Roohi Kulkarni Kale*
What does dog training mean? Training your pooch doesn’t mean only teaching commands, especially which your pooch follows only when you have a treat. Training means working to build a great bond with your pooch so you can easily communicate with her, and she can therefore easily communicate with you as well. When we tell our pooch which behaviours are appreciated and which behaviours are not, our pooch starts presenting the acceptable behaviours and reduces the unacceptable ones. At the same time, we must fulfil our pooch’s innate desires such as jumping, sniffing, running, chewing etc. For example, a puppy will definitely want to bite on things, so we must teach him not to bite on furniture but on appropriate chew toys and bones provided to him.
Life-saving commands: Every dog should have a few words in her vocabulary, which when practised and applied in appropriate situations, may save her life one day. ‘Look-at-me’, ‘sit’, ‘down’, ‘come’, ‘stay’, ‘no’, and ‘leave-it’ are the life-saving commands. Teaching commands gives clarity in communication with our pooches and helps to hone innate doggy behaviours in the human world.
Applying life-saving commands in various situations:
Look-at-me: Dogs naturally do not like to look into another being’s eyes since in dog language staring is an act of dominance. Pet dogs get accustomed to humans looking in the eyes, and they accept the behaviour. A good look-at-me command will ensure that the dog looks at you if he is unsure of any situation or when you are not sure of which command to give next. It will bring back your pooch’s focus on you and diffuse a high arousal situation. A good time to use this command is when you are on a walk, a new dog passes by and if your pooch is getting too curious, ask him to ‘look-at-me’ and focus on you till the other dog passes by.
Sit: Most of us make this command our dog’s default command. It does help to calm our pooch and also teach other commands like down, stay etc. It is also useful when encouraging greeting people politely, sitting before crossing roads, sitting in the elevator.
Down: Lying down on all fours helps your pooch relax, calm down and settle. Your pooch will not be willing to indulge in destructive behaviours when in a down position and will be willing to follow other commands patiently as well. Down can be used to help your pooch settle in his bed, or to relax in a spot when guests are over. This command will also make the ‘stay’ command stronger because dogs do not prefer moving quickly after they have laid down.
Come: The come command, also called ‘the recall’, is truly a bond-building command. With regular practice, your pooch should leave whatever interests her and come straight to you when called. This means that she values you more than anything else in the world and respects you. If your pooch happily comes to you when called, then you have truly built a great relationship with her of trust, respect and happiness.
Stay: This can and should be used in different everyday situations. Practice asking your dog to stay at thresholds, before opening the door, crossing roads, and meal times so your pooch calms down and doesn’t gulp down food in an unhealthy manner. Once your pooch listens to your stay command a hundred percent of the time, you can progress to asking them to stop and stay when they are running. Practicing this will come in handy in a situation where your pooch sees a cat or squirrel suddenly while playing and starts chasing them out of your house. The stay command will bring their focus back to you and stop them from running into a potentially risky situation.
No: The most overused and unfortunately misused command. Before yelling ‘no’ at your pooch for everything she does, we must teach her what ‘no’ actually means and with it what ‘yes’ means. Pooches will explore with their mouths and paws, hence we should catch them at the thought before they act on it and then redirect them to an acceptable item or behaviour. So next time, if your puppy is running towards the sofa leg to bite on it, say no before he reaches the sofa and give him a chew bone or toy to satisfy his desire to chew. This way we are still allowing puppies to be puppies but in a way that is acceptable in the human world. If your pooch has already executed the behaviour then there is no point in saying ‘no’ in any level or voice. You then have to change to another command, command ‘off’ if he is jumping on people or furniture, ‘leave-it’ if he has put something unacceptable in his mouth etc.
Leave-it: When your pooch has something in his mouth and you ask him to take it out of his mouth without fighting that is when you are using the leave-it command correctly. The best way to make your pooch happily give it to you is to make it into a game of fetch. When you see him holding an item, ask him to come to you and exchange it for a reward which may be a toy or treats.
Practicing for the situation:
Do not expect your pooch to listen to you IN the situation if you haven’t practised FOR the situation. If you get guests over often, you can practice for the situation by calling a few friends over only to practice polite greeting, settling down in distractions, not stealing food. Your pooch doesn’t know that the situation is staged and would react naturally, but you will be prepared to stop undesirable behaviour and redirect to better behaviour. By doing so both you and your pooch will have a better time when you have a get-together at home.
You can improve the chances of your pooch listening to you by rewarding her in situations where she is behaving well even without a command.
Many tricks like shake-hand, which hand has a treat, fetching toys by name etc., can boost the relationship of your pooch with different family members and in-turn make your pooch willing to listen to you in difficult situations. Tricks also keep pooches physically and mentally stimulated.
Teaching other commands:
Other commands can be taught according to your situation and your pooch’s behaviour, like ‘off’ if he is very jumpy etc. There is no limit to the number of words your pooch can know. Talking to them consistently helps to increase their vocabulary and understand you better.
Mistakes to avoid:
- Rewarding the wrong behaviour by mistake like saying ‘good girl’ along with ‘no’, which makes her think she is doing the right thing by tearing the newspaper.
- Trying to train faster than your pooch can understand frustrating both you and your pooch.
- Using harsh punishments, making him listen to you out of fear rather than having a good relationship.
- Giving unclear commands like asking him to sit but gesturing for down with your hand.
- Punishing when they do something wrong but not giving any feedback when they behave well.
- Making everything into a game of chase. Chasing after them when they pick something up or allowing them to run after children.
- Not practising enough or not practising for specific situations. This not only slows down training, but may also lead your pooch to be bored, frustrated or become destructive.
Like all relations, the foundation of dog training is compassion, communication and commitment. Only then can we build a great bond with our pooch and help them thrive in the human world, making us our dog’s best friend.
* Author is a Certified Canine Trainer from Canines Can Care (India). She is also certified as a Canine Trainer & Behaviourist from ‘The Northern Centre for Canine Behaviour’ (UK). She specializes in companion dog training, therapy dog work & aggression after completing specialized courses for the same. She also has a Post-Graduate Diploma in Animal Protection Laws form NALSAR. Recently she became a Canine Groomer from Akil’s Pawsh Pawz (India).
Roohi has pioneered the concept of pet dog training with reward based, positive reinforcement methods in Nagpur. She helps match families with the correct puppy for them and guides them from the very beginning of puppy keeping. With Coach the Pooch dog training, her aim is to help pet owners build the best bond with their dogs through communication, compassion & commitment.
You can find her at:
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