We all know that training is important for our dogs – not only to ensure that they are well-mannered members of society but also to give them mental stimulation and increase their bond with us.
Many of you may have dutifully attended training classes, followed instructions and put your dog through the exercises – while secretly wondering just how useful many of these commands would be in real life. In actual fact, the training exercises you practise with your dog may be more valuable than you realise – they could mean the difference between an enjoyable outing or an out-of-control disaster. They could even mean the difference between a safe, happy dog or a dead pet.
Here are 6 training commands that could save your dog’s life – it would be well worth making sure that your dog knows and practises these regularly, so that you know that he or she can reliably follow your direction in an emergency:
– who doesn’t like a dog that comes when called? This is one of the most important commands for a dog to learn, although it is often one very few pet dogs can perform reliably. Aside from the convenience factor – such as not having to chase and capture your dog when it is time to leave the dog park – having a reliable recall can make a huge difference to protecting your dog and others from danger.
For instance, your dog may be running towards another dog in a potentially aggressive situation or your dog may be running into traffic or onto railway tracks; alternatively your dog may be running towards a family enjoying a picnic or a toddler carrying an ice-cream. In all these situations, having a dog that will instantly turn around and come back to you not only means that everyone remains safe but it also means that your dog is likely to enjoy more freedom in general as you can trust him to be under control.
The key to successful recall training is to never punish the dog for returning to you, no matter how furious you may be feeling – it should always be a rewarding experience. In addition, practise first in a quiet place and then with increasing distractions – the reason most people fail is because they jump straight into the most distracting environment (e.g.. dog park) and expect the dog to come instantly when called.
When the dog fails, they either lose their temper and punish it (guaranteed to make the dog even more reluctant to come next time!) or they end up chasing it around the park, so that their dog thinks running away is an enjoyable game. Furthermore, when competing with distractions such as other dogs, owners MUST make effort to make themselves more interesting – too many owners stand and call in a colourless voice, when they should be running backwards, making high-pitched, interesting noises, jumping around and generally making themselves attractive to run to. This does not have to continue forever, of course, but is very useful when initially teaching the dog a reliable recall.
Leave It – this command involves your dog turning away from anything it is sniffing or showing an interest in, whether it is a piece of chicken bone, a cat, a sharp piece of glass, toxic chemicals or a “forbidden” human item, such as various household items, children’s toys, shoes, etc. It is vital to start teaching command from a young puppy, as there will be many instances in the dog’s life as it grows up when it will need to avoid a certain item.
If taught using positive methods, the dog will learn that it is more rewarding to leave an object when instructed because it will always be rewarded with a treat, praise or favourite game instead. Again, practice with increasingly difficult items (e.g. start with a boring, stationary toy, progress through food to exciting things like moving cats) to ensure reliability in many situations.
Drop It – Slightly similar to ‘Leave It’, this command requires your dog to drop whatever he is holding in his mouth immediately – be it food, toy or some other item which may be dangerous or “forbidden”. It is also very useful to ensure that Tug games remain under control and the dog will release his hold on the tug toy whenever he is directed to do so. Similarly for dogs who will fetch a ball but then refuse to surrender it to their owners. Again, this command should be taught in a positive way, so that the dog understands that by dropping the item in his mouth, he will earn a great reward and is therefore worth his while following the command.
Wait – upon hearing this command, the dog should immediately pause in whatever he is doing and wait for the next instruction from his owner. Like the other “life-saving training commands” – this must be practised until the dog gives instant obedience the minute it hears this command. On a day-to-day basis, this command should be used every time the dog approaches the curb during a walk, so that he pauses and waits for direction before crossing the street. It can also be used during mealtimes, to teach a dog polite manners so that he will wait until given permission to start eating, rather than jumping up to get at the food bowl. In an emergency, this command can help to make the dog freeze in the middle of whatever he is doing and wait for further instructions from you – thus preventing him plunging headfirst into a dangerous situation.
Stay – the benefits of being able to keep your dog reliable in one place are obvious. Not only does this mean you can enjoy taking him out to more places because you can rely on him not to wander, without the need for cumbersome crates or other containment systems, but you can also keep him safe in dangerous, unpredictable situations by holding him in one location, (even if you are at a distance away) regardless of the distractions around him. The best way to practise a “bomb-proof Stay” is to test your dog with increasing distractions, such as having him remain in a Down Stay or Sit Stay while toys are thrown around him, people and dogs are walking around him or just even in different environments, from a busy park with children and other dogs to a downtown shopping mall with busy foot and car traffic nearby.
Instant Drop: “Down!” or “Mat!” – this last command is an advanced Obedience exercise and one not many pet dogs achieve but it is well worth teaching, if you can put in the time and effort. In this instance, the dog needs to drop to the ground as soon as it hears the command and remain there until released by its owner. Like the recall, it can play a serious role in saving your dog’s life if it is running into danger but this actually has more uses than a simple Come. For example, if your dog is lose but separated from you by a busy road, you would not be able to use the recall command without calling your dog into the path of danger. In that case, you could use the Instant Drop command to immediately put your dog down into a safe position on the ground and to remain there until you can go to get him. It is also very useful if you need to stop your dog suddenly when he is moving away from you but do not necessarily want him to run back to you, as he would in a recall.
Like all things in life, practise makes perfect and all pet dogs can achieve reliability in these key training commands if they are given regular training sessions and practice. If you are having particular issues with one of these exercises, then it may be worth consulting a professional dog trainer.