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Five Essential Commands for Your Dog


“Stay” is a useful command. It tells your dog not to move from whatever position he's in, whether he's standing on the vet's examining table, sitting on the back seat of the car, or lying on his bed in the family room.

I start teaching Stay in the down position. It's the easiest position for a dog to hold, so if he learns to stay in the down, stays in other positions will be easier. Once your dog lies down on command, start to teach him this extension of the down. Have your leash on the dog. When he is completely down, praise and reward him; then tell him Stay. If he starts to get up, put him back in the down position and praise him, but don't give him a treat. Tell him Stay again. If he stays down a few seconds, praise, reward, and release. Start with very short stays—less than a minute—and stay close to your dog. Very slowly increase the time until he will stay about five minutes with you standing close to him.

When he's solid for five minutes, put him in the down stay, and take a step away from him. Shorten the time to 30 seconds, and slowly build the time up again to 5 minutes. Repeat this process, always reducing the amount of time and building it back up each time you increase the distance between you and your dog. If you hit a point at which he starts popping up before the time is up, shorten the distance for a few days until he's solid again at that distance and time. Then increase the distance by one or two steps, and shorten the time.

Always remember to release your dog from the stay when you're finished. Don't let him decide for himself that he's done. If he does that after 10 minutes, why not after 1?

When your dog seems to understand the idea of the stay when he's lying down, repeat the same process with him in a sit. Remain very close and keep the time very short to begin with. Slowly increase the time, then increase the distance and shorten the time, and then slowly lengthen the time again.

You can have your dog practice down stays and sit stays while you're doing other things. Just don't forget that you told him to do something and let him wander off two minutes later! If you want him to be reliable about following commands, you need to be reliable and consistent about giving them, enforcing them, and releasing him from them.

Leave It!

“Leave It” is a useful command in many circumstances. It enables you to tell your dog not to touch that pretty Poodle at obedience class, that tuna sandwich you set on the coffee table while you get the remote control, and that disgusting pile of what's-it just off the trail at the park.

To teach Leave It successfully, you need to make sure that following your command is more rewarding than getting “it” would be. So when you start to teach the command, you need to reward the dog for leaving the object of his desire, and the reward has to be worthwhile in his eyes (or mouth!). You also have to have enough control of the situation to prevent your dog from getting “it,” because if he does, then he has been rewarded for ignoring you.

Begin with a setup. Put something that you know your dog will find interesting on the floor or a low table. It could be a ball (not one of his regular toys—something he's never seen before), a bit of food, a stuffed toy, or anything else he'll probably try to investigate or pick up. Have some especially yummy treats in your pocket or training pouch. Put your dog on leash. Walk your dog near “it,” making sure the leash is short enough to let you keep him from getting it. As soon as he shows interest in it, say “Leave it!” and walk quickly away—he'll have to follow you because of the leash. (You can also simply give a quick tug on the leash and reward him, but at first I like to keep moving so the dog refocuses quickly.) As soon as your dog looks at you instead of “it,” praise him and give him a treat. Make a big fuss about what a good dog he is. Repeat the process three or four times, and then quit. A couple sessions a day will soon have your dog responding to Leave It, but beware of a couple of pitfalls.

If your dog manages to get “it” before you get him away, you need to get it back if possible. If “it” is a toy, take it away from him, put it back where it was, and repeat the training routine—making sure he doesn't get it again! If “it” is food, you need to get it away from him if possible. Cautiondo not try to take food away if your dog growls or has a tendency to guard food—in fact, if that's the case, don't use food for teaching Leave It. You could get bitten. Get some help to get the guarding behavior under control. Do not let a child attempt to take food or anything your dog guards away from him!

Eventually, you won't need treats to reinforce your dog for leaving things, but do always praise him and maybe pet him for obeying this command. You know how hard temptation is to resist!

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting and Owning a Dog © 2003 by Sheila Webster Boneham, Ph.D. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.

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