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Teaching commands

 

General guidelines

Always follow these guidelines regardless of what command you are trying to teach:

  • Always use your puppy's name before a command.
  • Always use a happy voice when teaching new commands.
  • Use food or a toy as a prompt if you need to.
  • Set the puppy up for success by working slowly and minimising distractions.
  • When the puppy does what you want, make sure you reward him immediately with praise, pats and/or treats.
    Start with minimal distractions, then gradually start to work in environments with more distractions.
  • Keeping a leash and harness or collar on can help, particularly if you are concerned your dog may disobey.
  • Keep training sessions short and fun – five minutes three times a day, as a guideline. If you are getting cranky, stop and try again later.
  • If your puppy is getting distracted, try clapping or changing your tone of voice to become more engaging than whatever is distracting him. If it's not working, stop and try again later.
  • Start by providing treats every time, then as your puppy learns the commands, change it up so that sometimes he gets a treat and sometimes he doesn't (it's worth obeying just in case!).

Some extra hints for teaching individual commands are as follows:

'Sit'

  • Hold a food treat up high and gradually move it backwards, and your dog will naturally sit as he cranes his neck back to follow the treat. As he does so, say 'Sit'.
  • Gently push your puppy's back end down if you need to.
  • Make sure you repeat the training in many environments, particularly places you will need him to sit regularly such as at the roadside or at the front door.

'Look'

  • When your dog is sitting, hold a treat near your eye and say 'Look'. Reward him as soon as he makes eye contact with you.
  • As your dog improves, replace the treat with a hand movement towards your eyes and give a reward from your pocket.
  • If your dog is focusing on the food rather than you, try holding a treat in each hand and holding them either side of your face. Initially your dog will look from one to the other, and eventually he will look at you. As he does, instantly say 'Look' and reward him with both pieces of food.
  • Once your dog has learnt 'Sit' and 'Look' you can command that he do this before receiving a reward of any kind (food, toys, affection, walks). This firmly cements you as the 'pack leader' (see Preventing Behaviour Problems Information Sheet).

'Drop'

  • Save 'Drop' for after you have mastered 'Sit'.
  • 'Drop' is a better command to use than 'Down', because you may need to use the word 'Down' in other situations (such as commanding your dog to get down off the couch).
  • When the puppy is sitting, place a treat between his front paws then push it slowly towards the puppy's tummy and give the command. As soon as his tummy hits the ground, give him the treat and lots of praise.
  • If this doesn't work, you can also try pulling the treat towards you. Another technique is to sit with your knees bent and push a treat out from under a knee. As your puppy reaches for the treat, pull it back under your knee. Your puppy will need to drop to be able to reach it.

'Stay'

  • When the puppy is sitting, say 'Stay' and put up a palm as a stop sign. Take one step away then return to the puppy and reward him for not moving. Do not give a treat if the puppy moved.
  • Increase the distance by one step at a time, and the length by a few seconds at a time.
  • Once you have mastered 'Stay' from a 'Sit' position, try it from a 'Drop' position.
  • Training the dog in an area where it normally sleeps may improve your chances of success.
  • Teach your dog to 'Sit' and 'Stay' while its food is placed on the floor in front of him before giving a release command such as 'OK!' in a high-pitched voice.

'Stand'

  • When your dog is sitting, hold a food treat up high and gradually move it forwards. Your dog will naturally stand as he reaches for the treat. As he does so, say 'Stand'.
  • Gently lift your puppy's back end if you need to.
  • Pull your hand far enough away that the puppy stands up, but doesn't follow you.

'Come'

  • Kneeling down as you say 'come' will encourage your puppy to come to you.
  • Your puppy should always associate coming to you with being rewarded, so it is important that you never call your puppy to you for discipline. Avoid calling your puppy to bring it inside or end play.
  • Use the command when you know the puppy will come anyway, such as for a meal or walk.
  • Start with short distances, then gradually have the puppy come further to reach you.
  • If there is a chance that the puppy might disobey, have the puppy wear a long remote leash. Then if the puppy does not immediately obey the 'come' command, tug the leash gently to get the puppy's attention then repeat the command in a happy voice until it is successful.
  • Always focus on positively reinforcing good behaviour rather than negatively reinforcing bad behaviour.

'Heel'

  • Begin with a 'sit-stay' command and give a reward. Hold a food treat by your side, say 'heel', then start walking. As the puppy follows its nose to stay near the treat, it will also be learning to heel. Praise him continually as he continues to do the right thing, giving occasional food rewards.
  • Allow only a few centimetres of slack on the leash so that if your dog tries to run past you, you can pull up and forward on the leash so that the puppy returns to your side. Once he is back by your side, provide a little slack in the leash and begin to walk forward again.

'Quiet'

  • Carry treats at all times. When your dog is barking, produce a treat and say 'Quiet'.
  • Most dogs will stop barking in response to the treat. If your dog doesn't, do not give the treat.
  • Training can be sped up by also teaching your dog to 'Speak' by producing a stimulus that is likely to make him bark and saying 'Speak' at the same time, then rewarding the behaviour. Being able to make your dog speak makes it much easier to teach him to be quiet.

'No'

  • Say 'No' in a loud, stern voice every time your dog does something undesirable.
  • Don't get lazy. Allowing a behaviour even once serves to reinforce it. Say 'No' every time.
  • Don't use physical reprimands. This will only make your puppy scared and hand-shy.
  • A dog will only associate a reprimand with a behaviour if it occurs while the behaviour is occurring. There is no point punishing a behaviour if you were not there to witness it.
  • After you interrupt the problem behaviour, immediately redirect the puppy to a desirable behaviour and praise him.
    If 'No' is not enough to interrupt your puppy, try using loud noises such as clapping, throwing a chain at the ground or shaking a can with rice in it.
  • Prevention is always better than cure – see 'Preventing Behaviour Problems Information Sheet'.