Dogs are incredibly clever creatures, and with the right training we can even build real communication between them and us. Chilli and I have our own language – we read and understand each other. He lets me know when he needs the toilet or when he’s hungry (I can even ask him which one he wants and he’ll answer me!), when he wants to go to the park, have playtime, and so much more. I can tell him that something will not happen immediately, but later, or that he needs to wait for his dinner. He also understands the names of his doggie friends and his human friends, and when I tell him who’s coming he prepares for a warm welcome! He also understands if I tell him that we will meet a certain person somewhere. These are just a few examples of how dogs do really “speak” with us, and vice versa.
Dog obedience training
It is simply lovely and I feel it’s absolutely necessary for a dog to learn some basic dog commands. We all need to learn how to behave in public and at home, so asking your dog to do something or direct him or her is very important.
What should your dog learn first? Here’s my top dog training commands list:
- Come – Dog recall, one of the two most important commands for a dog (will explain in a sec)
- Sit – where would we be without this one?
- Down – when it’s time to settle
- Wait – the second most important command for a dog
- Fetch – if you like to play with your dog
- Jump – allow your dog to jump up onto a chair on command
- Hide – if you’re naughty like me and want to take your small dog into a shop whilst he or she hides in a bag!
- Paw – everyone’s heart melts when they see a dog give his paw. Cute factor overload.
- Stay – when you need your dog to not move around
- Careful – I shout this when bicycles or scooters whizz around in the non cycling part of the park. Both Chilli and the offenders watch out.
Dog recall and wait – these commands can literally save your dog’s life. Things don’t always go to plan – for example a lead could break and your dog is suddenly free on the streets. Imagine they then cross the street – you need to either tell him to freeze and stop: “WAIT”, or immediately run to you: “COME”. It’s the same in the parks with dogs off lead. You need to tell your dog to wait if a car is passing through or call him away from danger or unknown situations.
Dog behaviour training
There is dog training where you teach your dog to do things – as above – and then there’s dog behaviour training where the psychology of the dog is explored. The way I have grown to understand behavioural training is to work with the dog to gradually change the way he or she feels in a given situation. A dog is not being stopped by the force of unwanted behaviour, he or she is being taken away from difficult situations and shown ways to feel differently about it, step by step. I have also learned that sometimes a dog emotionally just can’t cope with a certain situation, so sometimes it is best to not force it. Why should a dog be able to handle everything? Empathy, compassion and love allow us to see our dogs from a different perspective – maybe then we become more patient with them and start creating positive situations for them.
If you see your puppy struggling with something, or your adult dog begins to find a situation challenging, it may be best to speak with a dog behaviourist. I would suggest to find someone through recommendation. Your trusted vet, groomer or friends and family may know the right behaviourist for your dog.
Having grown up with two fully trained German Shepherd guard dogs I have always been keen for my dog to know things, for me to be able to communicate with my dog. So when Chilli was three months old I enrolled him in Puppy Class! The great thing about puppy classes is that your puppy also gets some socialisation. But one thing I wasn’t prepared for was that dog training methods need to be adapted for different sized dogs. I was standing in front of a tiny little Chilli (barely 20cm off the ground) and expecting him to listen. Chilli’s attention was very unfocused, and he got distracted easily. For him I think some private lessons would have been better, or perhaps I could’ve waited another month for him to mature a bit more, something to consider if you have a very young puppy, as not every dog is the same.
Getting your puppy used to touch
This may sound a bit obvious, but a puppy starting out in life has no concept of a human touching its mouth or ears, or of what a brush is and why it should endure being brushed. The same with nail trimming and wearing a collar. Your puppy has zero concept of any of those things.
So what do you do? You need to slowly get your puppy used to all of these things in a loving and caring way. You can start by laying your puppy on your lap, and gently taking one ear in each hand and caressing them. Praise your puppy for allowing you to do this when it is not resisting you.
Also, show your puppy that it’s ok for you to touch its mouth and teeth. You will need to brush your pup’s teeth, and the vet will need to check them regularly, so if your puppy knows this is nothing to be scared of, he or she will allow this easily. This is also important for grooming. The first time you let your puppy see a brush let him or her sniff the brush, perhaps let the pup walk around it, then give him or her some treats. After this, gently start brushing your pup. Avoid the head to begin – start somewhere which may feel less threatening. You can use this same method for nail trimming. Allow the puppy to see the clippers, sniff them, praise him or her when you gently touch the clippers on its paws and the puppy stays still. But don’t rush these things, do them gradually, a bit every day until your pup feels confident that he or she won’t be hurt.
Puppy wearing its first collar
Teaching your puppy to wear a collar requires a similar approach to above. Depending on the breed and size of your puppy, get something soft and small. Let him or her wear the collar for maybe 10 minutes at first. The puppy will most likely try to scratch off the collar to start with, but that’s ok. One important note: NEVER leave your puppy unsupervised whilst wearing a collar! It could get caught on something, and in a panic the puppy may end up suffocating itself. There have been tragic cases of this happening. Build up the collar-wearing time slowly, and you’ll find the puppy will get used to it. Do the same thing for a harness.
How to train a puppy to walk on a lead
Puppy lead training is one of the fundamental schooling blocks for your puppy. No matter where you live, if you plan to take your dog out, he or she will have to walk on a lead – and enjoy it! You can start doing this as soon as your puppy is comfortable wearing his or her collar. Begin with a long, soft and light lead, and pay attention to the size and weight of the hook connecting the lead to the collar. For a tiny puppy like my Chilli, you will need a Chihuahua-scaled sized hook. A big dog’s hook might frighten your little pup, plus it will be way too heavy. A light puppy lead will feel more floaty than a heavier one meaning your dog is less likely to feel it and be bothered by it.
How to lead train a puppy:
Begin indoors or in your garden (if you have one), but basically in an environment your puppy is happy and comfortable in. Clip the lead onto the puppy’s collar and leave it slack, then see what the puppy does. How is he or she reacting? Try slowly taking a step, does he or she want to follow you? Maybe start walking away from your puppy: does he or she follow? If so then great, no problem there. If not, then find something that will entice it along, maybe a ball, toy, or a treat. Be patient. Once the puppy lead walking is going well in their comfort zone, it’s time to take them beyond it. Walk your pup out of your home or on the pavement. It can be scary for a pup to cross that threshold so again, find something that will entice him or her to follow you, even if it’s smelly sausages, go for it! If there are two of you, try one person walking ahead and the other following with the puppy on the lead. You might see that your pup will naturally follow mum or dad ahead. And always reward with happy praise when your puppy does something right! You can slip in a treat or two as well.
When to let your puppy off the lead?
Lead walking is so important, and equally so is giving your puppy the freedom to run. However you must be able to call him or her back: dog recall training. Before you let your puppy run free, practise dog recall at home. If it’s two of you, one of you can carry the puppy to one end of the room or corridor, and the other can crouch down at the other end. Flinging your arms wide open, call your puppy’s name plus the word “come”, so for example “Chilli, come!”. The first person should release the puppy just before you call, and he or she will run to you. Practise this regularly. If the pup doesn’t run to you immediately you may need to move closer before trying again. Maybe the distance was too much for the first time round. Have some treats, and let your pup know you have them to hand.
Then you’ll just have to go for it. If you live in a city go to your local park. Be sure you walk far enough into the park so that the exits and any roads are far away. Then let your pup off the lead. Don’t underestimate the bond your puppy has with you – he or she doesn’t want to be too far away from you! Make it fun, play with him or her and always have treats in your pocket.
There are so many tricks to teach your dog! I had no idea how much fun it could be, and Chilli absolutely loves it! Dogs are eager to show off what they can do. They like to impress and are proud of their achievements. Dogs also like to be challenged and to work at something, something I was not really aware of before. Chilli has been trained for years by a private dog trainer, and when it’s lesson time he bounces off the walls! There are also some cool group classes out there, you just need to look!