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Six behaviors every dog should know, part one


Now THAT'S a well trained dog!

I recently saw a wonderful t-shirt graphic that could easily become my new mantra.  You can see it in its graphic format, here, but basically, it said:

Time + Patience + Attention = A Well Trained Dog.  If you won't invest in the equation, don't expect the result.

Wow.  Truer words have never been spoken!  In the spirit of creating a well trained dog, I've come up with a list of six behaviors that I consider to be must-knows (along with tips on how to teach them)  for today's canine companions.  In no specific order, they include:

  • Quick response to his name
  • Coming when called
  • Proper recreational chewing
  • Sit
  • Play skills
  • How to be alone

The list may seem a bit unconventional -- some of items are more "concepts" than "behaviors," but I'll make the argument that dogs who have truly mastered everything on the list are not only a joy to live with, but can also be safely kept out of most any type of trouble or harmful situation.

In this installment, we'll look at the importance of, and how to achieve a quick response to the dog's name, along with the art of proper recreational chewing.

Quick Response to Name – For the life of your dog, the most difficult part of getting him to comply with any request will be the ability to get and maintain his attention. For example, if he’s not paying attention when you ask him to sit, his butt won’t likely hit the floor. (Sound familiar? Ever tried to get your distracted spouse or family member to do something? “Honey… would you close the door? Honey? The door. Would you please close the door…. HELLO!) This is a great early behavior to teach a puppy, because it helps him learn his name in the first place.

Start with your puppy or dog on a leash and some treats in your pocket. Practice in a familiar environment without a lot of distractions. Stand relatively still and allow your dog to pay attention to his surroundings. As he’s doing so, start saying his name in a happy, upbeat voice. You may have to say it two or three times before he turns around and looks at you, almost as if to say, “Are you talking to me?” As soon as he orients himself to you, happily say, “GOOD!” or “Yes!” or click if you’re using a clicker and give him a treat. Timing is important. You want to mark the behavior (your “good!” “yes!” or click is the marker signal) the instant he’s turned and is looking at you. You’re rewarding the fact that your dog has acknowledged that you two share space on the same planet! He doesn’t have to hold your gaze. All he has to do it make the choice to turn away from the environment in favor of looking to you so that you can, when necessary, give him further instruction.
If he’s especially distracted and you’ve had to say his name more than a couple times, try making a kissy-face noise, pat your leg or playfully poke him to help gain his attention. Make a note of the surroundings and try to find a slightly less distracting place to practice next time.
Most dogs catch on quickly and you’ll soon find that you only have to say his name once before he turns and looks at you. You may also find that after the first try, he won’t STOP looking at you! When that’s the case, it’s time to practice in a new area that’s slightly more distracting. Practice this behavior a little and often for the life of your dog. It’s a simple behavior that goes a long way toward paving a solid foundation of teamwork and obedience.
Recreational Chewing – Dogs need to chew. As puppies, it’s a huge part of how they explore the world around them, as well as part of the teething process. In adolescent and adult dogs, chewing relieves boredom and can reduce stress. The trick is to teach your dog the fine art of recreational chewing i.e., what he’s allowed to chew vs. what he’s not.
When you first bring your puppy or rescue dog home, be sure to have plenty acceptable chew items on hand. Durable Nylabones, hollow sterilized bones and bully sticks are among my favorites. Whatever you decide to keep on hand, make a point to redirect your dog’s inappropriate chewing to an approved item and then calmly praise him for making a better choice. You can also set up training sessions for recreational chewing. Settle in with your dog and hold one end of his chew bone while he works on the other end. Calmly praise and pet him as your share the bone. If you sense that he’s uncomfortable with you holding his bone as he chews it, contact a qualified trainer, as this is often the first sign of a resource guarding problem.
Whenever you spot your dog choosing to lie down and enjoy a bone, make a special point to praise him so that he learns you really like it when he lies quietly with his chew stick. It’s important to catch your dog in the act of doing something good – not just catching him in the act on chewing on your coffee table legs! The more you reinforce your dog for lying quietly and chewing his bone, the more he’ll want to do it. Pretty soon it becomes one of his favorite jobs, and when you need him to occupy himself, you can suggest that he go lie down and have a good chew.
Dog Trainer Tip: If your dog initially snubs a Durable Nylabone, try trading for a friend’s dog’s chewed bone. For many dogs, ABC Bones (Already Been Chewed Bones) are better than new ones! You can also make Nylabones seem more interesting by paying attention to them yourself. Make a point to pick it up off the floor while in view of your dog, and closely inspect it for a while. Pretend to offer it to your dog, extending it his direction, but pull it away before he makes contact. Drop it on the floor and quickly snatch it back up. Make it seem like the most valuable thing in the entire house. Chances are that your attention to it will make your dog think twice about leaving it behind.
When training a dog, think in terms of a little and often.  Spending just a few short minutes several times a day will do wonders for helping create your ideal canine companion.  While you're training, don't forget about management.  The easiest way for your dog to learn what you want, is to be unable to practice what you don't!
Next time, we'll look at the importance of play skills and teaching your dog how to be alone.