I’ve been helping people train their dogs for many years. When someone is new to training there is a lot to learn, which means I’ve heard some questions pretty routinely.
One of the common ones is, “What should I say?”
This question comes up when people want to stop the dog from displaying an undesirable behavior, but they aren’t certain what to say. If the dog spots a squirrel and tries to chase it. or darts for the edge of the yard to bark at a passerby, not only do people struggle knowing what to do,_but they don’t know what to say either.
When a dog is behaving poorly, it can be easy to get flustered. Some folks end up frantically stringing a bunch of words together, “Stop it, NO, leave it, come here!” Generally all of those words don’t do any good, and it is quite possible the dog thinks their human is standing on the sideline cheerleading!
The good news is, it doesn’t take a lot of training to live at ease with a dog. A few key commands can do the trick to have your dog behave in most situations. For pet owners, here is my recommended list of words you should teach your dog: Come, Sit, Down, Heel, Out, and Quiet.
You will be able to successfully live with your dog and manage most situations that pop up with those six skills. For the average pet, that is all you need. Really, that’s it.
If you clearly define each of those words, you can use them individually or paired together to solve problems. Just be certain that the behavior associated with each of those words is made very clear to the dog. Wishy-washy follow through will not get you a well trained dog.
Definition of the six critical dog training skills:
Come: Dog returns to you and remains in close enough proximity that you can reach down and touch them. They remain next to you until you tell them otherwise.
Sit: Dog plants butt on the ground and doesn’t get up until you tell them otherwise.
Down: Dog puts belly to the ground and doesn’t get up until you tell them otherwise.
Heel: Dog remains at your side. (Left side is traditional, but you can choose the right if you prefer.) They remain there until you tell them otherwise.
Out: Dog releases what is in his/her mouth.
Quiet: Dog stops vocalizing.
Why would this be all you need? Think about common problems that come up and see if one, or a combination, of these behaviors would solve the issue?
- Dog runs out an open door? Call him to Come. Next time tell him to Sit before you open the door.
- Dog jumps on the visitor coming into your home? Tell him to Down before you let the visitor enter.
- Dog grabs a sock out of the laundry basket? Tell him to Come, then Out.
- Dog is at the fenceline barking at the neighbor? Use this sequence: Come, then Down, followed by Quiet.
- Dog wants to drag you over to visit another dog or toward a piece of garbage laying in the street when you are out on a walk? Tell him to Heel.
Keeping it simple means it is easier for you to know what to do in the moment. It is also easier for the dog. Dogs don’t generalize well, so teaching a clearly defined meaning with a one or two word cue makes it easier for them to learn.
If you want to teach your dog a lot more than that, fantastic!! Dogs are capable of having a very large vocabulary of words they understand. It just takes time and lots of practice. If you have the time, go for it! For everyone else, communication built on those fundamentals will serve you well.
There is one last thing, thus the need for seven words. You need a word that lets your dog know when he’s all done. He’s free to go, the recess bell has rung and he’s at liberty. It isn’t a skill, but rather a release from the skill he’s been previously asked to do. If you don’t teach a release cue, then the dog gets to decide when he’s all done, and you probably won’t be so happy with the result of your training.
Free, All Done, At Ease, Break, That’ll Do…pick what you like. Just be sure to bring it into your training from the get go so your dog knows he’s not on indefinite lockdown. He can move as soon as he hears the magic word from you.