Teaching your dog three basic commands at an early stage can help you avoid many safety and behavioral issues down the road.
These commands include “Sit,” “Come Here,” and “Leave It.” Although it sounds simplistic, after housetraining, these three commands may be all you really need. At the very least, they will give you a great base from which to build future training.
The “Sit” command is probably the easiest and most useful, as it potentially stops the dog’s actions at any moment. To begin training for this command, hold a treat in your hand and bring your hand over the dog’s head with a command of “Sit.” When looking up, the dog has a tendency to naturally sit. If he does, give him the treat with praise. If not, gently push the dog’s back end down while gently pulling his collar up while repeating the command of “Sit.” Any time the dog sits, with or without your help, give him the treat and praise him profusely. Repeat this command several times and save additional training for the next day. Continue to practice until your dog responds to the command without your help. Your dog should begin responding to the “Sit” command in several days.
Teaching the command “Come here,” may help keep your dog safer, and eliminate unwanted interaction with others. Full command of this training element can keep your dog from running in the street.
Recall training always works best with positive reinforcement. In other words, make the act of coming to you a positive experience through treats and lavish praise. Never use the command to punish the dog when he comes or give a bath, trim nails, etc. This ensures the dog stays close and comes back often whether you call or not.
Just like a dog’s natural instinct is to sit when a treat is held above his head, a dog will naturally have a tendency to chase you if you run in the opposite direction. Use this method while you are recall training.
Praise the dog while it is running to you to eliminate distraction, especially for a puppy. While a puppy is going to want to come to you more readily than an older dog, it gets distracted in the effort more easily as well.
Train gradually starting inside, moving the distance further and further and into the next room once he gets the idea. Continue to praise and treat whenever he comes to you. When comfortable, move the training outside but make sure it is a safe fenced area. Using a long dog leash (30 feet or more) will also help with the training and keep him safer.
Always reward your dog for responding to his name, especially early on.
When outside, start leash training with a short dog leash and move to a long dog leash to get some distance. Use an upbeat tone with your calls and hold the treat up. Praise your dog verbally as he comes toward you. Take the collar when he reaches you and give the treat and praise.
You may never be fully comfortable leaving your dog completely off leash in an outside, non-enclosed venue, but you can leave a long, lightweight leash on your dog that you could easily catch if needed.
While you are outside, any time he is not distracted and turns to look at you, call him and begin running backward. When he responds by running to you, reward him with treats and praise.
Again, don’t call your dog and scold him or do something he doesn’t enjoy, especially during this training period. The dog should know that coming to you will be a positive experience.
Try not to repeat your call if the dog does not respond. If you continue to repeat it, your dog will ignore the command and you may have to begin the process over with a different verbal cue.
If the dog is already distracted with something, refrain from using the call command at that moment.
The main limitation of this command is that you cannot expect your dog to have the full control with this command until he is out of the puppy stage and able to more easily ignore distractions.
“Leave it” is also a safety command, although I successfully use it in various situation including keeping my Labrador from barking, so it can be widely applicable. It is useful when you do not want the dog to eat something it shouldn’t, like something off the street or the dinner table. The “leave it” command is fairly easy to teach and starts with a dog treat being placed in front of the dog, near enough to entice, but close enough to you that you can grab it ahead of the dog. When the dog begins to go after the treat, you say “leave it” and pick the treat up. Soon you will find the dog will resist for a period of time when you say “leave it.” Begin backing up further and allowing your dog more leeway. Do give the treat to a dog when it obeys this command. You can take this as far as you want, even training the dog to leave the treat while you are out of the room, but I was content to have the command obeyed within eyesight.
No matter how much time you train with your dog, no dog is going to respond all the time. Your dog will have good and bad days as far as response to training goes. Also, when in training, refrain from talking all the time or the dog will tend to ignore your commands. Remaining quiet until you wish to give a command will get your dog’s attention more of the time.
Just remember to keep training fun and short. Work in some play around the training and your dog will see training as just another extension of playtime.
These three commands are fairly easy to train and have the versatility to cover many situations. Used and trained correctly, they may be all you really need to make your best friend a part of the family and keep him safer to enjoy for a lifetime.