Basic Dog Obedience
Foundations & prerequisites for service dog work
Have you ever watched videos of incredibly well-trained dogs doing amazing tricks or performing tasks, looked at your dog, and thought, “they could never do that?”
That’s not exactly true, all dogs have potential, and all dogs start somewhere, and that somewhere is the basics.
Today we will go over some dog training tips and tricks, basic obedience training, how different dogs learn differently, and more.
Firstly, it’s key to understand that positive reinforcement has proved to be the most efficient, and best method of training for dogs over and over.
Negative reinforcement and other such techniques are in no way good for the dog, not effective, and have been shown to have very negative impacts on the dog’s well-being.
That being said, there are several different types of rewards that we can use when training dogs. Most often people will use treats. This is extremely effective for dogs that are food driven. My advice is to experiment with different treats and find what’s best for
you and your dog.
Treats of Different Values
It’s also good to have treats of different values. Meaning, having
some treats that your dog values/like more, and works harder for than others.
This is very important because different behaviors should get different levels of reward. For instance, your dog should get a higher value treat for a good recall (calling your dog to you) in a distraction-filled environment than for the command sit at home.
For dogs that aren’t food driven, or even just to mix up the types of reward, toys and playing are also great rewards. If your dog loves tug-o-war maybe try playing a bit of tug-o-war as a reward, or whatever games you think might be a reward your dog will enjoy.
Praise as a Reward
Finally, there’s praise, praise by itself often isn’t good enough of a reward for most dogs but combined with other reward types it can work great. It’s good to be consistent in what you say to your dog as praise, choose a few words/sentences you’d like to use and be consistent with them, your tone of voice also matters, a lot of dogs will be much more motivated by a happy excited voice than just being monotone.
Different dogs learn differently
It’s also important to keep in mind that different dogs learn differently, not just at different paces but in ways of learning themselves. Some dogs learn by watching other dogs, sometimes humans, and copying them.
Learning by repetition
However, most dogs learn by repetition, which is basically repeating an action they are being rewarded for.
Patience and consistency
The key to training any dog is very simple, patience and consistency, however, here are some tips that can help with training:
Shorter attention spans
If your dog has a shorter attention span, shorter training sessions are much more effective than trying to force the dog to stay focused for longer periods of time.
Five-minute training sessions are ideal for dogs with very short attention spans, if you want to do more extensive training simply do more short training sessions instead of fewer longer ones.
Longer attention spans
If your dog has a longer attention span, 10–15-minute training sessions may be enough. Even for dogs with longer attention spans it’s best to not make training sessions very long.
Making it fun
Try to make training as fun as possible, you want your dog to like training, if your dog enjoys training then it will be much more pleasant, and effective, for the both of you. So, try out different rewards and see how to make training as fun as possible, for both of you.
After training sessions
After each training session it’s important to play/exercise your dog quite a
bit to burn off energy, so try to play some fun games after training.
If things get frustrating
If you notice your dog is getting frustrated while learning a new command, ask them to do something they already know how to do, this will give them a small “confidence boost”.
One of the first commands that I like to teach the dogs I train is a common trick, give paw. Now you may be wondering why I like to teach this as one of the very first commands the dog learns, the answer is quite simple.
Teaching the command give paw can tell me how many repetitions on average the dog takes to learn a new command, and it allows me to test whether the dog learns well by repetition or if I need to take another training approach.
To teach give paw
To teach the command give paw place a treat inside your hand and close it, let your dog watch you while you’re doing this, then your dog will try to open your hand to get the treat out, and eventually your dog will paw at your hand when they do this open your hand.
Repeat several times, when you notice that your dog is starting to give you his paw the moment you place that treat in your hand it is time to move on to the next step.
Hold a treat in one hand and place your other hand open and your dog will likely place their paw in your hand, when they do this reward them!
Repeat many times until your dog understands this well, also if you want to teach your dog verbal command for give paw simply say the command (any word you want as long as it’s short and clear) when your dog paws at your hand, eventually they will know to give you their paw when they hear the word.
Basic obedience training usually consists of these commands:
- Lay down
I will go over how to train your dog all of these.
One command that almost every dog knows is to sit, no matter how basic this command is essential in daily life with a dog.
Step 1- Say the verbal command you chose (can be any word as long as it’s short and clear, e.g., sit) while you get your dog to sit, you can do this by gently pushing their little tushy down! Repeat, repeat, repeat…
Step 2- When you notice your dog is starting to sit on their own when you say the command, say the command without pushing their tushy down and if they sit on their own reward and praise them, if they don’t go back to the last step. Repeat, repeat, repeat…
After some time, your doggy will quickly be sitting on command!
If you want you can also teach them a gesture as a command, to do this simply do the chosen gesture while saying the command and repeat, repeat, repeat…
Next there’s lay down, which is quite a basic command but can be surprisingly difficult to teach to some dogs.
Step 1- Try to get your dog to lay down by using a treat or a toy while saying the chosen command, when your dog lays down, even if it is for a brief moment, praise and reward them. Repeat several times.
Step 2- When you notice that your dog is starting to understand what they are supposed to do try telling them the command without luring them to the ground, if they lay down praise and reward! Repeat this until they respond to the command consistently.
One extremely important command for any dog to know is stay, this command is not necessarily harder to teach than the commands we have covered so far but it does take more time to master.
Step 1- Ask your dog to sit or lay down and say the command (stay or any word of your choice that is clear and short) and back away one or two feet, if your dog stays in place reward, praise and repeat!
Step 2- Once you have done the previous step a couple of times start gradually increasing the distance, do it very gradually or you might have to start over.
Step 3- Increase the time your dog stays in place, again do this very gradually!
Eventually, your dog will be able to stay for long periods of time and for large distances. It just takes time so be patient!
It is also important to teach a release command, this command is for taking your dog out of stay, for a release command just choose a word or gesture to signal your dog they can leave stay, use the same word/gesture consistently.
Come / Recall
Come/recall is arguably one of the most important commands to teach your dog, it takes time and effort to master this command but it’s worth it.
Avoid using your dog’s name as the come/recall command as we use their name for so many things it might make the command “lose value”, so it’s better to choose another word, that is short and clear, to use consistently for this command.
Step 1- Get a long leash (2 meters is sufficient) and give your dog the command while trying to lure them to you with treats, toys, sounds, etc. When your pup comes to you reward and praise them! Repeat until your dog starts coming to you without you luring them. For this command I suggest a reward of higher value (more/better treats, preferred toys).
Step 2- increase the distance, when your dog is coming to you on command consistently, try and gradually increase the distance, do this by using a longer leash or practice in a closed space. Do this over the course of several training sessions, it’s important to increase the difficulty/distance slowly so that it’s not too frustrating for your dog.
Step 3- Once your dog is consistently coming to you on command from far away, it is time to introduce distractions, start small like calling them when they are sniffing something and work your way up. The bigger the distraction the bigger the reward should be.
This command takes consistent time and effort to learn, but eventually, you should be able to call your dog from far away in a distraction-filled environment.
The last command I’d like to go over today is heel. Heel is your dog walking next to your, typically left, leg in a somewhat “synchronized” way. This may not be important for every dog to learn but I find it very useful, even for pet dogs.
Step 1- get your dog to walk by your leg (usually left) as close as you can while saying the command, start by walking a few feet and gradually increase the distance.
Step 2- When your dog is heeling well start adding turns, speed changes, and distractions, this will be hard at the beginning but will eventually pay off! The more you practice the better your dog will get. And remember to always increase the difficulty very gradually over time.
These are the most common basic obedience commands that are important for all dogs to learn, working, show or pet dogs all start by learning the basics. Be consistent, patient, and have fun, training can be so much fun for you and your dog and a great way to bond.