Many people find owning a dog is like having a child who ignores them, causing stress and frustration and ultimately diminishing the joy of a special relationship.
In this book, I will share my experience and expertise by revealing good techniques to enable you to get the best out of your dog, whether it’s a family dog or a working dog. We will take a look at how a dog thinks and learns. If we can figure this out, we can get a dog to do almost anything.
I established the Canine Training Academy of New South Wales, Australia in 1996, (based in Sydney). My Academy has trained over 6,000 dogs in basic obedience, personal protection and scent detection. Most of our clients are typically ordinary people, just like you and me, trying to get their dogs to obey simple commands such as “come, sit, stay and drop”.
I have a unique method of teaching dogs to obey commands in a quick and very effective way, without harming them. In 2001, I became a Certifying Official for the International Canine Detection Federation (ICDF) and a Master Trainer for Human Detector Dog K9 (HDD K9). Since then, I have trained dogs on behalf of military and government institutions in many countries. All dogs were trained with different levels of skills for particular purposes, recognising different breeds have particular talents. Moreover, human behaviour influences dogs. Typically, dog owners pass on their own personality characteristics, disabilities and bad habits to their dogs, usually without even realising it! The purpose of my book is to provide you with proven techniques that, if followed correctly, will set the foundation for a healthy, productive and fun relationship with your dog. I have seen many delighted owners as a result of investing in my Academy’s dog training programme – simply by eliminating daily frustrations with their dogs. Just as important, their dogs are also far more contented!
Please note this training manual is meant for dogs over 6 months old it is not meant for any of the toy and puppy breed.
What is basic obedience?
‘Basic obedience’ in my course consists of the commands:
“Sit, Heel, stay, Come and drop”.
These commands will give you full control of your dog on a lead.
‘Advanced basic obedience’ means that the dog will obey all the previous commands plus learn road sense and food refusal, off the lead.
Let’s look at what all these commands mean:
Sit your dog will sit on the ground where you tell it;
Heel your dog is on the left or right hand side, depending on your preference, without pulling or jumping and paying full attention;
Stay your dog is either in a ‘sit’ or ‘drop’ position and does not move unless instructed to do so;
Come your dog makes his way to you by the most direct route when called.
Drop your dog drops to its stomach, touching the ground in a lying position.
Road Sense or (Boundary Awareness)
Your dog is given a defined barrier such as a doorway, step or road, or anywhere you make a defined boundary that it is not allowed to cross.
Your dog will not eat unless given a specific command.
Hand commands are extremely important when training your dog and will help it visually understand your command(s).
You must always give your dog rewards with the opposite hand used for commanding them. Hand commands should be made in conjunction with voice commands, which we will discuss further on.
Sit is made with an open hand with fingers together in front of the dog’s muzzle. Raise your hand slowly making sure it is following your hand with its eyes until it reaches a sitting position.
Heel is made with your hand that is closest to the dog and by indicating/stroking the dog in the direction that you want it to proceed.
Stay is made by keeping your hand open with fingers together in front of your dog’s muzzle, without touching it, creating an artificial barrier in front of its face.
Come is made by using your same hand stretched out in front of you and by bringing it towards your chest inviting the dog to come. For the command ‘come’ I will sometimes use both hands to show more enthusiasm toward the dog.
Drop is made while maintaining a heel/sit position; gradually bringing your hand down slowly to the ground causing the dog to follow you with his eyes and eventually its body to the ground.
Do not allow your dog to eat its food without an approval command such as: ‘yum, yum’, ‘munch, munch’, ‘and eat’ or whatever you choose to use that suits you best.
Tools and Treats
The lead you choose for your dog should be made of cloth or leather and approximately 1.2 metres in length. A nylon lead will end up hurting your hands and burning your fingers if it slides through. A good tip on leads is that a shorter lead will give you more control than a longer one.
A check chain is also known as a choker, or a German training collar, and is made of closed links. These are designed to slide over each other so that the collar can be pulled tight or released easily.
I find that the HS dog collar range (made in Germany) of check chains are the most reliable. They do not rust or break and are made of stainless steel with exceptional loop welding. I purchased a set in 1995 and I am still using the same set today! They come in different sizes and weights: light, medium and heavy.
Select a chain appropriate for the type and size of your dog. A good test is that the chain should fit your dog quite snugly, but you should have room to place four of your fingers between its neck and its collar.
The collar is prepared for use by slipping the chain through one ring as shown in the following picture.
The correct way to use a lead and check collar:
You want the collar to tighten as it is pulled up, so facing the dog as you put it on:
It will look like the letter ‘P’ if you want the dog on your left.
It will look like the letter “Q” if you want the dog on your right.
The lead is clipped to the loose end ring.
If the dog is on the left, the lead should be held across your body in the right hand.
If the dog is on the right, the lead should be held across your body in the left hand.
When you check your dog (reprimand), give a quick, sharp, upward tug on the lead and then slacken. This technique replicates the natural bite of a female dog when disciplining a pup. It is very effective when you learn to do it correctly.
Treats can be anything that your dog likes to eat. I prefer to use cheese as it dissolves quickly. The importance of this cannot be understated as its primary purpose is to create a bond between you and your dog. It needs to be something that the dog doesn’t have to chew on, such as small pieces of salami, frankfurters or small pieces of its favourite dog biscuit.
Using food as a training tool is intuitively a good idea, but doesn’t necessarily work in the long run to achieve the best results.
An important tip I have learnt from experience is that I will not use food to train a dog to obey main commands, but I will use it to help me get a dog to understand more unusual commands.
Play or ‘free’ time is also a huge reward for the dog. Free time, playtime or any quality time between you and your dog is worth just as much as the food reward or even more. Playing tug-of-war, hiding and go seek or fetch (either a tennis ball or a Frisbee).
I find protection dogs enjoy getting to bite on something and it is a huge reward for this type of dog.
Reward and Reprimand
To understand how a dog thinks and learns we need to look at how a puppy learns in its mother’s den. Dogs are pack animals and see us as part of the pack, so we can observe their behaviour and train them the way a mother and the leader of the pack teaches and disciplines family members. When a pup is good, it is rewarded by being fed and groomed. It receives its reward when it runs up to its mother and makes a high pitched sound and rubbing against her.
When it is naughty, its mother reprimands the pup by grabbing it on top of the neck, shaking and growling. This shows that a dog learns from both positive and negative experiences. We see that there are two ways now to train a dog; reward and reprimand. To use these methods effectively, we must be consistent so the dog is not confused.
Another useful tip: a confused dog simply causes you frustration and your dog will sense your annoyance and probably respond the wrong way – creating a circular problem.
Rewarding a dog is the most important part of training! You now have to show your dog that it has done something that you approve of – so it will do it again. The way to reward it is by acting just like its mother – rubbing up against it and making high-pitched sounds.
So for example, if the dog is on your left, you pat it with your left hand reaching over, pushing it towards your leg and stroking it backwards saying “good dog, “well done” or “clever”, or patting underneath its chest, scratching or patting upwards, towards its neck, and saying “what a good dog you are” and similar phrases in a higher or excited pitched voice.
The other way is food reward. If the dog is on your left-hand side you must never reward with the right hand. If it does something correctly, it must be rewarded with the left hand.
Your dog will weigh up the cost and value looking for that reward. It will realise that if it is good and does not break a command it will be rewarded and therefore be less likely to break a command. This creates a virtuous circle – which is most desirable for you and your dog!
Now that we know how to reward a dog, we learn next how to reprimand it by one of three ways.
Firstly, when your dog is on its lead, with a training collar, you can give it a short jerk upwards and then release to reprimand it.
Secondly, reprimand using your voice by saying “NO” with a bit of a growling sound in your voice.
The third way to reprimand your dog is by isolation. Dogs are social animals and want to be with us all the time and therefore isolation is like a punishment to them. In fact, isolation is probably the biggest reprimand you can give dogs. I prefer isolation to any other reprimand as the dog has to figure it out on its own what it has done wrong and make better judgments next time you take it out.
I like to work with a ratio of 75% reward to 25% reprimand.
I strongly believe that we reward dogs for what they’ve done right with enthusiasm and sincerity. A strong reprimand is better than 100 small ones as the dog will build a tolerance and accept tugging on the lead.
You are never to pull the lead and say a word of command.
Your dog does not know ‘heel’, ‘sit’ or ‘stay’, it just knows what it has to do after the command is given.
If you reprimand and say a word of command the dog will associate it with the word ‘NO’ and then ruin the word of command.
The Training Area
Do not train your dog in its safety area, such as the backyard of your home as that is where it plays. The best place I find to train a dog is in front of its owner’s house, on the sidewalk. That way the place is familiar and there are fewer distractions so you can keep your dog walking in a straight line without too much hassle. The sidewalk is also considered a neutral area for the dog. It is important that you get your dog to a place that it is familiar with and has nothing that will distract it from the task at hand; otherwise it’s very hard to train your dog. Don’t forget your dog is eager to please you, but only in what it understands pleases you! Having family members around is not generally a distraction, but if you have kids running around, other dogs and so on, it will be hard on the dog (and also yourself) to concentrate on the training.
Do not feed your dog at least five hours before training as a dog is a hunting animal. The hungrier it is the easier you’ll be able to train it. However, I do not condone starvation of dogs for days before training starts.
Remember, it is important to start training in a place with few distractions.
Basic Obedience: Lesson One
This lesson is aimed at getting your dog to ‘heel’, ‘sit’ and ‘stay’ in approximately 45 to 85 minutes.
The exact length of time will generally vary between dog breeds and also as a result of the specific attention span of your dog.
Traditionally dogs are walked on the left-hand side of the trainer, but it doesn’t matter if it is on the right so long as you’re comfortable with that position.
Saying ‘heel’ means that your dog is on your left or right side, not pulling or jumping, but paying attention to you.
With the dog placed on the side which is most comfortable for you to walk, how do you get it to heel assuming it is wearing a training collar with a lead attached?
Take your dog out to the front of your home and walk approximately 40 metres down the sidewalk with your dog doing just as it pleases on the way there. On the way back you make it heel for you. What you need to do is say “heel” and start walking. Pull the lead to where you want the dog to walk beside you.
I like to have the chest of the dog parallel to my knee, depending on the breed. This should be a quick command for the dog to learn as it is the most natural one for canines. From the perspective of a dog, if it walks in front of you it is thinks it is the leader of the pack, but if it walks beside you, it is a part of a friendship and that makes it easier to get your dog to obey you.
When you have reached the other end your dog should be heeling most of the time for you.
Now you can introduce the ‘sit’ command. There are many ways of teaching dogs to sit and I will begin with the easiest way.
Take your dog 40 metres down the sidewalk and on the way back command the dog to heel approximately every 1 to 1 1/2 metres. You should stop and command the dog to sit.
At that time, if your dog is not sitting, show it the hand command to sit. This is an open hand placed in front of the dog’s muzzle, which you then raise slowly. Use your other hand to press slightly on its hindquarters into a sitting position. Repeat this until your dog has picked up the command and responds correctly at least 95% of the time.
An important tip: here you now need to reward your dog .
An alternative approach for the sit command
With the lead on, position your dog on your right-hand side. Use an open hand and food, lift it up slowly and command the dog to sit. At the same time, lift its lead and push slightly on the dog’s hindquarters forcing it into a sitting position.
Remember, the command hand is always the opposite hand to the one used for giving it rewards.
I have found using both techniques have been highly successful in the training of thousands of dogs.
The best way to reward your dog starts by kneeling beside it.
With a knee close to your dog and your hand wrapped around it, stroke it backwards towards the ground. That way the dog knows exactly where it has to be and also to sit and heel.
When you’re rewarding in that position, remember never give the reward with your opposite hand as the dog will start to cross in front of you looking for it.
You should aim to achieve around 25 ‘sits’ on the way back. If your dog does not know the command ‘sit’ on your last step, you can pull the lead upwards and say ‘NO’, then ‘sit’, pre-empting its thought on the last step.
When reprimanding your dog never say the word of command and then pull the lead, the only word you should be saying when pulling the lead is ‘NO’.
Once you have achieved the ‘sit’ command, you should continue to practice with the dog up and down the sidewalk three or four times until you feel that the dog is responding correctly with about 75% success rate to the command. Ignore the 25% failure at this time as the more training you do the lower the failure percentage will gradually be.
Remember: never make things complicated. In keeping things simple, remember the obvious – dogs know how to sit! The key to success is remembering that we just have to teach them how to associate a command with an action.
Once you have your dog obeying the ‘heel’ and ‘sit’ commands satisfactorily, it is time to introduce the ‘stay’ command.
The stay command is measured by distance and time. The further the distance – the more time and the more control we have.
Ideally, you should achieve a stationary period for your dog of 7 minutes, at a distance of 21 metres.
Around 21 metres is the limit of vision for a typical dog. This means shades of grey start blending in and your dog will lose clear visual contact with you above this range. Gradually increase both distance and time toward these targets, you then have ‘out of sight’ control!
To achieve this, take your dog away from the home to the sidewalk where you regularly train it.
Put the dog in the ‘sit’ position facing the home. Now if your dog is on the left-hand side, using your open right hand, put it in front of the dog’s muzzle without touching it and say the word ‘stay’. Walk backwards, away to the extent of the lead, and wait approximately 30 seconds. Then go back to the dog and reward it enthusiastically for its achievement. Keep on repeating it, each time walking a little further along, approximately ½ a metre more, stop, command it to ‘sit’, then ‘stay’ and walk away. Walk a further metre and a half from the dog and wait approximately 1 minute, then go back to the dog and reward it again.
If the dog breaks the stay , that is to say that it got up and moved without you releasing it from its commanded position, take the dog back to the same spot saying nothing but the words ‘NO’ and then ‘stay’.
There are only three ways you can break the ‘stay’ command:
- When you call it to yourself it must come directly to you.
- You go to the dog and ‘heel’ it away.
- You give the ‘free’ command.
If your dog breaks the stay, it’s important to remain calm and non-emotional. Patience is the key, so take the dog back to the same spot and start again.
The ‘stay’ command is just for the dog and not for you.
That means when you give the dog the stay command, it is not allowed to move, while you can do as you please.
Once you’ve gotten the dog to stay for more than one minute, I suggest you slowly start walking around, but not behind the dog. Bring up a distraction as you gain more time and more distance from it.
You can introduce whatever distraction you like – such as walking around, jumping, playing ball, eating or anything else except calling the dog.
My favourite distraction is walking around the dog in circles, slowly increasing the circle radius over a period of time.
That way the dog gets a lot of distraction from both in front and behind as it keeps on trying to look for you.
Important tip: do not cut any corners with the time and distance instructions. It should take you about two weeks to achieve the stay objective of seven minutes at 21 metres. An individual lesson should be NO more than 45 to 85 minutes long.
This concludes the first lesson.
Introducing four extra rules
Having achieved the objectives in lesson one, some extra rules must now be introduced before progressing with the next lesson:
1 Never give your dog a command you cannot enforce immediately.
2 Call your dog’s name first and then a command he understands, so that you have the dogs attention and it understands that you are giving it an instruction. Dogs learn to ignore our voices all day long, as for the most part we are simply using conversational language, rather than speaking specific commands.
3 Equal reward to equal reprimand. If you reprimand your dog it must receive a reward on successful completion.
4 Make training fun for your dog, not just all work. You’ll get better and faster results with a bit of playtime!