Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Halt, Beep-Beep and Other Useful Commands

Below are a few commands you might not learn in your basic obedience class, but I find very useful in everyday life with my dogs. 

Halt means: Don’t continue to move in the direction you are going, but stand still and stay there till I get to you.
Halt is different from, and in addition to, stay: It always comes from motion, whereas stay is to maintain a certain position.
The purpose? For some dogs shifting their attention completely away from a stimulus, and walking away to return to the owner, is difficult.
Yes, in an ideal world you would have a 100% recall before letting the pooch off the leash, but realistically 100% anything in life is rare. Let's not forget that we intentionally bred and breed dogs that require that they, although still mentally connected to the handler, hold steady and keep their eyes on the job. 
And we have fearful dogs who, like us, won't want to turn their back on what is worrisome. Humans are compelled to maintain visual control over what makes them queasy - unless they trust the person they are with absolutely.
Halt allows your dog to keep looking, but it freezes him in place until you can regain physical control.
This is how you'd train it:
During a leash walk, and as usual begin where there are no distractions, periodically stop and halt your dog. Reinforce when he stands still, and continue the walk with a let’s go.
Once your dog has linked halt with stop moving, say it when he is a little ahead of you, and reinforce generously when you catch up. Gradually, practice in more distracting areas, and also increase the distance your dog is in front.
Halt becomes solid if it precedes any kind of fun, including long leash or off leash freedom. Please note that your dog doesn't have to sit or make eye contact, because we use the command exactly when he is too focused on something in the environment to be able to shift his focus.
Don’t forget to rehearse at the dog park, sometimes releasing back into play, sometimes clipping the leash on and inviting your dog to play with you, sometimes bringing food out and sometimes throwing a ball. Make the consequence of halting and waiting till you get there always rewarding, and it will become a cue that reliably stops your dog in his tracks whenever you need him to.

Beep-Beep - like a truck - means: Back up 
How to train it:
Gently and playfully - you want to be loose and casual not challenging and forceful - walk into your dog’s space. If he trusts you and feels safe, he’ll likely back up slightly. Name that behavior and reinforce it. You’ll be surprised how quickly your dog catches on, and then, with a continued beep-beep-beep… incrementally back him up farther and farther: across the room, the training hall, a field.
That works for most dogs, but if yours doesn’t give you an inch, or becomes scared and evades dispiritedly, only approach to the point where he's still relaxed, toss a treat straight behind him, and add the cue as he moves to get it. Let him experience first that the verbal beep-beep is fun, and then you’ll be able to get closer and closer, and he’ll eventually back up as you walk in.
Another hurdle, fairly common these days, might be that your dog sits as a default when you walk toward him, and firmly holds it. You might have to undo that first and reinforce standing for a bit before you can teach backing up.
To direct your dog away when you enter with your hands full of groceries or the baby in your arms.
For children to cue the dog away from their body.
An alternate behavior to jumping – the attention seeking dog gets interaction, but it is structured and cued by you, and he gets to move, which makes beep-beep intrinsically rewarding.
It can jog a dog’s memory when an adult/child/crawling toddler encroaches in his space and he is mentally stuck what to do, or when the fearful dog is too close to a person, loses courage and tenses up. Ensure that your dog always has room to back away.
I recently had a case in which one of three dogs in the home perceived the other two as resource competitors and defended whatever he deemed important at the moment. For safety reasons, whenever the treats came out all dogs were leash managed, except when I taught beep-beep. The leashes could come off because the dogs were rewarded for increasing distance to each other, and learned that backing away was more fun than butting in, which relaxed the resource insecure dog.
Beep-Beep is yet another cue I can use to help my dog when she’s in conflict, and one to direct her into an appropriate action without increasing arousal or anxiety.
You can even engage in a back and forth beep-beep dance where you'd back up your dog, and then you back up and he follows you. It can help you teach leash manners because most dogs follow closer when their human walks backward. Whenever your dog enthusiastically follows and is mentally connected, do a 180 and likely he'll walk right beside you for a few steps, then switch and walk backward again to maintain his attention, gradually increasing the steps you walk normally.
Plus, a well-rehearsed beep-beep dance can function as an emergency turn and walk away from a trigger your dog might overreact to.

There are a couple more commands we use in day-to-day life I want to share with you: Forward, Over and Behind Me.

Forward means: Put your pretend blinders on and keep going straight ahead. I use it on trails, when Will is off the leash and when she encounters a situation she doesn’t quite know what to do with. I am not talking about fear or tension, but more like a “now what?” situation. For Will, that could be a crowd of dogs, or several people off their bicycles chatting. Forward tells her: Ignore and move on.
We also use forward as a directional to help our dogs locate a toy when we play hide and seek games, and to get them moving when they stop on a narrow path, or tell them to go ahead of us on stairs.
We taught the cue by capturing the behavior on walks, tossing a treat to get them to move straight ahead, and also by softly bumping into their back end on narrow trails to move them along – and reinforcing it when they did.

Over means: step to the side to let other trail users pass. I taught it by naming the behavior when guiding the dogs over on the leash, or whenever they naturally curved out to avoid something they weren't so sure about. 

Behind means: get right behind me and follow. Like forward, well rehearsed it can help you move your dog through crowds when he's a little uneasy, but we mostly use it to get ours past mud puddles. I train it with a treat behind my back and an animated duck-style gait, both tempting my dogs to file up right behind me. Periodically, I release the treat, and gradually navigate around more, and different, obstacles.


  1. Very Cool all the way from Halt to Beep Beep. Excellent Commands and fun for all... Especially Beep Beep.

    Thanks Again

  2. They all sound like excellent commands that we will add to those we work with now. Thaks very much!