Friday, December 13, 2013

Do That Action - Words Every Dog Should Know

If you know me personally, read my book, or follow my blog posts, you might have a faint idea that I am not a doggie micromanager and abhor obedience for obedience sake. That doesn’t take away from the fact that people, including me, who are in charge of a dog’s welfare and liable for her conduct, must be able to influence or induce her actions when necessary. 
That is what commands are for, and which ones you teach is ultimately up to you. Safety first, but aside from that you really do not have to pay attention to what other people believe how a dog should behave. Every dog/human relationship is unique, and if it works for you, it works.  
For instance, I don’t care if there is a little tension on the leash because then I don’t trip over it, but because I love to live life off the leash, and want to offer that to my dog, reliable halt, come and leave are paramount, and I put a lot of effort into mastering these skills. 
Before someone gets the wrong idea, we do observe leash laws – mostly, and I am not suggesting for a minute to forgo any kind of leash work, just that my time with my dogs is better spent than practicing heel to obedience-rink-style perfection. But if that turns your and your dog’s crank, than do that. Trained without pressures, any activity can be quality time and satisfying mental stimulation for your dog. 

So, do what matters to you, and have the confidence to stand behind it. That said, there are several commands, when solid, that just about ensure that life with the pooch is pleasurable. Proactively taught, they keep the dog out of trouble, and are also the principle ones I use when dealing with behavioral issues. 

Name Attention: When Will hears her name, she connects with me and arrives on the scene because she knows that what I do next involves her somehow. That’s what the name is for, and it could be the dog’s recall command at the same time. Some use the name in that sense, but I like a separate come cue cause it is not always necessary for Will to come all the way back, only to pay attention what I cue next.

Come: Self-explanatory. 

Give: Means open your mouth and drop whatever is in it. 
So, give is different than leave – the latter is to stop a dog from accessing something, the former to release something after the fact. 

Halt: Means don’t continue to move in the direction you are moving and wait till I catch up, but you don’t have to look at me. 

Touch: Is targeting the hand and very briefly touching it with the nose. It has several real life applications, but one is to bring four paws on the floor when your excited dog jumps on you – or to channel jumping in case you own a young boxer. 

Settle: Means park yourself somewhere, ideally on a specific mat, and hang out. You may choose the position and change it, just don’t move. 
In day-to-day life, whether a dog sits or lies is irrelevant, but I still teach a down and sit separately. 

Beep-Beep: The dog backs up – like a truck. Children love to train that, and it is fun for the dog as well. The practical use is… Well, have you ever entered your home with your hands full of groceries? But it can also jog your dog’s memory what she could do if an out-of-control toddler makes her uneasy, or to prompt her away if she infringes someone’s space. 

Leave: Means shift your focus away from whatever caught your interest and walk away from it. 
If you are thinking with me, you may have noticed that leave isn’t actually a Do That Action command, but a Do Not Do That Action one. Technically, if you have a variety of really reliable Do That Action cues, you wouldn’t need leave, would you? You’d just prompt the dog in the behavior she should be doing instead of targeting that cat or sniffing the pile of poop. But in real life, a solid leave is handy, and I like it and teach it – in a way that my dog feels good when she hears it.  

So here they are, the words I think every dog should know. 
Certainly, if you’re ambitious you can teach a lot more than that. Our Will also understands: Over, This Way, Forward, Behind, Follow, Find, Get, Take - and the last three are distinct behaviors, Cross (the road), and a cue that conveys that I’m beyond happy cause she nailed it: Yay as in  “you’re so awesome – I love you”. 
Aussie Davie knew a bunch of Rally O’ positions in addition to that, and both dogs learned to comprehend a few cues not meant to bring forth a specific action, but to provide information about the present situation.  
Later means not right now but feel free to check back in a moment, and All-Done means no interactions with me for a while. 
All-done is binary information, the off-switch, and opposite to name attention, which is the dog’s on-switch. I’ll mention binary information again when I chat about the word No. 
It’s Just is a relaxing cue that stands for: Don’t worry about it, it is not going to harm you, and if you use it you’ll better make sure that whatever your dog is concerned about indeed doesn’t come closer.
Brilliant, sweetly spoken, tells my dog that she’s on the right track and meant to encourage her to keep doing what she’s doing. The same word enveloped in a number of other soppy ones maintains my dog’s attention. 
Lastly, quick spoken staccato-like in a higher pitched voice eggs my dog on to move faster. I use it when we cross the road and she lags, or when she’s on her way back to me when called. 

Many words, eh? I know, but I haven’t met a dog yet who doesn’t have the potential to learn them, if you teach them. I admit, depending on you and your dog, it may take some time, but trust me: It is worth the effort. 

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