Obedience Training: The Basics

You have a dog. (YAY)

Your dog, is well, his or her own “person” and doesn’t always do what you want. Basic obedience training will get your dog doing what you want in 90% of cases.

What are the most basic of basics? They are as follows:

  • Sit
  • Down
  • Stay
  • Come
  • Watch me


Training Schedule

Some dogs do better than others with order. I like to train in no more than 15 minute intervals – after that anything we do is ineffective and useless. And I train no more than 3 times a day with Ariel to learn new tricks; this really only applies when teaching new things, we reinforce all day long by asking her for behaviors she already knows.

 

Get treats

Go look for some nice low cal treats. You’ll be going through a lot of them.

I like to have a variety of treats on hand during regular trick learning. My dog never knows if a correct action will get her some kibble or a piece of soy hot dog or something in between. This keeps her from developing a habit of only working when what she wants is the reward.

I’m going to assume that your dog can be motivated by food in this post. Maybe your dog will work for kibble, maybe your dog will only work for peanut butter. But do start to learn the value of treats to your dog. Maybe your dog likes toys more than food, or butt scratches from their favorite human. Whatever works for your dog.

 

Marking correct behavior

I firmly believe that clicker training or otherwise marking behavior with some word or action (a snap, a flick of the wrist, “yes”, “good”, “correct”, “ok”) is the best way to communicate effectively with just about any dog you want. Sure, some dogs can be trained with other methods, but a marker for the correct behavior is a surefire way to get the message across to any dog. We use a combo of a clicker and a distinct-tone-of-voice “OK”. The clicker is our go-to, but we don’t always have one with us.

Follow up, if you’re going to clicker train with a clicker, keep it with you (or keep one in each room – like we do) so that it’s handy when you’re trying to train behaviors that require Capture (see below for an explanation of Capturing behavior). or consider teaching an alternate marker that you can use if you ever don’t have a clicker. Try not to pick a word/tone of voice that you use a lot, so it doesn’t get diluted in it’s use.

 

So we’ll actually start with how to clicker train. This one’s easy.

Put a couple treats in your hand. Get your clicker/decide on your marker. Sit with your dog, click, and immediately treat. Standing with your dog, click and treat. Click and drop the treat on the ground. Click and hand the treat to the dog. Click and toss the treats to your dog to catch (if your dog is like my dog, she won’t catch it). Go to another room with your dog and click and treat. Go outside and click and treat. Seriously just 5 clicks & immediate treating in each location and your dog will more than understand what the click means. If she doesn’t, PLEASE let me know. I’d love to hear more about your dog.

Ok now we’ve established with your dog that a click means a treat. This is the key to convincing your dog to do anything you ask.

 

Treating Best Practices

You need to think about what it is you want your dog to do after you click. Do you want your dog to come to you to get the treat, sit and wait for a treat, to be tossed a treat? Remember that everything you do reinforces her behaviors in one way or another. I personally mix it up, because I don’t want her learning to do anything of those things to get the treats after I give a command. Just something to keep in mind when you start training.

 

Getting to your goal behavior

There are a couple of methods of communicating with your dog what you want, we’ll go over them quickly so we can use them to teach our dogs, but I will explain them in detail as we discuss how and when to use them for certain goal behaviors.

  1. Capture – Capturing a behavior is just that. When you see a behavior you like – reward your dog for it.
  2. Luring – Usually using treats, you guide the dog into doing what you want. And then you reward her
  3. Shaping – You reward for a behavior that is a step in the right direction of the goal behavior, using positive reinforcement to encourage each behavior closer and closer to the goal behavior

 

 

Ok, now you’re ready to train your dog. First things first is you need to decide on your cues. Cues can be a mixture of verbal commands, visual actions, or situational events that tell your dog “Oh do the things”.


 

Sit

The Sit. This is so so so easy to train in most dogs. The easiest way to teach this quickly is through Luring and Capture.

Luring a dog to sit is pretty easy. When your dog is standing hold a treat in front of her nose and then slowly raise the treat over her head. She’ll have to look up to follow the treat and in doing so a dog will often sit. If she does click and treat! If she doesn’t, withdraw your hand (without treating) and try again. After a few times of success you can start adding in your cues during/right after the correct behavior but before you click and treat. Most people choose a combination of visual action and verbal cue here. “Sit” and raising a palm skyward hand is very common. It’s easy for the dog to make the association with a raising hand to mean sit because it’s not a far change from how you were luring her a moment before. After a few times, start giving the cue earlier and earlier, switching when you lure (from first to second) and when you give the cue (from second to first). After a few times your dog will start sitting before you even start to lure her. Boom! you’ve just taught your dog to sit. Congratulations! You should stop luring her at this point, and only give the cue.

Now you’re got to reinforce the behavior. Practice a bit more in this training session. Then take a well deserved break. In your next couple sessions you may have to start with the lure and give the cue second a few times before switching, but your dog should pick it back up quickly.

If your dog is particularly jumpy you may want to try Capturing the behavior. If your dog sees the treat and starts jumping up, step backwards or otherwise get your dog to stop jumping without engaging or exciting her. You can try looking away or turning your back. Most dogs will get frustrated and eventually sit and look at you expectantly, as soon as they do, just click and treat them.

 


 

Now you want to increase the difficulty using THE THREE Ds (and an L). Duration, distance, distraction, and location. You’ll want to do this with most all of your training, but I’ll go over it in depth here.

Duration: tell your dog to sit and start delaying the click/reward. Eventually, the click should become a release from any command. If your dog gets back up before you’ve clicked, don’t treat me. Slowly increase the amount of time your dog will sit before clicking. If you’ve got an antsy dog that doesn’t like to sit still this will take practice, but pay attention to how long your dog will sit for, and try to click juuuust before that moment.

Distance: Ideally you want your dog to sit from across the park if you tell her to. When teaching sit you’re usually standing right in front of her. After she’s got that down, start asking for a sit a step further away from her. Then a second step further away. So on and so forth until your dog will sit when you’re standing on opposite sides of the room.

Distraction: As your dog starts to master the sit, start upping the distractions around her. Turn the TV on, leave the windows open, have toys strewn about, have other people in the room doing things/walking by. Moving outside to work on tricks also adds to the distraction with cars driving, people walking, squirrels in the trees, etc.

Location: Dogs don’t generalize. This is a blessing and a curse. In this case it’s a curse. So you’ve taught your dog how to sit for several minutes in the living room with kids running past screaming, while you’re across the room. You take your dog downtown, and suddenly she won’t sit for you. She has no idea that your verbal and visual cue for sit apply here as well. Why? Because being in the living room was also part of the cue! Now it shouldn’t take long at all at this point to generalize, but basically you want to go everywhere and re-teach your dog to sit. Out in the yard, down the street on a walk, the park, the parking lot of the grocery store, a friend’s house, the pet store.

At this point your dog should be a sitting master. You definitely will want to start weaning her off the treats. Slowly transition to head pats and praise as the reward for sitting. Yes, still treat her sometimes for sitting, especially during a “training session”, but you want her to listen even if she doesn’t get a treat for doing the right thing.


 

Down

Down is also good to teach with luring or capturing. Have your dog sit, since you’ve mastered that already. Take a treat and hold it in front of your dogs nose, then slowly lower the treat to the ground with your dog following she should lay down in an effort to stay right in front of the treat. Do this a couple times, and then start adding in your cue right after she does a down and before you click and treat. After a few more times of that, start giving the cue earlier and earlier. Then give it before you lure her down. Eventually she’ll start giving the behavior before you lure. Congrats you taught your dog Down! As is the case with every trick you teach, you may have to re-go through this a few times at the beginning of the first couple training sessions.

If your dog can’t seem to get it with a lure, you can try capturing. You’ll want to give your cue, click and treat as soon as your dog naturally lays down. You don’t want to be “late” with this one or your dog won’t associate the act of laying down with the command.

Again once your dog is reliably responding to your cue, start incorporating The Three Ds and One L to really enforce the command.

 


 

Stay

If you’ve been reliably working on the 3D1L, there will be very little effort involved with teaching your dog to stay.

With your dog already in a sit or down, give your cue for stay and then after a few seconds click and treat. I personally, do this while mixing up whether or not she’s in a sit or down, so that she doesn’t start associating the command with one or the other. But that’s personal preference.

Then from there it’s just increasing the duration beyond what you already had achieved with your regular sit/down training. Ideally you want your dog’s stay to be, indefinite, but even just five minutes is great. A great way to get indefinite stays is to get one of those automatic treat dispensers w/ a camera and remote control. That way you can put your dog in a stay and then leave. Then release from the command and treat remotely.

Anyways, once your dog stays for a reasonable about of time you’ll need to start practicing disengaging with your dog without her thinking the trick is over. This means, walking to the other side of the room, turning around, leaving the room, reentering the room, running past your dog, having new people approach and leave, etc.

If you dog is dog friendly, you’ll also want to practice this (and all your basic obedience tricks) with other dogs around.


 

Come

Hopefully your dog likes you. Hopefully your dog comes naturally when you call them in your quiet house, or when you’re holding a particularly stanky treat. Great! If not, get your dog’s highest value treat and wag it in front of her face. Walk away and call your dog, treat her for following. If your dog is really super stubborn you may want to try just standing a few feet away and hold the treat out in front of your dog’s nose. As she sniffs the treat bring your hand closer to your body and she should follow, reward her for that.  Essentially your best bet with Come is to use the Capture method. Reward your dog when she naturally comes to you. Start adding in a cue and you should be on your way in no time.

Ideally you want your dog’s recall to be 100% so you’re going to want to practice this one actually everywhere you can reasonably take your dog to

Start in the quiet of your home adding your specific cue, treating and rewarding. Then start increasing the distance over which you call her, and the distractions going on when you want her to come. This works best if you have your dog on leash. You can start with a short 6 foot leash, but eventually you’ll want a longer lead to increase the distance.

Go somewhere your dog finds distracting, have her on leash and start practicing. Start small but eventually start moving further away from your dog before you call her to come. If she won’t come, or is distracted you can gently pull on the leash until she’s returned to you. Don’t let your dog go play, sniff things, or do anything but return to you. You want your dog to learn that every time you call, she must come.

Other good things to practice, having your dog come to you, while you run straight at her. Dogs often find you running towards them to be a fun game of chase, but usually if you’re running at them and calling them to come it’s for a serious reason (like they’ve escaped out the front door and are 2 feet from the road, they’re about to approach a strange/unknown dog, you missed them after a long day of work, whatever). Regardless you want your dog to come to you even if you’re running at them, and you don’t want them to turn and run away! Go back to calm when you start practicing this and work your way up to distractions.

A great test will be at the dog park mid-play with another dog. Bring your dog’s most valuable treats the first couple times until she’s proven to be reliable.


 

Watch me 

This is a great trick for getting your dog’s attention. You want to take a cute photo? Want your dog to NOT see and chase that squirrel? Want your dog to calm down for a few second? Want to get your dog’s attention and start a training sessions? Watch me is great for this.

Verbal cues are best for this since, in theory, your dog is not looking at you and won’t see a hand motion to respond appropriately.

You’ll mostly likely want to start in a very quiet and calm area.

Most dogs will look at you if you start talking to them, so start by saying their name and giving a verbal cue. If your dog looks up at you click and treat. If not, start with the treat in front of your dog’s face and lure your dog into looking up. Give the verbal cue as you move the treat up. Click and treat as soon as your dog looks up at you.

Start giving the verbal cue earlier and earlier in your lure process until you are saying it before you even put the treat in front of your dog’s face. Eventually your dog should start looking up before you even present the treat. Stop luring at this point but keep reinforcing.

It is crucial for this trick to increase duration and distraction especially. Most dogs will start out only looking for a few seconds. That’s ok! and totally normal! It took our dog weeks to get up to 10 seconds of direct eye contact. Keep working at it, and remember you want to try to wait it out until just before you think your dog is going to look away. Don’t reward her if she looks away before you’re able to click and treat. This one can definitely take time and push your dog’s limits. Dog’s are easily distracted. You’ll get there sooner than you think though if you keep working at it.


 

That’s it! Those are the most basic of the basic dog obedience tricks to teach your dog.

Please let me know if you have questions or weird situations.

My next dog training post will be on The Basics: Level 2. Slightly more challenging, and in general less needed tricks that will really round out your dog’s basic obedience.

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