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10 Skills to teach your dog and why.

With more and more dogs living within our family homes it is essential to teach your dog some basic words so that we can communicate with them as easily as possible. Any work with your dog improves bond and leadership. There is nothing better than teaching your dog a new skill.

Here are my top 10 skills that will make you and your dog’s life easier.

1 Focus

I can’t put enough emphasis on this. Some might call it look or watch, I like focus because of how it sounds, it naturally draws attention. As soon as pups eyes open they look to mum for direction and from there, their pack. Because dogs communicate in body language it is important to be looking and paying attention. So we are just utilising on what nature has already provided. We use conditioning to mark the behaviour. A dog who is focused on you is guaranteed to pay attention.

2 Their name

Dogs knowing their name is important. Dogs do not understand a name the way we understand it. This is because a dog takes in everything we say to him as a sound. He or she takes the sound as a command, and responds accordingly. Your puppy does not understand the meaning behind the name. With practice your puppy has learned to respond in a particular way to a particular sound. Make sure their name is positive; I teach their name like an individual’s recall. Having a multiple dog home I try and make the name special to them and mean nothing to the other dogs which I cover more in dog school.

3 Come

There is nothing worse than your dog slipping past you and taking off at full tilt and knowing you won’t be able to call them back. It’s an important skill to teach your dog to keep them safe. You should practice it often and make it a big game so that it is fun rather than a command. Make sure you use lots of different techniques in lots of different places. Dogs are situation specific so to insure it works all the time, set yourself up for success and practice makes perfect.

4 Drop

There are 2 aspects I focus on with the drop. One is the calming lie down on a mat and relax. Two is the obedience side which uses more energy and has snappier moves. This come about by my body language, how I say it and how I condition it. If I say it quickly and in a higher pitch I want snappy. I’ll move quicker and reward in quick movements. When training a drop to calm a dog you want to use low energy, move slower and reward quick but in slower movements.

5 Stop

I use stop because it sounds a lot like drop, so in emergencies I can yell it out and they stop in their tracks and hopefully drop too but that's not as important in this case. Dogs don’t just know words so we have to train for it. It is important not to overdo 'stop' because the command needs to have shock factor.

6 Stay

Though relatively easy to start, getting the dogs frame of mind correct is the trickier part. Stay for me means: don’t move but also get comfortable and relax till I come back. It is easier to train in a drop position but I also teach it in a sit position too, I just don’t ask it for as long.

7 Heel

There are many ways to teach heel, I like to start indoors with a wall and use conditioning with treats to start the process. Then I back it up with on lead walking which I use a couple of different techniques to reinforce the behaviour. It makes for a nicer walk but also makes your dog feel more secure that you have everything under control.

8 Wait

Though similar to stay, I use it differently. 'Wait' is more a pause and wait till I’m ready whereas 'Stay' is don’t move, get comfortable till I come back and release you. Wait is handy when you just want to adjust something like a shoelace or such.

9 Stand

Stand is a great command to teach for grooming but also helps at the vets and just a fun word to teach to add to your obedience work to make it interesting. To train a 'Stand' I place the dog in a sit position and then lure with a treat into stand. Once they do it every time you can introduce the word stand.

10 Leave

This is a great one to teach if you have a dog, like mine, that is good at finding things they shouldn’t have. I generally train this through a tug of war game. The toy needs to be stiff so you have control over it better. It’s important that the games is dropping the item and not chasing it. This engages prey drive and is way too much fun. Don’t start with high value things like food or something they have already stolen.

All these skills are relatively easy to teach with timing and body language but like most things it’s easy to learn but takes much longer to master. As a trainer you are always trying to make things better, smoother and neater. The learning never stops.

Why I didn’t put sit in the list is because I think everybody starts with this. Rarely do I see a dog that hasn’t learnt sit, maybe not well, but that then come under the stay topic rather than sit.

Bonus tip

A major dislike of mine is the trick shake or paw. I have seen this go wrong so often. It is a really bad way for your dog to get your attention not to mention if they do it to a little person or elderly it can do harm to fragile skin quickly. I get that it’s cute and lots of people do it but there are lots of better things to teach your dog.

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