Editor’s note: This is the second article from APDT trainer Terry Meeks. You can read her first article here.
If you’ve ever gotten the “Mom look,” you know that it only takes one to make you straighten up and fly right. The same goes with the warning kick under the table from a spouse. Sometimes it only takes one of something to get the message across. Although it’s one of the hardest rules to remember in dog training, it is possibly the most important – Give your command one time. When you stand in front of your dog and tell him “sit…..sit…..sit…..sit… and he finally does, you are thinking ‘Yay he’s got it now!!!!’ In reality, however, what you have just done is teach him that the command is sit…..sit…..sit…..sit (or whatever command you are teaching). Much like a teenager, he will begin to ignore your command until you reach whatever magic number of words is his trigger. The better way to accomplish your goal is to give the command once – Sit. Then wait for a short time – say, counting to nine in your head. If you don’t get the desired action, show him what you want. Either lure him by holding a treat at his nose, then slowly moving the treat over to the back of his head (his behind should automatically hit the ground) or gently take his collar in one hand – pull up slightly, while guiding (not pushing) his hindquarters into a sit. With practice he should understand that you expect the behavior of sit when you say the word the first time.
Say what you mean
Now that you and your dog are on the same page, pick the right word and use it only once. I find that most dog owners love the word “No” and that most dogs don’t know what it means. That’s because “No” is way overused. In most homes, “No” means get off the couch, don’t jump on me, don’t bark at the mailman and put down my shoe. The list goes on and on. When a word is overused, it loses its meaning. Choose words that will make sense to you, so that you are consistent with them. In the examples above, you could use “Off,” “Enough,” “Leave it” or “Drop.” You don’t need a separate word for every single thing. “Off” can mean get off of me, or get off of the couch . If you are not getting the behavior you want, remember tell then show. Use a treat to lead your dog down off of the couch and praise when he’s off (you can always invite him back up if you want him “up”). Trade a treat for the shoe (then put the shoe away so he can’t get it).
Mean what you say
Just like in the teenager analogy, follow through is important. If your word for get out of the window and stop barking is “enough” and you find yourself being ignored, be prepared to go to the window show the dog that “enough” actually means turn away from the window and stop barking. Give him some incentive – toy, treat or attention from you. Distract him and give him something else to focus on instead of whatever is going on outside the window. Soon, he should correlate “enough” with the behavior you are looking for. True story – I had a dog that when she was on opposite end of the yard, would look at my feet when I called her to come in the house. You see, I had a rock back yard and she knew that if I had shoes on, I would come get her but if I was barefoot, chances are I wouldn’t. I learned quickly that follow-through will make or break your success in training.
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