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12 General Rules for Training Dogs

By: Dr. Nicholas Dodman

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8. Put your dog on a leash and attract his attention so he looks directly at you and you at him ("Watch-me"). Then issue an action word, SIT. A poorly trained dog might slowly get into the sitting position, at which point you reward him IMMEDIATELY with praise, GOOD BOY, ROVER, (remember the high tones and heartfelt deliverance) and at the same time as you immediately produce the reward.

An untrained dog will have to be assisted into the sitting position by moving a food treat over and above his head so that he has to sit to reach it. Successful accomplishment of the task is meets with warm praise and the food treat. In some cases, placement techniques (tension on collar, downward pressure on the rump) may have to be used.

9. Once you have a dog performing the desired response greater than 85 percent of the time in a quiet undisturbed environment, you can move onto the next stage; starting to shape the behavior toward the ideal response. You might begin by rewarding a progressively faster SIT, that is, rewarding the dog for sitting in 3 seconds, later in 2 seconds, and ultimately in 1 second, or immediately.

Decide before you give the command what you are going to reward. You can also start to reward longer and more definite SITS so the dog has to do more than just touch his rear end on the ground to receive reward. Withhold the food treat until the dog is sitting properly and then gradually introduce a time delay before the reward is given.

10. Gradually increase the length of time the dog must remain in a SIT-STAY until he can remain relaxed in this position for one minute while the owner is at a distance of 5 feet. Continue to increase the time and distance the dog is asked to remain in a SIT-STAY after the dog has been successful at the previous level for 5-10 trials.

For very long SITS, the reward should be given intermittently throughout the SIT, at least during training. The owner should teach a key phrase such as EASY or STEADY to teach the dog to associate relaxation with the exercise. It also is helpful to have a release command, such as FREE or RELEASE, which tells the dog when he has been obeying for the desired period of time.

11. Vary the commands during an individual training session – keep the training sessions short and frequent. Dogs will learn much more from regular short sessions than from longer, less frequent ones. Once the dog has learned several useful commands on the continuous reward schedule, that is, the dog is rewarded for each successful performance of the behavior, the schedule should be changed to one of intermittent reward.

Initially, the dog may be rewarded two times out of three, then every other third time, and so on until rewards are only supplied occasionally. This is the way to wean a dog off food treats and is the cure for a dog that "will only work for food." Remember, however, it is always important to praise your dog immediately if he has performed a command properly, whether or not any other reward will be forthcoming.

12. Once training has been accomplished in a quiet area, you can gradually begin to work in environments with more distractions, continuing the training in the yard, on leash, progressively lengthening the leash between you and the dog and finally dropping it, so the dog is now obeying without you at the other end of the lead. It may be helpful to continue this training in relatively busy environments, so that you can maintain control even in distracting situations. The Holy Grail of training is to have the dog reliably obeying commands off lead, even when other things are going on around him. This level of training can be achieved but only after a lot of hard work and investment of time. It's something to strive toward.

And remember, regarding training, "Art and science aren't enough; Patience is the basic stuff." (Konrad Lorenz).

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