repeating Yes! over and over again.
And lastly, if your dog is struggling with something they typically do well, something else is going on. Make it easier, if they’re still struggling move locations or stop completely. This is not supposed to be hard! Challenging, yes; but be realistic – and generous! What else could this mean is the best question you can ask when your dog is struggling J Good luck!!!
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