Our beloved canine friends can make us happy simply by being their own adorable selves. The level of affection and loyalty that they show are usually enough for us, pet owners, to develop a deep fondness for them. But wouldn’t it be great if we could train our adorable pets to become not just playful, but obedient as well?
One of the most challenging and at the same time rewarding experiences of being a dog owner is teaching basic dog commands. It requires dedication, commitment, and a lot of patience. Dog training commands are both helpful and entertaining, because they enable dogs to showcase their skills even if such skills are not for competition. There may come a time that this training will help you and your dog ensure safety.
Dog experts believe that dogs can be trained, no matter what their breeds are. The main difference is that not all dogs are as receptive as others, and not all dog owners are as patient compared to others as well. It is a mutual engagement that needs compromise to make both ends meet.
Starting them young
As the saying goes, you cannot teach old dogs new tricks. While you would not necessarily need to teach your pet dog some complicated, show-quality commands, training is very important during its first few months while it is still a puppy. Like young children, learning and development should start at a young age.
Curiosity, activity, and obedience can be utilized and established while they are still young. The skills that are learned will eventually become habits when our dogs grown in age and experience. Starting early serves as physical and mental preparation for puppies in the long run. By reading how to house train your puppy, you’ll soon learn how to use the same basics with other commands you want your puppy to learn.
The amount of time needed to train your dog depends on how much time you, as a dog owner, can provide for training, as well as on how the receptive the breed that you have is to training. There are dogs that are born with the natural gift for trainability, whereas there are breeds that might require a long while to learn the basics.
Generally, herding dogs, retrievers, and guard dogs are the most trainable ones, whereas some toy dogs and non-sporting breeds tend to be a little stubborn and will require a considerable amount of effort to learn the basics.
The most trainable breeds
- Border Collie
- German Shepherd
- Golden Retriever
- Doberman Pinscher
The least trainable breeds
- Shih Tzu
- Afghan Hound
- Chow Chow
Above is a list of the most common dog breeds that are the most and the least trainable. Individual dogs may exhibit some distinct characteristics, but those of the same breed generally share some common features that can be considered as “signatures” of their breed. Dog owners should also keep in mind that when we say “most trainable”, it doesn’t mean that training would be easy. A certain amount of time and effort would still be required to successfully train a dog to obey basic commands.
Conditioning and social learning
There are countless training manuals that you can find that will discuss the ever-basic “Sit-Stay-Heel” commands. Basic dog commands are actually the most overlooked training step for puppies because owners typically feel that they are too young and lack the attention span required to learn. However, owners must bear in mind that the sooner a puppy can learn basic commands, the sooner they can develop a certain level of discipline and then progress to learning advanced commands.
Pavlovian conditioning or classical conditioning is a type of learning that comes from two stimuli, namely, conditioned stimuli and unconditioned stimuli. This kind of training enables a dog to learn to associate things in the environment with a desired outcome or response at its own pace and through its own discovery. This kind of training allows dogs to overcome fear of people and situations by facilitating the normal cycle of socialization.
This training approach employs different types of conditioning. Whatever conditioning style is adopted, a common feature is that repetition is used to facilitate the association between the stimulus and response. Such repetition has been found to be highly effective for use in dog training, which makes Pavlov conditioning a popular training approach for pet owners and professional trainers. It’s this conditioning that’s used with a clicker; you can learn more about this method in this article on clicker training.
Social learning is a learning method characterized by the observation others’ behavior. It does not need or advocate a particular type of learning reinforcement; however, it requires a specific model so that the observed behavior can be copied and remembered.
Domestic dogs are considered social creatures, and dependency makes it aware of the behavior of others, which may influence its own learning and behavior. However, a debate is still ongoing regarding whether social learning is always effective and regarding the length of time required to achieve favorable results.
The process in which an owner punishes or rewards a dog when it shows a specific behavior or response is called reinforcement. A positive outcome will cause the dog to be rewarded, thus increasing the tendency that the dog will exhibit the same desirable behavior on succeeding occasions.
The gentlest training approach
Training dogs to obey basic commands should be conducted as gently as possible. There are different kinds of training approaches, but for the basics, it is recommended that pet owners use food-based training. Food-based training is the method of providing treats or rewards after your dog follows a command successfully. This is considered as the most positive, gentle, and effective method of training that utilizes the dog’s basic need for food as a reward. Also, it promotes trust, both for the dog and the owner.
Remember: Treats should be given lightly because they may cause an upset stomach or may overfill the dog. You may cut the treats in half to engage your dogs into training without overfeeding them. Also, always check if the treats that you are giving your dogs are age-appropriate so that these snacks will not hurt the gums and teeth, especially for puppies. Giving young dogs hard biscuits may hurt their gums while chewing.
The importance of praise, positive reinforcement, and maximum tolerance
“Good boy!” is the most common kind of praise that we hear from dog trainers. Praise and positive reinforcement serve an important function in determining the outcome of training. One natural phenomenon that is commonly observed is that when a dog is motivated and praised, it will gain self-confidence to do the things that are expected of it and will thus perform much better over time. Considering the fact that there are breeds that are born pleasers, such as Poodles, praises serve as a confirmation that your dog is doing the right thing.
Dogs, regardless of how stubborn they can be, should be given maximum tolerance. Even the most intelligent dogs have their learning limits. We as their owners should extend the greatest possible amount of patience, especially during the first few days of training.
Hurting a dog or employing a punishment-based approach may not only result in trauma, but may also degrade a dog’s confidence and motivation. As you move on to training for the actual commands, keep in mind that the leads and pulling action should only be employed as a last resort should your dog become very uncooperative.
The five basic commands
The five most important basic dog commands are as follows:
These commands are considered important because they promote discipline, enthusiasm, patience, and positive response in your dog.
Sit is the most basic command that enables dogs to show politeness and enthusiasm. It is also a signal that your dog is willing to wait for something. When you successfully train your dog to learn how to “sit,” this will eventually become a habit. Your dog will default to this sitting position whenever it wants something or is waiting for something.
Stand up in front of your dog, and make sure you have its attention. Say your dog’s name and then say “Sit!” Hold a piece of treat above its nose. As soon as the dog sits, reward it by giving a piece of treat. This approach enables the dog to naturally follow the command by associating obedience with the reward.
Remember: Do not force your dog to sit by pushing its behind down. Not only it will result in resistant behavior, but it will end up agitating the dog as well.
Stay is one of the primary skills learned by a puppy while it is still being nursed by its mother. This is actually one of the most instinctive lessons during its life. It is the command that lets the dog know that it should remain in a passive and stationary position, unless you say otherwise. Whether sitting, down, or standing, the dog learns to retain this position and wait patiently for your next command.
To practice this command, your dog may need to wear a collar for better control and maneuverability. Once the dog is in its “sit” position, stand to its side. This position will be the “place” position in which your dog should stay. You will serve as a marker of the territory in which your dog should stay. Place your hand in a “stopping” position, facing your dog. If the dog stays, give it a reward. If the dog stands up, go back to the “sit” command and then move to the “stay” command again.
Continue doing this until the dog stays for about 10 seconds. This sequence must be repeated several times. Once your dog can follow this command easily, you can start increasing the distance until it comes to a point that you can move anywhere and the dog will still remain and follow your “stay” command.
The “come” command serves as the recall order for your dog to direct its attention and go back to you. This command can be accompanied by a specific gesture so that your dog can remember it better.
Place a piece of dry dog food or treat on the floor and then point at it. Stress or exaggerate your pointing gesture so that your dog clearly sees it. Your dog should take a few steps toward you and the treat that you are pointing to. Once the dog responds to this kind of command, continue practicing up until the point that simply the gesture or command—without the treat on the floor—would be enough for your dog to follow.
When the dog goes to you, you can say “Good boy, (dog’s name).” This is the perfect opportunity to provide positive reinforcement to your dog whenever it successfully accomplishes a command.
The “down” command is considered as a firmer stay. Its main difference with stay is that in stay, the dog can still wiggle its tail and stick its tongue out. In the down command, your dog has to assume a total crouching position as it awaits additional orders. It is the most effective command to control the dog’s behavior.
To proceed teaching the “down” command, instruct your dog to “sit.” Call your dog’s name, and then say “down.” Augment the command with a treat on your hand and slowly place it close to your dog. The dog’s elbows and buttocks should rest comfortably on the floor. This can be repeated several times.
“Heel” is considered as the most complicated basic command to teach your dog, but it can be taught if the dog owner is consistent in teaching the command. When walking your dog or allowing it to accompany you for a jog, it has the tendency to investigate something that it finds interesting and steer off course in a different direction. The heel command lets the dog to know that there is proper time for exploration and a time to remain by your side.
Using a walking lead, instruct your dog to be in a “sit” position next to your left leg as you face the same direction. This position will inhibit your dog from getting confused.
As you call your dog’s name, step forward with your left foot. Remember to always start with your left foot as it serves as the signal that it is time to move. The initial reaction will be either resistive, in which your dog will not do anything, or overeager, in which it will walk toward you in a hurry. In cases like this, you may always give a gentle tug and repeat from the start.
Given that your dog will always have a tendency to stray away too far, tap your leg and instruct him to come over. If your dog moves ahead, say “no,” and repeat the command.
If your dog becomes a bit out of control after a couple of repetitions, allow it to calm itself first before starting over. After several minutes, start with the “sit” command, and then try to proceed at a slower pace.
Remember: Do not allow the dog to feel negative tension on the lead because it may react with fear or resistant behavior. As much as possible, the corrections should be gentle and should be only done by voice or gesture or a combination of both. Use the lead as last resort when the dog is uncooperative or not listening.
‘Stop’ is the silent command that will be learned by your dog after mastering the five basic commands. This command is something that should come naturally, whenever you are in a walk and you stopped, it will become an instinctive action for the dog whenever it is with you.
Once you’ve mastered these basics, you might want to consider taking a look at tricks you can teach your dog in order to add some variety to his day.
Consistency of practice
Engaging dogs in practicing basic dog commands requires consistency. Basic training is like sending your dog to the gym to work out. As it learns the commands, it will eventually progress in terms of obedience and discipline.
Through domestication, dogs have become close to humans and have developed sensitivity to human communication signals. With ample exposure, dogs are believed to develop the ability to recognize human speech. Through language, gestures, and practice, dogs tend to understand some of the words we speak. Studies also suggest serve as visual cues that help dogs understand the more intricate commands that we give.
As dog owners, we may have certain expectations that we want our dog to meet. However, dog owners must understand the limitations of dogs in terms of learning, patience, and temperament. Training with a great deal of understanding will make the command training activity enjoyable for both the dog and the pet owner.
As much as possible, training should be done on a daily basis. Although dogs have varying attention spans, they all require a method of training that is constant in terms of commitment and maintenance. Dogs have the potential to learn fast, but the guidance of pet owners will determine how far they can go in terms of actual application.
Training sessions can be very enjoyable, such that you may not notice the weeks flying by. A hand-on experience of training your dog is something that can be very pleasant and rewarding. It all starts with the decision to engage in the experience and commit to it. And who knows, you dog may start following your commands sooner than you expect.