Back to Basics
by Barbara DeGroodt
What exactly are the basics? It probably differs from guardian to guardian. The usual ones are “sit,” “down,” “come,” “stay,” “heel,” but “down” might not be as important for a Bassett Hound as for a Great Dane. “Come” might not be that important if your dog is so attached to you that he never leaves your side. Find the command that is most important for your dog and be sure he is very reliable (95 percent) with at least that one command to keep him safe.
I teach my dogs “attention” before anything else. If taught properly, I should be able to “hold” my dog with my eyes. If he is looking at me, he is not staring at a person or another dog. If he is looking at me, a bicyclist can ride by without him being distracted. (Now back to the basics – more on attention in the next issue!)
“Sit” can be very useful if you have a jumping problem. Teach your dog to “sit” when greeting, instead of jumping. Teach him jumping causes people to back up and disengage rather than come forward; his sitting, however, brings them forward.
I think everyone can agree that a good, reliable recall is a must. This should be taught the first couple of days you have your new dog or puppy. When you first bring home a puppy, you more than likely are the center of his universe. Are you rewarding that now? If not, you will wish you had very soon. I use the analogy of a young child. When you leave your child at daycare for the first time, you almost have to peel them off of you; as they get older, you are lucky if they’ll take a ride to school from you! If you rewarded recall behavior when you were the center of your puppy’s universe, that behavior will continue. But if you ignored the gift your dog gave you, you will lose status in his eyes.
Years ago, a very good friend, John Fisher, a great behaviorist from England, told me the way he always taught his puppies to come was to feed them their meals only from his hand. I’ve done this for years and it’s a great way to begin your training. I usually make three to five baggies of my dog’s meal and take it with me for a walk. When my dog gets a bit ahead of me, I call him with a soft, inviting voice, grab his collar, and give him a bag of food. If my dog goes the other way, I need to strengthen my relationship with him, and for the time being he is not allowed off leash. Many, many repetitions that are successful create a reliable behavior.
Go to any beach or dog park and you’ll probably hear the lilting tones of someone yelling “Fido, come!” and see Fido running in the other direction, free as a bird. You can always tell who owns that free spirit by scanning the area and spotting the red-faced person, now yelling “Fido Marie Jones get HERE!” So where did this all go wrong? Probably in Fido’s first week or two as a puppy. Let’s see if we can dissect a recall and possibly correct some problems.
First things first. I worry when a person tells me they want a 100 percent recall. Is there anything you do correctly 100 percent of the time? Let’s have realistic expectations of our pooches! A 90 percent recall is something to be proud of.
Second, you need to be sure you are more important to your dog than whatever stimulation the environment is providing your dog. This involves lots of good treats and positive reinforcement.
Third, if your dog doesn’t come to you right away, when he does return to you, you must not punish him. If the last thing your dog does is return to you and then you scold him, your dog will think coming to you is not so much fun.
And finally, if you call and your dog doesn’t come, don’t keep calling - - go get him, and make a mental note: “My dog is not ready for off-leash privileges and we need to work on it!”
There are many commands out there, but I always look at training time as quality time I get to spend with my dogs; it’s their time to awe me, and they always do and, your dog will awe you too! When teaching a class or a private student, I always look upon each lesson as a piece of a puzzle. When you have all the pieces together, you see the picture, but one piece by itself isn’t much to look at.
Now hug that pup even if he doesn’t know “sit.” It is your responsibility to teach him. Time and patience! Good luck.
Barbara De Groodt is the owner of From the Heart Animal Behavior Counseling and Dog Training in Salinas, CA and has been an animal behavior counselor for over 30 years. Barbara was one of the original founders of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, APDT (under the guidance of Dr. Ian Dunbar); she’s a professional member of International Association Canine Professionals and several behavior organizations, as well as a certified animal trainer. She is a regular speaker at Western Career College’s Animal Health department and lectures around the world to veterinary groups, law enforcement agencies, trainers and pet owners. From the Heart is located in Salinas, CA. Barb De Groodt can be contacted at (831) 783-0818. www.fromtheheart.info.