Basic obedience is essential for any dog regardless of its breed or age. If you can get a dog to come when it is called, sit patiently and understand to leave things alone, you will have a much easier time. Your relationship with your dog will also improve as they get your love, praise, and attention for being your best friend.
From puppyhood, your dog will learn all kinds of skills, some more complex than others. They are learning all the time, not just when you decide it’s time to train. The important thing is that you start early with a consistent training regime consisting of positive reinforcement in the basic commands.
You can teach these commands from the day your new puppy comes home. If you have rescued a dog, then you can use the same methods below to reinforce your commands and help your rescue dog settle into their new family home.
How to use positive reinforcement to train your dog
There are two fundamental factors in positive reinforcement
Praising your dog is vital for them to understand that they have done a good job. They thrive on this sort of positive interaction which may be because of that innate desire to please their owners, a concept that science has not yet been able to prove one way or the other.
Rewards give the dog additional incentives to act in the way that you desire. These rewards can vary depending on the personality of the dog. Food based rewards are common as they give your pet a tasty treat. But, you need to be careful not to offer too much too often, especially with breeds prone to over-eating. Toy-based rewards can also work. Or, you might get on well with clicker training.
This is where the method differs from negative reinforcement which focuses on
Some dog owners prefer to use a negative form of correction to force their animal into the desired behaviour. This isn’t necessary as you run a bigger risk of mentally scarring or physically hurting the dog. Pulling or forcing a dog into position, swatting them on the nose, and negative speech aren’t the way forward. This used to be the way dog training was taught ( by people like Cesar Milan and Barbara Woodhouse), but is no longer advocated by modern dog trainers.
Our understanding of how dogs learn (Mary Burch & John Bailey ) has come on leaps and bounds over the last 10 years and informed us of a much better way of training and changing canine behaviours.
Two ways that dogs learn are by the immediate consequences of their actions (“operant conditioning”) and by associations (“classical conditioning”).
I have only ever used positive reinforcement methods to successfully train dogs, cats, birds, rodents, cows, horses, alpacas and many other animals.
Using positive reinforcement in the most fun, effective and kindest method to train an animal.Sarah-Jane White – Trainer
But, it isn’t enough to just provide your dog with praise and rewards. The timing and methods that you choose play their part too. Think about the following.
~ What to say to your dog
~ What sort of treats should you use
~ When to scale back on the rewards
The words that you use when training your pet will play a big part in how they respond. With each of the commands laid out below, you will find guidance on the phrasing to use. Typically, strong one-syllable words are the most effective for helping dogs differentiate between commands. The tone of your voice also helps. You can be sharp and authoritative when offering the command, but without shouting at the dog. When they do a good job, raise your pitch and soften the tone to provide plenty of praise.
Decide on your treats early on and stick with them. It is important that the dog associates the treat with good behaviour and doesn’t get it at random times. Pick something tiny that they can take from your hand with ease. A nice taste of something that has them wanting more. Stay consistent with your approach even if your pet struggles. If you increase the reward after they fail, they might deliberately fail to get more of it as you are rewarding the wrong behaviour ( the fail as opposed to the success).
Over time, you can scale back on the rewards and the praise so that the behaviour becomes normalised. They should eventually get to the point where they respond appropriately without any prospect of a treat. If the dog is only complying because of the reward, you still have a way to go. Start with a treat for each small step, even if that means working with the shaping approach. Then once they know what to do on command, gradually decrease the frequency of the treats until you have a learned behaviour. If you find that you decrease too quickly and your dog loses interest, take a step back.
Always set your dog up for success.
What are some of the common methods of training using positive reinforcement?
There are some great methods to choose from when training. You can try a variety of these depending on the behaviour you want to encourage and what suits you and your dog. The most common ones are:
- Shaping for gradual improvements towards a bigger goal.
- Luring to encourage a natural movement that you desire.
- Capturing is a way of rewarding a naturally occurring behaviour.
A clicker can be used to accelerate training as it marks the exact moment the dog performs the desired behaviour. More on that in another article.
Shaping helps owners and their dogs get from point A to point B with little goals in between. It can be too much to expect a puppy to go from not knowing how to sit still, or how to walk away from something, to suddenly understanding precisely what you want. So, small rewards for small steps can go a long way.
It would be like learning to play the piano, but only rewarding yourself when you can actually play a full classic piece. Imagine how demoralising that would be? In reality you would take baby steps with scales, easy pieces of music and give yourself a pat on the back and a treat when you master each step. You might even take exams to mark your achievements. So, the same concept should apply to our dogs’ small steps rewarded along the way towards the end goal.
This is where you use the treat reward in your training, rather than just at the end. It is canine bribery, but it works and we do similar food-based incentive training with our kids. If you can get the dog’s attention with the treat, you can then guide them through what you expect them to do. If they follow, they get the treat. You can make things harder and then take the treats away as the dog understands the commands.
Capturing is different as it focuses on natural behaviours rather than learned ones. The idea is that you offer praise and rewards every time your dog naturally does something that you approve of. Perhaps they naturally developed a behaviour of sitting by the bowl at mealtimes without you having to encourage it.
Every time they get praise for something they do that is a desired behaviour, your puppy should make a point of doing it again for a similar reaction. With time, the repeated behaviour becomes more natural and you won’t have to make such a big fuss.
The guides below provide tips on how to train your dog in 8 commands. Where possible, alternative options using these methods are suggested.
8 Obedience commands to teach your dog
There are 8 common commands that use this technique of simple phrases. They are
~ Drop it
~ Leave it
~ Watch me
Let’s look at each of these in more detail and learn how to use positive reinforcement so that your dog understands and follows these commands.
Get ready to train : your preparation
Set yourselves up for success. Pick a quiet place with as little distractions as possible ( preferably none). Just you and your dog. Have your treats in a jar or training pouch so that you can easily access them with one hand. Get down on the floor with your dog so you are at the same level.
To begin you need to get your dog to focus on your hand, which is holding a high value, small, tasty treat. Make sure it is something new and the smellier the better. Little Liver treats from Baker and Baker work well as you will be using a lot of them and you want something that’s quick to deliver and quick to swallow but low calorie. Waiting a minute whilst your dog chomps through a piece of venison sausage will seriously hamper the learning process.
Training sessions should be short and sweet. You can use ad breaks on tv as ideal opportunities ( turn the sound off on the tv and face your dog away from it). A few sessions a day ( morning, noon and night) work well for dogs of all ages. Here’s my puppy training planner to help you with planning out your training days.
Word of warning. Dogs learn visual cues a lot quicker than verbal ones so be very mindful of what both your hands are doing and the shapes they are making. It’s very easy to train the behaviour with a signal you were not deliberately doing. Choose what hand signal ( and which hand) you are going to use to indicate you would like your dog to sit. Stick with it. Here’s a guide to common sign language that you might like to use with your dog.
Push Stick Drop review method
This is a simple concept to help you recognise when to progress to the next step of the training.
- If your dog is performing the step correctly 5 times out of 5, you push to the next step.
- If it’s 3 or 4 times out of 5, that’s a stick and you need to continue repeating that step.
- If it’s once, twice or not at all then it’s a ‘drop’, so you need to back a step back as you’ve progressed too quickly.
This method will allow you to build a strong foundation at each step and always set your dog up for success.
Generalising the behaviour
Once you’ve mastered a command you can then do what is called ‘generalise’ the behaviour. By this I mean if you were training ‘sit’ in the kitchen all the time, your dog will have learnt to sit in that location. You may then ask them to ‘sit’ somewhere else and they won’t have a clue what you mean.
This is because dogs are really, really, really aware of all their surroundings. They’ll have made associations with the location, time of day, what socks or slippers you were wearing, did you have your glasses on, was the radio on etc., They have learnt to sit in one context with all those conditions, so you need to then repeat the learning in other rooms in the house, outside in the garden, in the street, at the park etc. You get the idea.
Ready to begin? Now get your dogs attention
Take one treat, hold onto it tight and let your dog sniff your hand. Move your hand about slowly so that your dog can follow your movements. This works really well for puppies who have very short attention spans when training. Here’s a great video demonstrating this in action.
Once your dog is interested in your hand you can begin to train a behaviour. Start with Sit as it is the easiest, most natural and most useful behaviour for you to teach.
Why do we use the sit command?
Getting your dog to sit is important for obedience and one of the first commands that new owners will learn. It is a great place to start to build on your dogs listening skills and keep them in greater control at home. If they can sit quietly and calmly as they wait for you to finish a task then it shows patience and respect. Sitting is also helpful when it comes to keeping the dog still to fix their lead and when waiting to cross the road. Crossing the road with your pet is a more complex skill, so having this fundamental in place can really help.
The hand signal
Use your hand with the palm facing up. Hold the treat with your thumb against your palm. You can show your dog the treat in your hand to start with so they know where it is.
The verbal cue
The word ‘sit’ is great for training. It is a sharp syllable that you can use in an authoritative tone. It helps to maintain that tone and pitch and encourage other family members to do the same for faster learning.
It’s important when teaching the cue not to keep repeating the word, ie don’t say “sit,sit,sit”. Once is all that is required. If you do not get the behaviour, just go back and start again.
Luring with food or toy treats works well when teaching dogs to sit.
5 Steps to luring your dog to sit
- Position yourself on the floor in front of your dog. Put the treat out in front of them in your flat hand, let them sniff it. Now simply raise your hand up and backwards over their head. They will naturally sit down as they crane their head to follow the treat. When they have put their bum on the floor, give them the treat immediately and give them praise.
- Repeat this activity for a few minutes. It shouldn’t take long for your dog to associate the action of sitting with the reward. Keep at it until they know to sit in order to get the food offered. ( 5 out of 5, push to the next step).
- The next step is to start fading the lure so that you are just using the hand signal. To begin fading the lure you need to do the same movement, ie pass the treat over their head, but not all the way. Gradually reduce how far you reach until you are just making the hand signal ( flat hand palm facing up). Once your dog is sitting with just a gesture, you’re ready to move on. Make sure you give them the treat and say ‘good’ every time they sit. You can now use the treats from the pouch( or other hand) instead of holding them in your signaling hand.
- Use the push, stick, drop review until your dog is consistent. Once this is consistent, by which I mean that in 5 out of 5 times your dog will sit with the hand signals, you can introduce the verbal cue.
- Give your hand signal and say the word “sit” as soon as their butt hits the floor. This can take some practice to get the timing right, but the idea is that your dog forms a new association between the visual cue, the verbal cue ‘sit’ and their action. This is an example of operant conditioning. Treat and say ‘good’ when they perform the correct behaviour. You may find that holding the treat in your other hand is easier now for speedy delivery.
With patience, you will find that your dog understands that you need them to sit whenever asked, and they should do so even if there is no food. They should do this willingly on command and you can move on to trying it out with other tests.
What not to do when teaching the sit command.
The worst thing that you can do when teaching the sit command is to force your dog into the position. There are frustrated owners that will push their dog’s hindquarters down, which can be distressing and painful for the dog. Never use force and never scold the dog for not understanding what you want. It’s your fault they don’t understand, they don’t speak human languages.
Some dogs can’t sit ( like a greyhound) they are just not designed that way, so skip this behaviour and teach them to stand still instead which they will find much easier.
Why do we use the down command?
Sitting is a great starting point for getting your dog to calm down and become still and attentive. You can also get your dog to lay down. This puts them in a more submissive position where they lie down on cue.
This option could be more helpful if you have an energetic pup at home that needs to take a break – or when you need some peace and quiet. Getting them lie down, either at your feet or in their bed, puts them in a position of rest.
Some owners may also use the word down when dogs are on the furniture and need to get off. But, doing this could cause some confusion and you might just end up with your pet laying down on the sofa instead. This is why strong and distinctive commands for each behaviour are essential.
The hand signal
Use your hand flat with the palm facing down. You may also move your hand downwards to indicate the down.
The verbal cue
This issue with the two behaviours and commands brings up an important point about the phrases you use. The word down is another single syllable you can emphasise to get dogs to lie down. But, you need something else for when they are on the furniture. They may struggle to distinguish between “down” and “get down”. The word ‘off’ might be better for dogs on the sofa who are not allowed to be there.
Shaping plays a part in getting your dog into the right position.
5 steps to teaching your dog the ‘down’ command
First of all, remember that you can’t expect your dog to get down on the ground perfectly straight away. Also, some bigger breeds can struggle with this action. Our greyhound couldn’t sit, but down was an easy behaviour for him to learn.That is why it pays to take things slow and reward small efforts.
- Ask your dog to sit.
- Holding the treat in your hand between your thumb and palm. Face your palm the floor and lower your hand slowly down so your dog follows. Your dog has to figure out a new behaviour to get it this time. Reward the dog when they make an effort to get down on the ground. They might bow their legs a little or put their chest on the floor, but the rest of them is upright. That’s great for a first try. It is a positive step in the right direction and you can reward that.
- Keep rewarding little increments. Each time you lower your hand, wait a little longer until they have a bit more of their body on the ground. Reward each attempt. If they start repeating ‘half’ downs then wait a little longer. Eventually, they will realise that they need to be completely on the floor on their bellies to get the treat.
- Once they start to do this without much hesitation, you can remove the treat from your hand and bring in the verbal cue to say ‘down’ when they start to lie down. Treat and praise them when they are successful.
- You can then gradually take the treats away and rely on the visual and verbal cues. Use the push, stick, drop review method to know when to take the treats away.
Once you have built a strong response to your cues, you can train the behaviour in other situations to generalise. Have them lie down on command in their bed when establishing a better night routine. Lie on the floor in front of the TV, out on a walk, in the park, in the pub etc.
What not to do when teaching the down command.
You should never use force or scolding to get your dog into the right position. Pushing them down to the ground shows aggression and causes pain and suffering. You may injure the dog both mentally and physically.
Why do we use the stay command?
Asking a dog to stay in one place is important if you need them to remain where they are. This goes further than telling the dog to sit or lay down as it means that they will stay still without trying to be by your side. The stay command means that you can trust them at a safe distance to remain where they are. This could be important when controlling your animal in the home, by the car, or when out in public. Teaching your dog to resist the urge to go up to people and stay at a distance is also important when you have somebody over to the house or meet people at the park. It teaches the dog a greater level of respect and manners.
The hand signal
Flat palm facing the dog like a stop sign.
The verbal cue
Stay is a common term for this command for the same reasons as down and sit. It is sharp, simple, and goes well with any additional gestures. Also, it is another term the dog is unlikely to hear in a different context so they should only associate it with this desired behaviour. You can only train a sit-stay or down-stay when you have a solid ‘sit’ or ‘down’ behaviour. Do not attempt to train this until your dog can perform these other two behaviours 10 times out of 10.
8 steps to teaching stay
The method here is slow and gradual retreat from your dog without them breaking their posture. I’ll use training the stay from a sit position to illustrate, but you can do this from the down position if you prefer.
- Ask your dog to sit.
- Use the visual cue, a flat palm in front of their face, like a stop gesture, is perfect. Then turn the top half of your body away. Keep your feet still. Turn back and if your dog is still sitting give a treat. Repeat this until they don’t move when you turn away.
- This time, say ‘sit’ as a reminder before you turn away and start to take one step as if walking away. Keep one foot on the ground, only move one leg. Turn back and reward if your dog hasn’t moved. Repeat this until they don’t move when you turn away and take your fake step.
- Now you can repeat no.3 and each time take one extra pace from your dog before turning back and rewarding them for staying put. Only increase the distance slowly. Remember to use push, stick, drop review method so you know when to take an extra step. Be patient. If they get up at any point go back, wait 15 seconds, ask them to sit again and try again. Keep sessions short. Always end them on a positive note so when your dog is ready for the next step.
- Work on the distance for a while, gradually getting further and further and making note of where the dog is comfortable. Don’t rush things. Eventually, you will be able to walk to the other side of the garden with your palm out and they will continue to wait.
- Once you can get 10 to 15ft away without your dog budging you can add the ‘stay’ verbal cue when you give the hand signal before you leave.
- You now need to generalise the behaviour and teach your dog to stay in other locations.
- You can also start adding distractions ( really, really small ones) like someone else walking past.
What not to do when teaching the stay command.
Patience is important with this difficult command. Some owners don’t appreciate how much their dog wants to be by their side. Do not back away saying ‘stay, stay, stay’ as this is not what happens in real life. Your dog needs to learn that you are going to turn and walk away. Shouting at them for not getting it right isn’t going to help either. Silence is much better and less confusing . You need patience, and to reward even the slowest of progress to keep moving in the right direction.
Why do we use the okay command?
The ‘Okay’ command is a bit different. While all the rest give the dog a good indication of what you need from them, and allow for obedience, this is the cue that shows them that the command is over. A well-trained dog that learns to return to your side or sit patiently in front of you while you do something may continue to maintain the position or behaviour until they get another cue.
‘Okay’ releases your dog from what they are doing. They are free to leave your side again because they completed their task or a danger has passed. Dogs can then realise that they are free to play and go back to other activities until you call on them again.
Therefore, you need this command to help you make the most of some of the others in this guide. You need to release dogs from sitting or lying down so they don’t get uncomfortable. If you have a dog that stays on command without the need for a constant hand gesture, the release command will let them relax and come back.
The hand signal
I like to use a thumbs up as the okay signal. Dolly isn’t always in line of sight for it. But it is a good signal to have as a backup.
The verbal cue
Keep your cue bright and positive and always say it in a distinct manner so that your dog is clear what it means i.e. they are done.
3 steps to teaching the ‘okay’ release command
- Start with your dog in a sit-stay or a down-stay.
- Walk a couple of paces away. Then call their name and encourage them to come to you.
- When they break the stay reward them with lots of praise.
You can do this after each command you have trained so they know to wait until they are given the ‘okay’ to move feely.
Why do we use the come command?
‘Stay’ and ‘come’ are important to learn together. ‘Stay’ might be brilliant for keeping your dog out of harm’s way for a little while, but you also need to be able to recall them to your side. This return command tells the dog that they no longer need to wait so patiently away from you and can return.
Of course, the come/return command is also important if there are times when your dog wanders too far or you come to a place where you need to put them back on the leash. The sooner they learn to return at this call, the easier it is to continue with your journey and avoid any problems. Some reluctant dogs may figure out the association between the come command and being back on the leash, and this could affect your progress. But, an obedient dog should learn that it is better to come when called.
There are many ways to teach a good recall, I think I’ll have to write a whole article on it! But for now, here is a simple one to get you started.
The hand signal
Use two flat hands, palms up. Now fold your fingers all at the same time towards you as a beckoning gesture. Once. For long distances I stand like a scarecrow and use a whistle. Dolly can see me from a long way off them and knows to come back.
The verbal cue
The word ‘come’ on its own is great because it is another distinctive sound and you can apply the right tone to get the best reaction. Some owners may use variants of this, such as come here. Try not to use anything that is too long-winded.
Use plenty of praise and reinforcement for this lesson to sink in.
5 steps to begin to teach your dog recall
- The first stage of this process is to work with your dog in a completely distraction-free environment. They need to have nothing but you to focus on. Make a point of calling your dog by their name and the word ‘come’ from across the room and showering them with praise when they get to you. It might seem over-the-top to get so enthusiastic, but it should show how important it is to your dog that they came when called.
- Keep at it, making sure that they are willing to come when called each time by their name + verbal cue. When they are coming 5 out of 5 move on to step 3.
- Now you can drop their name and just use the ‘come’ command.
- Repeat until they will come to you on the verbal command only. Now you can add the hand gestures. These hand gestures are a great idea as they provide a visual cue over longer distances. Practice with the hand gesture alone when they get proficient with the verbal cue.
- Then you can take the lesson outside and see how they respond in the garden. There will be greater distractions and obstacles here, so be prepared for things to take a little longer. It doesn’t matter if they hesitate, offer the same praise when they do finally arrive at your side.
What not to do when teaching the ‘come’ command
If your dog doesn’t understand or is reluctant, you may need to start with teeny steps. Start with your dog on a lead and use the same process above but just be a lead length away. Gradually you can take step back as you practice the command. You may also find that giving a treat as well as lots of fuss and praise for coming to you is an extra incentive to get you started on the right track.
6) Drop it.
Why do we use the drop it command?
There are sure to be plenty of times when your pet picks something up and doesn’t want to let go. Puppies can get engrossed in playing with a new toy or scavenging on walks. So, it helps to teach dogs to drop items that they should not have. A well-trained dog should understand your intention and put the item down. With work, you can also get them to do so at your feet. One of the best scenarios for this is when playing fetch. If they learn that they need to give you the ball back in order to play again, they start to realise the benefits of dropping certain items on cue.
The hand signal
This is a personal preference. I point my index finger to the floor with a closed hand. I have also taught Dolly that if I touch her nose when she’s holding something to drop it – like a button. But this has taken years and we have a very close bond so I know what her body language is indicating and only use this in certain play situations.
The verbal cue
You could say ‘drop it’, or you could simplify the command to a more firm “drop”. This forceful word with the right tone should convey that you are unhappy with them having the item. You can then change your tone and praise the dog when they do as they are asked.
Toy-based rewards and food can both be used for safe and effective training
5 steps to teach your dog to ‘drop it’
- Position yourself on the ground in front of your dog.
- Say the word ‘drop’ and put some put a couple of treats on the floor. Wait until they have gobbled them up and they look back at you for more. Repeat 5 – 10 times. When you think they’ve clocked on, just give the verbal command ‘drop’ and when they look on the floor for food end the session.
- Now we are going to do a ‘trade’. Pick one of your dog’s toys ( not their favourite) and play with them for a few seconds. Then give the command ‘drop’ and put a couple of treats on the floor. Do not take the toy from them, wait until they drop it to eat the treats. Repeat 10 times. End the session.
- In the next session give the drop command and wait until your dog drops the toy before giving them the treat and praise.
- Continue practising the command and then move on to using different toys and items to generalise the behaviour. You still need to be sure that your dog will drop anything that it shouldn’t have, not just the toys you trained with. So, you can diversify the items used.
Eventually your dog should be willing to drop even their favourite toy on command.
Also, don’t forget to be enthusiastic when dogs bring items to you without any command. Encouraging dogs that drop items at your feet could teach them that it pays to offer up what they have to their owner – making the incentive to drop a little stronger. This could be when they bring you the post or simply when they drop the ball they fetched so you will throw it again.
What not to do.
The worst thing that you can do is go over to the dog and rip the item from their mouth. This can be distressing and confusing. It could also hurt the dog. If your dog doesn’t drop the toy, don’t try and take it from them. Instead take a break. Go back a step and start again. Use the push, stick, drop review method to help you work out when to move up or down the steps, or keep working at the same level until you get 5 out of 5.
7) Leave it.
Why do we use the leave it command?
The ‘leave it’ command is different to the ‘drop it’ command. ‘Drop it’ means that your dog has already located and picked up an object you don’t want them to have any more. ‘Leave it’ means that they should stop what they are doing when approaching an item, resist the temptation to engage with it, and ultimately walk away. This is important when there are dangerous items on the ground, such as human food scraps or rubbish on the street.
It is also an important command for dogs that like to eat their own poop. The different stages in this mean that this one can take time. Dogs may decide not to eat the item on the floor, but sit beside it without giving up on the idea completely. With work and patience, you can both handle this command.
The hand signal
If out and about I don’t use a hand signal because Dolly is not looking at me, she’s busy sniffing and investigating the thing she’s found. I just use a verbal command. However, I have taught her that if I put something on the floor and draw an imaginary line across in front of it, she won’t cross the line until I give her the ‘okay’. She has amazing powers of self control and can leave it almost indefinitely. Mind you, the amount of drool that forms is something to behold! Bless her.
The verbal cue
The same principle applies here as with the ‘drop’ command. You can shorten the phrase ‘leave it’ to one word and focus on the tone and delivery. Some owners may prefer the term ‘away’ as it reinforces the idea of the dog moving away from the item.
Luring works differently with the leave it technique and you can also work through gradual steps.
9 steps to teaching your dog to leave it
- Sit on the floor in front of your dog. Place a treat in front of you. Be ready to cover it with your hand. Don’t let your dog pinch it!
- As soon as your dog makes a move for the treat cover it with your hand.
- Keep your hand on the treat until your dog gives up trying to get it.
- As soon as your dog stops trying, praise them and pick up the treat and give it to them.
- Repeat this 5 times and move on to step 6 when your dog is beginning to wait for you to put the treat down.
- Next as you go to put the treat on the floor be ready to stop if your dog starts to go for it. The rule now they must wait until you’ve put the treat on the floor.
- If they refrain, wait one second, give praise and pick up the treat and give to your dog. If they don’t, cover up the treat and say ‘too bad’ and try again.
- Now make your dog wait two seconds, then three before giving them the treat. Don’t let them take it from the floor.
- When your dog has the hang of it you can repeat the training in different locations to cement the command.
The additional difficulty level comes when teaching dogs not to eat things they find on the ground outside. If a dog stops at something and sniffs it, but then leaves it on your command, reward them with praise and treats. Eventually, they should learn to leave these items alone without your prompts. You can start this training out in the garden where you know things are safe. Then you can take it out into the streets, park and the woods.
If you want to capture good behaviour that was unprompted, you can reward dogs for leaving things alone all by themselves. For example, your training may have been focused on treats and rubbish in the streets. But, you might later find that your dog declines to pick up food scraps that fall on the floor, all without any command. This deserves a lot of praise. Doing so will reaffirm that they did the right thing and make them less likely to eat scraps in the future.
What not to do with the leave it command.
Owners can get too aggressive and forceful in how they snatch up the objects, which can make them appear more desirable to the dog. There are also still some owners that use the negative reinforcement approach of negative exposure to something unpleasant, such as rubbing their dog’s nose in faeces to get their dog to stop eating it. This does not work. Nor does putting your dogs head in a hole in the ground full of water. Yes, believe it or not, this is the recommended technique in a very popular dog training book from years gone by.
8) Watch me.
Why do we use the watch me command?
Watch me ( or look at me) is another tool that really helps when it comes to training and dog obedience. Dogs that can maintain eye contact with their owners are less likely to be distracted by something else.
It also teaches them to be patient while waiting for food and rewards. You can use this command to get your dog’s attention before getting to work on other aspects of their training. It gets them in a better frame of mind away from everything else going on. If you can get them to watch you and sit, you are doing well.
The verbal cue
A simple ‘watch me’ in a bright tone is all that is required for the verbal cue.
6 steps to teaching your dog to ‘watch me’
Start teaching your dog to ‘watch me’ indoors, away from distractions. It’s a good idea to use small, tasty treats that motivate your dog. If they are not motivated by treats, then you can use a tug toy which you can then play with as the reward.
- Show your dog the treat, then hold it out to the side, at arm’s length. Your dog will naturally look over to the treat. The moment they stop looking at it and make eye contact with you say ‘yes’ and reward them immediately with the treat.
- Repeat this action 5-10 times until your dog is consitently making eye contact with you when you produce the treat. When you get 5 out of 5 you can push to the next step.
- You can now introduce the verbal command ‘watch me’. This time say ‘watch me’ and then hold the treat out to the side. As soon as your dog makes eye contact with you, reward them with the treat and say ‘yes’.
- Now, you can slowly begin to increase the amount of time that your dog is holding the eye contact. Start by giving the ‘watch me’ command and counting to one second in your head. If your dog maintains eye contact, quickly reward them. As your dog begins to do this consistently, gradually increase the watch by a second at a time, until they can hold it for 5 seconds. If your dog is looking away before you’ve finished counting, you may have progressed too quickly. If this happens, go back to practising for a shorter time and build back up again.
- Eventually, they will look directly at you on the watch me command and pay no attention to what is in your hand or your arm so you will no longer need to hold your arm out.
- You can now generalise the training and move it to other environments, then begin to build up the level of distractions. You could start with another family member playing with a toy on the other side of the room. You can even go further with other people deliberately trying to attract your dog’s attention. If they maintain their focus, you’ve done well.
What not to do when teaching the watch me command.
There will be times when your dog’s attention wanders, often for understandable reasons. A nervous dog may also be reluctant to hold eye contact so reward them for the tiniest flicker of their eyes in your direction. Don’t punish your dog, just do your best to encourage them to make eye contact. Also, don’t physically move your dog’s head and hold it into position.
Positive reinforcement is the best approach for a happy and obedient pet.
The eight commands above are essential for building a strong foundation and bonding with your dog. If they can sit, stay and lie down on command, you have a great starting point. Mastering more complex commands like come and watch me put you in greater control. If they can then learn to drop or leave items alone, you increase their safety and respect for your authority. Finally, you have the release command to let them go play again. Regular positive reinforcement training will get results if you are patient and consistent.