It’s back-to-school time for the kids. As Fido watches the yellow bus, he might be wondering what to do with his time. Maybe you’ve been thinking the same thing.
September is a good time to consider back-to-school for Fido, too. Whether you decide to sign Fido up for classes, or you home-school your pooch, it’s important to understand basic concepts of dog training.
Dogs try to please their humans. But they aren’t born comprehending our language. Everything that we expect of them – from understanding us, to being well-mannered, to living nicely in our human homes – needs to be taught.
To help Fido – and you – succeed, you first need to learn the ABCs of dog training:
A – Activity. Dogs are active creatures. They are better behaved and easier to train when exercised regularly.
Exercise relieves boredom, stimulates their minds, and rests their bodies.
Dogs that are not exercised regularly are more prone to developing undesirable behavior. Obsessive-compulsive or destructive patterns, such as pacing, barking, licking, and chewing, are more common in dogs that don’t receive enough exercise.
Some dogs need a lot of exercise, while a stroll keeps others happy. This can depend on breed, personality, or health. For example, dogs with heart conditions or brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds may need shorter strolls during times when the weather is more temperate. If your older pooch has arthritis, ask your veterinarian for help so that exercise is fun for Fido again.
B – Basic obedience. The foundation of dog schooling is basic obedience. Whether your goal is playing frisbee, jogging with Fido, or simply having a well-mannered dog at home, basic obedience is a must.
Basic obedience includes mastering the commands “sit”, “down”, “stay”, “heel”, and “come”. From here, you can expand your dog’s vocabulary to include dozens of words.
To teach your dog a command, say his name, followed by the command. Say it cheerfully and clearly. Preceding the command with his name will turn his attention to you. If he doesn’t obey – which he initially won’t, because he will have no clue what you’re saying – gently and quickly place him into position. Immediately follow this with gushes of praise. Fido loves adoration from you, and he’ll think about what he did that made you so happy. You can also use treat rewards, but praise with occasional treats works better.
Until Fido is trained, don’t give a command unless you are able to make sure that he follows through. You don’t want him to think there is the option to ignore you when you are asking him to do something. For example, Fido might be outside, and you call, “Fido, come!”. There are three possibilities of what happens next: (1) Fido may come running back to you. This is the sign of a well-trained dog, and you and your pooch have done well. (2) Fido ignores you. This is worse than not having called him at all, because he has now learned that he can choose to ignore you. This is challenging to un-train. (3) You have a very long leash – maybe 30 feet – so that Fido feels free but you start reeling him in when he doesn’t come on his own. This is the best way to teach the “come!” command.
If you accompany these verbal commands with hand signals, you will eventually be able to communicate to your dog in your own sign language, too. Dogs have an uncanny ability to remember visual commands. This is fascinating, and it’s how actor dogs know what’s expected of them on the movie set.
Dogs are also able to read human facial expressions. We often communicate with our dogs this way, without being aware of it. If you’ve shared years with Fido, you may realize that he often seems to know what you’re thinking, just by looking at your face. This is not a coincidence, as Fido has learned to read what’s on your mind.
C – Consistency. When you speak to your dog, give him your full attention, and be consistent. Fido is learning a new language from a different species. Imagine if the tables were turned!
Each word that you teach Fido should have only one meaning. For example, you need a word to tell Fido to lie on his belly. This is usually “down!”. When he is jumping on people, a different command, such as “off!” should be used. However, many people use “down!” for both. Understandably, this is confusing for your dog.
And if you’re asking Fido to do something, ignore other distractions and follow through with the gush of praise when he listens.
Similarly, be consistent with house rules. If Fido won’t be allowed on the furniture when he’s big, keep him off when he’s a puppy, too.
Well-trained dogs are happy dogs. Help your Fido graduate with high honors.