Teaching or training your dog builds a relationship of trust and mutual respect and helps minimise behavioural problems. Behavioural problems are the number one reason dogs are surrendered to shelters and often put down.
Your family dog doesn't need to go to formal obedience class to teach your dog basic house manners, but you do be invested in learning how to teach your dog safely and effectively without using pain and intimidation. If you do choose a professional trainer or behavourist, use caution as many use outdated methods that inflict significant harm. As a pet parent, you can learn to teach your family dog. Teaching your dog from a puppy is much easier than trying to teach an older dog with ingrained habits. But a dog of any age can be taught with patience and kind methods.
According to veterinarian and animal behaviourist Ian Dunbar, teaching your puppy bite inhibition is the most important thing you can teach. Bite inhibition is when your dog can control the pressure of their bite to cause little or no damage. ALL dogs of any breed and any size can bite, including well-behaved dogs if they are sick, in pain or otherwise stressed. A bite resulting in puncture wounds is very serious and result in major injury or even a fatality. Children are most often the victims of serious bites.
Bite inhibition training is teaching your puppy how to use their mouth gently with people so that if your dog were to ever act defensely from fear, pain or feeling threatened, they are unlikely to do any damage if they snap .
Other things to teach your puppy include:
Cues to Teach Your Dog
A cue is verbal or physical signal that is used to communicate to your dog what behaviour you want to follow. For example, both the word 'sit' and/or a hand signal can be used to instruct a dog to sit. Some cues you may have taught your dog unintentionally, for example if your dog gets excited when you pick up the car keys, they have figured out it may mean a ride in the car.
People often unintentionally reinforce nuisance behaviours such as jumping up. Using harsh methods involving yelling, intimidation and physical punishment may traumatise a dog and has a high risk of fallout such as anxiety, shutting down or biting someone.
Teaching a cue involves linking the desired behaviour with the verbal and/or physical signal. A dog can be trained well without using physical punishment but instead focusing on what your dog is doing right.
Cues can be taught in play and can be fun for both you and your dog. I will blog about some effective, easy, kind, safe ways to teach your dog without using any complex equipment.
What Cues to Teach
The most important cue to teach your dog is a recall such as 'come'. It can save their life, for instance if they slip out the gate or door and risk going on the road. The next most useful cues for family dogs for basic house manners and safety are 'sit' and 'leave'. Other cues are optional, but are recommended to stimulate your dog's mental capacities, build a bond, communicate without frustration and have a well-behaved pet. All cues can have a hand signal, which can be used instead of speaking. This is very useful for deaf dogs or communicating from a distance.
Some cues I recommend teaching your dog:
'Come' (a recall) is an instruction for your dog to come straight to you without diverting off or stopping to pick something up from the way. Come can be taught with a very young puppy as a game. It is important to never scold a dog if they don't come straight away. Also don't chase them or they will think it's a game. It is critical that your dog has reliable recall before being allowed off-leash in a public area. A dog should never be let off-leash in a public area until they have been trained to have 100% reliable recall in environments with distractions. This is for the safety of your dog, other animals and the public.
'Sit' is very useful for manners at home and in the public and for safety. Instructing your dog to sit can help them greet people politely without jumping up, as a dog can't sit and jump at the same time. You can have your dog sit before crossing a road, which is good for road safety. You can have your dog sit before eating their meal. Sit is a very versatile and useful cue. Many dogs from shelters have never been taught to sit.
How to teach your dog to sit.
Leave, Off and Take It
'Leave' or its alternative 'Off' means to get all body parts off an object. I recommend using 'Off' for getting off a couch, off the bed, and out of the car and 'Leave' to leave something or someone alone.
'Leave' is a very useful cue for safety reasons as it could be to stop a pet eating rubbish or dropped medication. It can be used to stop a pet rolling in something stinky. It can be used to ignore a cat or barking dog while out walking. It can be used in teaching to politely greet strangers.
'Off' is a cue to get off the couch or bed. Being permitted on the couch or bed should be by invitation only, as some dogs have problem behaviours associated with being on the couch or bed. If you allow your dog on your bed or couch, you don't have a problem if they get off when you tell them to. You do have a problem if they growl, show their teeth or snap. I recommend getting professional help with any aggression issues.
'Take It' or 'Okay' is a release cue that can be used after using a cue such as 'Leave' for example if waiting for permission to eat a meal.
'Down' or its alternative 'Drop' is a cue for a dog to lie down on its belly with its front legs outstretched. It is very useful for teaching a dog to settle in its bed or to travel safety in the car.
How to teach your dog the cue 'down'.
'Heel' is one of the cornerstones of traditional dog obedience and agility training. It means to stand or walk at the side with the dog's shoulder glued to your thigh, typically the left thigh. Heeling can be done on and off leash - if you change direction, your dog stays glued to your thigh at all times and moves with you.
It is not essential for your dog to learn to heel, although it can be very useful as your dog can't pull on the leash while at heel. It also requires a close interaction with your dog. Do not use heel for an entire walk - allow your dog time to sniff and play. Heel can be taught using a head halter or harness and rewards instead of a traditional check/choke chain.
Stay and Wait
In traditional dog training, 'Stay' is where a dog is to stay put (usually in a 'Sit' or 'Down' position) and stay there without moving until the handler returns to release them eg by going into a 'Heel'. Whereas 'Wait' is similar but instead of returning to release, the dog can be called to 'Come'. 'Wait' is more useful for family dogs than 'Stay' eg to 'wait' if walking too far ahead, or 'wait' to eat or 'wait' when after getting out of the car.
'Be Quick' (or an alternative phrase you can use in public) is a cue to go to the toilet. It accelerates toilet training as you can tell even a young puppy where you want them to go to the toilet ie outside on the grass. You can even teach them to use a 'poo corner'. Being able to toilet on cue is also very useful if making a long trip in the car or on a ferry or if you need a urine sample for the vet.
To instruct your dog to go to their bed. This is useful for example if someone is visiting or you want your dog to calm down.
Out or Outside
To instruct your pet to go out the door into the yard.
Fetch & Drop It
'Fetch' means to retrieve an object and 'Drop It' means to let an object go. 'Take It' can be used to pick an object up.
I will blog about some easy, safe, effective ways to teach your dog.
Guidelines to teach your family dog.
Choosing a dog trainer.
Xanthe founded an award-winning pet sitting business in QLD, Australia in 2011. After selling the business, she returned to Taupo, New Zealand.
The content on this blog is intended for informational purposes only. Opinions expressed on this blog are based on Xanthe's research and personal experience and should not be taken as a substitute for legal, business, veterinarian or animal behaviourist or animal training advice from a qualified professional. Content is copyright. Please share a link if you like a post - do not copy sections. Pet Purpose only endorses cruelty-free, modern, science-based animal training methods and advocates for animal welfare.
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