Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Sit! Stay! Good dog!

Now that we've learned a little something about why obedience training is so important, and what tools we will need to accomplish it, we need to begin with the actual training!

Before starting your session, make sure that the dog has had some play time and does not need to use the rest room! Next, get your face and voice in check. After thousands of years of domestication, dogs have become experts on human emotions so make sure you face and voice fit the situation. The three main voices are as follows: Command Voice, Correction Voice and Praise Voice. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard people using a high soft pitch tone when ASKING a dog to sit for them. Guess what? It didn't work so well! We call these behaviors commands for a reason and we are TELLING the dog what to do not asking them. This voice should be firm and some what low. (Sometimes I call it the "mom" or "wife" know the one, the one that makes you feel compelled to complete whatever action is being 'requested' of you!) During this time your face should remain flat.

For your correction voice it is important to remember that there is no need to yell. Dogs can hear really well. They may not act like they hear you but they do, it's called selective hearing. ;)
I make a 'buzzer' type noise and say "EH EH!" I find that this generally stops them in their tracks pretty well. They know they've done something they were not supposed to. Your face should look stern and serious.

The praise voice is the one we all know and love. It's the high pitched baby talk that just seems to spring involuntarily from our lips when we see a K9 cutie. The more excited you can get, the more reinforcing the praise will be. Make sure you face is light and happy. (On a side note, dogs know when you're fooling them, so keep it genuine!)

Commands can be divided into 5 categories; direction, correction, modification, release and praise. Direction commands tell the dog what to do, correction commands tell the dog to discontinue specific behaviors, modifications are qualitative and instruct a dog HOW to preform a task, release words allow a dog to discontinue a behavior after successfully completing it and praise is always given when a command is followed.

OK, let's start with the basics: Sit, Down and stay. After your dog learns these you can move on to more challenging behaviors and 'fun' tricks.

SIT: The dog sits on his or her bottom with head held erect and front legs and paws straight.

To lure your dog into this position, allow them to sniff a yummy treat that you are holding in your hand. Slowly move the treat back and over their heads. The dog should follow the treat back, ending up in a sit. This works! There is NO need to physically manipulate the dog into any position! If the dog backs up when you try this, simply find a wall or corner to work with so that the dog wont have anywhere to go. Sometimes dog will try to jump up for the treat, if this happens you are most likely holding the treat too high. Ty holding it closer to the dogs head. Sit is the simplest of tasks and can be learned in as little as five to ten minutes!

Sit is the 'gateway' command that leads to all others. After your dog has mastered sit, they can now learn stay and down.

Let's start with stay. To teach your dog stay, first place them in the sit position. This command will present a new challenge for your dog, as up until now he or she has been immediately rewarded after preforming the sit behavior. Reduce distractions during the initial training to help your dog focus, gradually adding them back in as your dog improves.

Use the word stay as long as the hand signal. (A flat hand held outward in front of the body.) Wait only a few seconds before rewarding your dog. This will be a slow process! Take your time and do it right. Little by little you can start to increase time and distance. If your dog breaks their stay, say NO or EH EH and start over. You may use a release command of "Alright" to tell your dog when the stay is over, and allow them to come receive their reward.

Down: All four feet/legs are on the ground along with the stomach, while the head is held erect.

Again, as with sit, there will be no need to physically move your dog into this position. We will be using the lure method once more.

Have your dog sit for you, then let them smell a yummy treat that is held in your hand. Take the treat and move it slowly down from the dogs nose to their front paws and then out, away from their bodies. (Like a giant L). The dog should follow the treat all the way down to the floor. When the do, reward them with the treat from your hand.

Sometimes a dog will lift their rear ends off the ground in order to get to the treat. If this happens slow down even further and get them super focused on the treat in your hand. You may also try to lure them under a bridge that you make with your leg, by squatting and extending one leg out.

Another funny thing these furry comedians do is to stretch our there necks as far as possible in a vain attempt to reach the treat, while refusing to leave their sit position. It's as if they just can't figure out how to reach that yummy treat! When this happens I simply break the treat up into the tiniest pieces possible and reward the dog for each step. Example: The dog stretches his neck toward the treat. OK, he's trying, so I'll give him a little something. However, next time, he will have to give me a little more to receive a reward. Let's say he moves one paw out on his next try. Great! He can have another little piece of treat. This continues until he gets all the way into a down position. By rewarding him little by little on the way, you encourage your dog to keep trying not give up!

After down is mastered you can begin work on down-stay. This is much more difficult for a dog than sit-stay. A down-stay is a very submissive and vulnerable position for a dog, so be patient and go slow. This is taught in the same way as sit stay was.

Come back next time for Heel/Wait with automatic sit and then it's on to the 'fun stuff'!

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