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  • Jennifer Damon

Setting Ground Rules

One of the things that I encourage all of my clients to do is to teach their dog commands. From "sit" and "stay" to "rollover", "crawl" and "jump." Some view commands as not letting dogs be dogs. Some think that we are inhibiting their natural state. This simply isn't so. In the wild, the dog pack leader can control his pack with a simple look. When we bring dogs into our homes and then let them run free, we are upsetting the natural order because dogs are missing the structure provided in the pack. Can you imagine our society without any rules whatsoever? To replace this lost structure, we need to teach our dogs things like not jumping on the sofa until invited, to sit and wait until we allow them to move to the food bowl, or to not jump on visitors. These things teach Fido that you are the pack leader and they also engage his brain. It's very important to engage your dog in mental stimulation every single day. This will help him stay emotionally stable. He will have less behavioral problems in the long run. We have a tendency to start some new rule and then get lazy. Then our dogs break the rule and trying to train them over again becomes much much harder. They know we'll probably give up and so they wait us out. Consistency is the key. Here are a few tips for successful training: 1. Teach only one new command per week. Start with "sit", use it every day, and build from there. 2. Speak in a firm, conversational voice. Yelling is no good. It just causes anxiety. Besides, do you really want to yell at your dog to get him to comply all the time? 3. Stand up straight but remain relaxed when teaching commands. 4. Assume your dog is going to do it right and limit your frustration. This is a fun activity. If you are frustrated, your dog can hear, smell, and see it. Dogs will not follow a frustrated leader. Take a few breaths and start over. 5. Use treats and praise. Eventually, you will only need to use praise but in the beginning this will help get your dog's attention. Show him the treats in your hand before you start. 6. Make sure your dog completely performs the task, wait a beat, and then reward. 7. Don't continue to repeat the command. Say it once while making eye contact and wait 10 seconds. If he doesn't respond, then say it again. 8. Do not reward anxious energy from your dog. For example, if your dog sits on command but then wags his tail rapidly while seated and kind of wobbles from side to side, then don't reward him. He is not really listening to you. He is focused on that treat! Wait until he calms down and then reward. 9. Train before meal time. If your dog is hungry then he will be more focused on you and your handful of treats. 10. End each training session with lots of love and continue using those commands throughout each day. If you don't happen to have a treat handy, then a scratch behind the ear and a "good boy" goes a long way. Happy Training!

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