There are a few essential commands that you should make an effort to teach your dog. Even if you teach him nothing else, he should return to you as soon as you call his name, be able to sit on command, lie down, walk to heel and be able to walk on calmly when he is off the lead.
This level of basic training will give you the confidence that you can control your dog in any situation. A happy dog loves learning something new: the mental stimulation helps to keep life interesting for him, and he too will gain confidence from his training.
HAPPY DOG TIP
If you have a toy breed, don’t think he is too cute to bother with obedience training. Toy breeds can be highly intelligent dogs and they enjoy learning quite complicated commands and tricks.
Clickers are extremely useful training tools that positively reinforce and reward good behavior. They are inexpensive and widely available from pet shops and other retail outlets.
A clicker is a plastic box with a metal tongue inside. When pressed with the thumb, this makes a distinctive double clicking sound. The clicker is small enough to hide in one hand.
The idea is that the dog soon associates the clicking sound with a reward, and once he makes this connection it is easy to get him to repeat a behavior. The clicker can be gradually phased out once a behavior has been learned, but is invaluable when training begins.
INTRODUCING THE CLICKER
Accurate timing is the key to successful clicker training. Practice until you are confident that you can use one with pinpoint accuracy. Test yourself by throwing a ball into the air and clicking before it hits the ground, or throwing it against a wall and clicking before it reaches the wall.
You will also need very tasty treats to offer the dog as soon as you have used the clicker. Begin by throwing down a treat and clicking just before the dog eats the treat and returns to you. Only click once and avoid holding the clicker close to his head or ears. Repeat this exercise several times. This will begin to create an association between the clicker and the treat.
Some people, prefer to keep both hands free and hide the clicker under one of their feet.
TRAINING TEACHING RECALL
For your dog to come as soon as you call him, he needs to make the connection that returning to you is always a positive experience and worth leaving whatever interesting thing he may be doing. Here’s how to teach recall:
When your dog is a little way away from you, call his name in an excited high-pitched voice. Call his name only once, as you want him to respond immediately. You can also get his attention by rattling a treat pot.
As soon as the dog turns to face you, click. When he walks towards you, reward him instantly with a treat.
Repeat this exercise several times, making sure you reward him generously with treats or a few seconds of play with a high-value toy each time. Once your dog returns to you quickly, you can say his name and introduce a verbal command such as ‘come’. Click as he starts to walk towards you and reward him as soon as he get back to you.
Never punish your dog for not returning to you. He will simply associate coming to you with an unpleasant experience and be even more reluctant next time. You should also avoid chasing after him, as he will think this is a great game.