An avid reader and independent by nature as an only child, I’m very comfortable doing things on my own, and in many cases, by myself. I have been lucky in the sense that the majority of things I’ve applied myself to in life, have come easily. However, training my stubborn English Bulldog, has presented some challenges I wasn’t anticipating. Thanks to the overwhelming amount of dog training information on the internet, helpful “how-to” videos, and several dog training mentors, I’m confident that these dog training commands should be in every dog-owners vocabulary.
Let’s start with “sit.” Teaching your dog to sit is a relatively easy command, and thus a great one to start with. A dog that knows the “sit” command will hopefully be calm and easier to control than dogs who lack this basic skill. The “sit” command is essentially a precursor for harder commands such as “stay” and “come.” I taught Winnie to sit by holding a treat close to her nose, while moving my hand up, causing her head to follow and for her behind to lower. Once in the “sit” position, mark it with the word, “sit” and give a treat for reward. Practice this sequence several times each day.
Next, the “come” command. Using a leash and collar, say “come,” while also putting slight pressure / pulling your dog towards you using the leash. Reward with a treat. Practice this several times a day while using the leash. Once you’ve practiced this several times, (maybe even several days later) remove the leash and practice without it. Don’t get discouraged if this command is harder to master than the earlier, “sit” command. Keep practicing with a leash on, until you’re confident your dog will come without being tethered by the leash.
Increasing the level of difficulty in the dog training command pyramid, is the “down” command. Down is a submissive posture for a dog, and can sometimes be the reason this command is a bit more difficult to execute. When I taught Winnie this command, I made sure to use a really high value reward treat, ENTER, bacon. First, hold whatever reward/treat you’re using in your closed fist. Place your closed fist next to your dog’s snout. As the dog sniffs it, move your hand to the floor, so the dog follows. Next, slide your hand along the ground to encourage the dog to follow their head. in front of him to encourage his body to follow his head. Once the dog is in the down position, say “down,” and reward with a treat. In my case, bacon. If your dog tries to get up or get to the treat before you’re opened your hand, say “AH UH” and take your hand away.
AKC.org makes this great suggestion to use while teaching down, “reward your puppy while they are [already] in the down position. Placement of rewards is important because it helps to emphasize and clarify what your puppy has done right. If you always give your pup their treat when they sit up, you are really rewarding sitting rather than lying down. That causes the push-up problem where your puppy lies down for a brief moment before popping up again. Be ready with the treats so you can offer them to your puppy while they are still lying down.”
The “stay” command is similar to “sit” and will help make your dog easier to control. This command is helpful in a number of situations. Make sure your pup knows how to “sit” before attempting the “stay” command. You’ll want to first, start with your dog in “sit.” With an open palm (think like a stop sign with your hand), say, “stay.” Begin to take a few steps back. If your dog does not move, and remains in “sit/stay,” reward with treats. Continue to practice this command by increasing the distance between the two of you. Always reward your pooch for staying, even if it’s only for a few seconds. We all know the saying, “practice makes perfect,” and this particular dog training exercise, requires a lot of self-control for your dog.
And finally, the “leave it” command. Start off by placing a treat in both of your hands. Show your dog one enclosed fist with the treat inside and say, “leave it.” You will want to ignore any behaviors such as licking, sniffing, pawing or mouthing as your pup attempts to get the treat. Once your dog stops trying, reward your dog with the treat from the other hand. Repeat this sequence until your dog moves away from your first fist when you say “leave it.” Next, reward your dog with the treat only when you receive eye contact as your dog moves away from the first fist. Once your dog can consistently move away from the first treat and gives you eye contact when you say the command, you’re ready to add the next layer of training to this method. You’ll want to use two different treats. Make one treat normal, and then the other treat, really high value (ie bacon). Say “leave it,” while placing the less-attractive treat on the floor and cover it with your hand. Wait until your dog ignores that treat and looks at you. Then remove that treat from the floor, and give your dog the better treat along with praise and affection. Once you think your dog has got it, place the lower value treat on the floor, but don’t completely cover it with your hand. Instead, hold your hand a little bit above the treat, gradually move your hand further away until it’s approximately six inches above the treat. After you can get to that point with your pup, you’re ready to practice this command while standing. Follow the same above sequence, but if your dog tries to get the lower value treat, cover it with your foot.
Dog training isn’t for the faint of heart. It requires energy/time, patience, and a lot of practice. I’ve certainly had my fair share of discouraging sessions, but don’t give up, and don’t ever let anyone tell you you’ve “passed the window” – that’s simply not a thing. Winnie is now 3 years old, and I make it a point of spending at least ten minutes every day, on some type of training exercise.