Basic Obedience Training

“Most training 'faults’ are caused by the handler, not the dog.”

The more you are involved in training dogs for any type of activity, the more this quote is proven to be correct.  If you accept the validity of this statement, you are well on the way to resolving the problem.  If you do not accept it, you will probably not address the actual root cause of the problem and are unlikely to successfully resolve it.

The building blocks

It is always easier to tone down an over-exuberant dog in the long run than it is to try and re-invigorate a dog that has learnt that training is dull and boring.  To this end, it is important that all training sessions be performed when both dog and handler are enthusiastic.  With a dog that is really over the top you might want to wear him or her out a bit (with a walk) before you start, as it is difficult for a dog that's leaping out of it's skin to pay attention for any useful amount of time.

Ensure that you are working with the dog to try to achieve a common goal, if something is not working look at it objectively to work out why. 

Praise the good rather than punishing the bad.  This will produce a dog that is not scared (through fear of punishment) to try different ways to approach a problem.  Such a dog will eventually hit upon success and be rewarded with your praise, and hence know the appropriate action next time.  The attempts prior to the successful one are not 'failures', merely experiments. 

Your dog will learn quicker if he 'chooses' to perform a particular action than if you physically manipulate it into the same position. 

Always praise your dog for the successful performance of a task, even if the performance is fleeting.  For example if you have had trouble getting the dog to sit and it finally does sit for half a second before leaping up; you must be ready to praise during the half second!  There is no incentive for the dog to perform other than your praise or reward.

Voice control

There are different ways to verbally communicate with your dog when training, and each has its own tone.

Command

When commanding the dog to perform an action, use a tone that carries authority but not threat, or request.  You are telling the dog which action you would like performed, nothing else.

Praise

When praising the dog, your tone should be much brighter and fun-filled.  The dog must know that he's performed correctly and that this makes you very happy.  Hopefully he will try to reproduce this reaction in you by performing correctly every time you give the command!

Command Timing

Note that in the following exercises I generally recommend that you get the dog performing the action before introducing the word for it.  There are a few reasons for this:  we really want the dog to concentrate on learning the exercise, excess stimulation (including verbal commands) can detract from this ability to focus.  Also if the dog should not perform the exercise, or perform it differently to what we would like, he is learning to either ignore the command or associate it with the wrong activity.  If we wait until the action is correct we resolve both problems.  After the initial learning is complete, the dog can afford to be less focussed on the actual action and listen to our command.  Also we associate the correct action with the command.

Sit

Have the dog standing in front of you and get his attention with a "lure" (toy, snack).  Make a motion with your hand starting near the dog’s nose (so he knows the lure is there) and going up over and partly behind his head.  The dog will spin his muzzle upward in an attempt to grab the lure.  Experiment with the best hand movement to get your dog to sit rather than just jump at the lure.  It is important to move the lure not only straight up (you only need to be a couple of inches above his head) but also back in the direction of the dogs tail this should stop him from jumping up.  As soon as the dog sits, praise him profusely and allow him to have the lure as reward.  Do not add the verbal command "sit" until your hand movement produces the required action from the dog on a regular basis.

Drop

This can be taught from either the standing or sitting position, sitting is generally easier as the dog is under a bit more control to start with.  This is almost the opposite to teaching the dog to sit.  Have the dog in front of you and, with the lure in your hand, sweep your hand down to floor level and in towards the dogs chest.  At first praise or reward getting the front end down, but eventually the aim is to get the whole dog down.  When the front end of the dog goes down, leave your hand (containing the lure) on the floor for a few seconds.  The dog will tire of this position and the back end will also go down.  When this happens, use heaps of praise and give the lure reward.  Again, don't bother with the command until the dog will perform the action.

Stand

Stand can be a little difficult to teach, as the dog often doesn't understand what he did that is right.  He is just standing there and you praise him!  Repetition is the key.  Quietly command the dog to stand, and immediately praise him in this position.  The dog needn't be beside you; he can stand anywhere at first.  We're more concerned with teaching the action than the best position for it at this stage.  Gradually extend the length of time that you expect the dog to stand, and praise him when this time has expired.

Stay

As with all other exercises, Stay need not initially be taught relative to a particular handler stance - the dog can stay at any distance, in any direction from the handler, not necessarily in front or beside.  The easiest way to do this is to have the dog sit and gradually increase the amount of time he has to sit before you praise and release him from the exercise.  Introduce the word stay when the dog seems to have the idea that he should not move until you tell him.  Make sure you say the stay command quietly, too much enthusiasm will cause the dog to get up. Use a gentle command to receive a steady response.

Heel

Use the lure to encourage the dog to the correct position by your side as you are walking, praise and reward the dog.  The dog should learn to vary his pace to keep up with you, and perform the other exercises in the heel position.  If they were introduced already this should not be difficult.