Having done the work described in chapter 2, “The Apartment Puppy,” you should now be ready to start building response to your commands in more distracting situations, as well as learning how to calmly physically place your pup into position if that should be necessary.
Keep training sessions short but frequent. Five-minute sessions are plenty. (You can get serious training done during the commercial breaks of your favorite TV shows.) Please learn about the type of temperament your dog/pup has by reviewing “Dealing with Different Temperaments,”
There are few commands that will make a Metrodog owner’s life more pleasant than a good “let’s go.” “Let’s go” simply means your dog walks with you rather than towing you behind him, full steam ahead.
This is a behavior you will build over time. One easy way to get started is simply to reward him when he is next to you and ignore him when he is pulling.
You’re walking along, and he happens to look up at you? “Good dog”—praise him, stop and pet him for a moment or two, hand him a treat. Do what works, just let him know that you like it when he looks at you.
You’re walking along, and he drags you. You can go with him (which rewards the dragging), you can stop dead and wait (which removes the reward) and then praise him warmly when he stops, or you can turn the other way (removing the reward) and praise him warmly when he catches up. Or you can do some combination of all these things as your time and tolerance allows.
If you focus your energy on trying never to miss an opportunity to reward him for doing something right, you’ll be amazed at the impact it will have on his behavior.
Having accomplished the basic step of helping the dog learn to connect the word “sit” with the action of sitting, you are now ready for the next stage: learning to sit in different situations with minor distractions.
Goal: To learn that sitting brings good things.
You: Use “sit” before all things your pup enjoys. Going to pet her? Sit. Feed her? Sit. Open the door for a walk? Sit.
Dog: Dog sits when she hears the first command.
Potential problems: Your dog doesn’t sit. Your dog jumps up on you. Look away. Turn away. Ignore this entirely. When she removes her feet, praise calmly.
Your dog walks off. Play a game with her on leash with buckle collar: If she starts to walk away, say nothing but back up. When she looks your way, praise! Play!
The same exercises as for “sit.”
Adding A Hand Signal
This is easy (and will impress both you and your friends). From here on in, arm up, sweep it down, then lure your dog into the down as your hand moves past his nose. It is one fluid, confident motion: arm up, sweep down, lure, dog downs, reward with treat and praise.
Once your dog has the hang of this, show him the extra-good treat, but don’t put it in the hand-signal hand. Give the signal and do the luring motion, just without the lure—then reward. In this way, you can move from luring your dog down to having him down on a signal or command, then rewarding him for it.
A time may come when you ask for a down, the pup looks at you blankly (or stays distracted and unfocused on you), and the treat you are using does not get his attention. If this time comes, we suggest an enforced down.
The down is done only
- After a pup has been pretrained with a lure.
- With a wide, flat buckle collar.
- On a slick surface like linoleum, tile, or hardwood.
- When the human is calm and relaxed.
Start the enforced down by applying just a small amount of pressure downward with the lead when you lure the pup into position. Command, downward pressure, lure, pup downs, reward. Repeat. If the pup resists at this point, apply less pressure next time. The goal is for the pup to associate that pressure on his neck with the down.
Once your pup is doing this well, use the downward pressure with the hand motion but no treat in it. Give the treat afterward as a reward.
Last, use the downward pressure by itself and reward afterward. Once your pup is to this stage, you can move to applying the pressure with your foot from a standing position if you use slow, even pressure. Do not yank your dog around. The goal is to apply a guiding pressure that the dog responds to by lying down.
If your dog resists for more than a few seconds or struggles, spend more time combining the lure and the pressure together until he understands what the pressure means.
This is a lovely command for any dog, but it’s especially nice for Metrodogs, who usually share smaller living quarters with their humans than their suburban or rural counterparts.
“Place” means “go there, lie there, and stay there until released.” Usually the target is a dog bed, but it could be a crate or a particular corner of a room. If you have a protective/working or herding breed or mix, position the bed so she can see the most heavily used doorways; otherwise she will want to be somewhere else. Usually these dogs hang out where they can see the front door and you at the same time. In lieu of that, they lie in or near the entrance to the room you are occupying.
A dog unconcerned about such matters can have her place in an area away from foot traffic but still with a good view of the goings-on. Don’t expect any dog to happily stay in some corner out of sight.
Goal: For your dog to go to her bed on command and lie down.
You: With your dog on lead with a flat collar, show her a treat. Tell her happily, “Place” (or “Go to bed,” or whatever strikes your fancy), and lure her to the bed with the treat. Once she is on the bed, hold the treat in a closed fist on the bed. Since your dog has been doing lured downs for a while now, she should quickly recognize this hand position and flop down. When she does, your hand pops open and she gets the treat. Praise follows.
If you’ve started from the same spot each time, don’t be surprised if you have to do a little refresher course whenever you change locations. That is normal, and your pup will pick it up quickly from the new location with a little support.
Dog: Follows your hand to the bed, gets on, and lies down.
Potential problems: Your dog does not follow your hand. Try training just before meals. Or try a more appealing treat. You might also consider practicing when things are quieter.
Your dog lies down part on and part off the bed. Some dogs like this game so much that they start racing ahead and flinging themselves down half on and half off. Once she understands the basics better, reward her only when she is 100 percent on the bed and she’ll soon get it right.
Your dog does not lie down. Practice your lured downs away from the bed. Most dogs will make the jump from a lured down to downing when a treat-filled fist is placed on the floor in front of them.
Your dog gets right back up. Right now that does not matter. As you progress, you’ll reward her for longer and longer stays and reposition her if she rises early. But for right now, keep your one task in mind: teaching her to go happily to her bed and lie down there when she hears, “Place!”
Since this is such a critical and difficult command to master, keep doing what you’ve been doing and add the following:
This begins on lead when walking on the street. As you are walking along, you happily call your dog—“Dog, come!”—then walk backward, praising her. As she comes to you, slide one hand down the lead so that when she arrives, you can prevent her from trotting past you.
Praise her warmly. Have her sit and praise/reward some more. If her tail isn’t wagging, work harder on your praise tone and energy until it does.
Repeat this a few times when things are quiet on a walk. She is not ready to be challenged by distractions yet, so set her up to succeed, help her succeed, then praise her for succeeding.
Too many dogs have learned the annoying habit of sitting just out of reach when you call them. The four main causes are leaning over when you call (your dog stops under your face), handing treats to him at arm’s length (he then stops an arm’s length away), walking out to the dog when he stops (he’s training you to come), or grabbing his collar when he comes close. This can be prevented (and resolved) using scrumptious treats. When your dog comes to you, hold the treat against your leg. Let him come all the way to you for his reward.
Any dog who rushes through open doors can be a pain, but a Metrodog can be in more trouble than that. Often in the city you are carrying things in or out of your home. If your pup plows into another dog, or gets in the way of a bicyclist (or just a non-dog lover), you can have a bad situation before you even have the keys out of the lock.
Better to establish a doorway routine such as sit, wait, open door, step out, sit, wait, close the door, lock, go off together.
Goal: Pup pauses at door. (This game is played only when the pup does not need to urinate or defecate and is relaxed. In fact, playing this just when you get back in the door from a walk is a good plan.)
You: Stand at the door with the pup on lead. Start to open the door. If the pup moves forward (when the pup moves forward), close the door. Say nothing. Be sure to open the door just a bit and close it promptly; never close the door on the pup. Repeat.
Dog: Starts to wait to see if this “crazy door” is going to stay open or not.
Hint: Many pups will start offering you a sit at this point. Praise and reward this.
Never miss a chance to reward!
Potential problem: Your pup does not stop rushing the door. Do less tempting things, such as just reaching for the doorknob. Then, when he stays calm, jiggle the knob, then open it a smidgen. Take more time to praise him when he contains himself just a bit. While keeping the pup safe, close the door more briskly. Direct the pup to sit, then praise him when he does.
You’ve been practicing “leave it” indoors when your pup is calm and not too hungry. She now understands that, in that environment, waiting patiently has big dividends. Now you are ready to start expanding her understanding.
Goal: Dog does “leave it” in a variety of environments.
You: Once your pup gets good at this, start playing these games outside, in different parts of the apartment, with toys, or in any other way you can imagine. Play only when your pup is both confident and secure; there is no point in attempting to train a highly distracted or fearful pup.
Dog: Learns that self-control leads to good rewards no matter where she is.
You should already have a good start to controlling jumping (see “Jumping Up,” page 60), so now it is time to practice real-life situations. Since the front door is the place of universal jumping, we’ll start there.
Goal: For your pup to keep four on the floor at the door.
You: Practice sits at the door. With your dog on lead, treats nearby, walk to the door. Reach to open it. If your dog gets excited, stop there. Say, “Off,” if he jumps, then have him sit, reward him. Repeat until you can open the door with nobody there and he stays in the sit position.
Then move to knocking on the door yourself (which will get many dogs excited). Work on his sits until he hears a knocking sound and sits immediately.
If you have a buzzer system in your building, use that sound next. Work with that until he can calm himself down enough to listen and respond after the buzz.
By working each of these pieces without any guests actually being there, you can practice calmly and often, getting enough pressure-free repetition that you (and your dog) will be increasingly successful.
Hint: Train before you need the command/behavior, not when you need it. When you need it is the worst time to train. That would be like trying to teach an elementary class how to read by giving test after test. Who would enjoy that? You’ll be astounded how well your dog does with a little practice.
Now that you’re on the street, “out” takes on a whole new significance. It is a command you’ll be using often for the next few months as most pups naturally explore the world by putting it in their mouths.
Because you will not always have control over what he picks up, and because some of those things are going to taste pretty darn good to him, we need to add a physical correction into this process about now.
Goal: To have your dog spit out (often disgusting) items on command.
You: You’ve done the exchange game for a month or more, so your dog is beginning to understand the basics of “out.” Now it is time for the next level. The problem with doing only the exchange game is that it can give you a false sense of having trained your dog. Yes, he will spit out an uninteresting thing so he can get a more interesting thing. However, a problem may arise when what he has in his mouth is more interesting to him than what you have in your hand.
Dog: To spit things out readily and on command even when he doesn’t particularly want to. (A head halter can help you control garbage-grabbing behavior on the street, and sometimes prevention is the easiest approach. Please see page 180 for information about head halters.)
Here, we introduce a mild correction, followed by a heaping helping of praise and reward.
One of the best training items for this is a stale bagel. Dogs cannot swallow it whole, it holds up well over several repetitions, and it is only mildly interesting to most dogs.
Have your dog on lead and collar. Have a plate of really good morsels nearby—cheese, chicken meat, hot dog slices. Hand him the bagel, but keep hold of it. Once he has it, tell him firmly, “Out.” Look at him calmly, with your body facing his. Do not pull on the bagel.
If he spits it out, move it behind your back or put it away while you praise! Celebrate! Reward! Leave no doubt in his mind that he just made the right choice.
If he does not spit it out, give the lead a quick downward or sideways snap. The quick downward motion is followed by immediate slack in the lead. Done well, you’ll feel it tighten and then loosen quickly. Your dog should not move at all; if he does, you may be pulling rather than snapping.
This will startle many dogs, who will then open their mouths. If he does, then praise! Celebrate! Give him a couple of small treats while you praise. Get that tail wagging! If he does not, please seek professional assistance, as this is a situation that needs to be controlled.
Hint: It is critical that you praise and reward your dog when he obeys this command, even if he has just spat out the most disgusting thing. Your goal is to teach him to spit things out promptly, and punishing him after he does will only slow down the response and create unnecessary stress. Once it is in his mouth, all you can do is teach him to drop it. You’ve already lost the argument about picking it up.
Here is a game that Cheryl Hoye, a trainer from Connecticut, showed me, and it can be played by one person with a bunch of treats. Start by tossing a treat away from you (please play this on good-footing, non-slippery surfaces). Just as your pup snatches up that treat, call her excitedly to you, offering another treat. As she races back, cheer her on. Using the treat, lure her close and into a sit. Then reward her with the treat, petting, and praise.
If two people are available, you can call her back and forth between the two of you. The rules: When one person calls, the other takes his hands off the pup, looks away, and becomes completely passive. The caller praises and claps, encouraging the pup to hustle over. Allow the caller several seconds to praise, play, and give treats before the other person calls happily.
As the pup comes to love this game, you can move positions. When the caller is praising, the second person can move several more feet back or step behind a corner. This adds interest to the game for both you and the pup.
Most pups bite the lead occasionally, but some get persistent about. Here are a few of your options in handling this:
- Stop playing tug-of-war with your pup, as he may try to start the game when he feels like it—which may be the problem.
- Spray the bottom half of the lead with an antichew product. You may need to repeat this often or try different products till you find the one that works for your pup.
- Give your pup a toy to carry. If he already has something in his mouth, he will leave the lead alone.
- Work on “out” and “leave it,” then reward your pup well for responding to those commands.
- Ignore the lead in his mouth and work on “let’s go” and “down.” Pups are easily distracted, and if you give yours something else to think about, he will drop the lead.
- Stand still and ignore him completely. Normally dogs do this for your response. If you stop and wait, he will often get bored in a minute or so and drop the lead. Praise! Reward! Let him put two and two together.
- Give a lead correction. In this case, take either side of the lead and snap it back toward the back of his mouth with a quick wrist motion. This is done simply to startle, not to get into a fight with your dog. It should be quick, effective, and followed by abundant praise. If it is anything else, please find a trainer to help you change this behavior.
As your pup licks at the treat in your hand (and that hand is held against your leg, right?), reach down to handle his collar. When you are handling it, give him the treat and let go of the collar. If he gets a treat and praise whenever you touch his collar, he will soon hope for you to do so. Throughout the day, call him, touch his collar, reward, and release.
When you do need to get hold of him, gently take the collar by reaching underneath. Praise and stroke him with your free hand for at least ten seconds before clipping on the lead. This will insert a pleasurable experience between coming all the way to you and being put on lead, which he might think of as not so fun.
When we say correction, we don’t mean being harsh. A correction can range anywhere from a serious tone of voice to effective use of an appropriate training tool. It does not mean yelling, hitting, frightening, scuffing, or rolling. For example: Your dog starts barking. You firmly say, “Quiet” (the correction). Your goal is both to stop the barking and to create an opportunity to reward silence. If you think of corrections as creating breaks in unwanted behaviors so you can insert some reward, you’ll be on the right track.
Corrections, done well, can be useful. The “done well” is the tricky part. Here are a few guidelines we use when teaching our clients about corrections:
- Corrections are fair. This means that you have taught your dog the right behavior carefully and over several weeks. Fair also means that you are consistent. You don’t allow jumping one day and then correct her for it the next. Also, timing (when you do what you do) is critical in training and must be learned. A well-placed correction arrives when the dog is thinking about doing something, not after she is deep into it.
- Corrections match the situation and the dog. There is no magic formula in dog training. A sensitive dog may find a serious tone of voice corrective where a bold dog may not even notice. Withholding a treat or toy, putting away his food dish when he fails to sit promptly on command before dinner, issuing a command that goes against his desires (such as “Leave it!” when he dives for a chicken bone on the sidewalk), and a leash correction are a few possibilities. A dog who is revved up, leaping at a squirrel, will need a different type and intensity of correction than a calm dog who is focused on you.
- Corrections are unemotional. They are the planned result of a certain action with the goal of creating a new action. The dog moves to jump up, you step on the lead, the dog corrects as she jumps, the dog stops jumping, you praise and reward. Such a correction has nothing to do with anger or frustration. It allows the dog to experience a result of her actions—a result that is neither overwhelming nor frightening. If it were either, it would be the wrong choice for that dog and that situation.
- Corrections are infrequent. Planned and implemented properly, a correction results in a change in your dog’s behavior. If you find yourself using multiple corrections, using them habitually (such as the “sit” by pulling up on the collar habit that is so widespread), or if the behavior you are attempting to correct stays the same or gets worse—stop! You are not being effective. Please change your approach or find someone who can help you.