Tag Archives: Training

My #1 Command to Teach Your Dog!

Three shelties obeying the sit command
Zekie, Claire, and Shelby

In an ideal world, everyone would spend a lot of time teaching their dogs many things. And I have many friends who do. But if you don’t have unlimited time to train your dog, or want more control NOW!, teach your dog to sit.

The sit is one of the easiest commands for your dog to learn and for you to teach. I won’t spend time here telling you how. There are many sites to do that. I want to share why I think it is the most essential command to master.

Everyone likes an obedient dog who sits when told. And it is so useful. Your dog jumps on you at feeding time? Tell him to sit before giving him his meal. Jumps up when you get his biscuit out? Have him sit. Jumps on you when you try to put his leash on? Sit! Are you getting the idea?

The sit command can be used to to interrupt and redirect many unwanted behaviors. Some other times you can use the sit to get control of your dog are, when someone comes to the door, when small children approach, when traffic is passing, when you are out on a walk and encounter someone you would like to have a conversation with. I’m sure you can think of many others.

My favorite use of the command is when we come across a cool photo op. See some great photos I took of Zekie, using the sit command on a walk around our property. Training With Zekie. Just position your dog in front of the really awesome plant, building, etc. and snap your picture! It is trickier to get three dogs to do it like in my photo here, but still not all that hard. Ideally your dog should hold the sit, until he is given a release command. This is something to build up to. I use the word “ok” to release my dogs from whatever command they are doing.

Teaching your dog to sit, or to perform any other requests, lets them learn so much more than the command itself. They learn to pay attention to you and that they are not free to do what they want all the time. It helps to form a bond between you and your dog. Over time, you and your dog will forge a closer relationship when you work together.

You will become a team. Who doesn’t want that?

7 Ways to a Tired Dog

Zekie exhibiting the benefits of a tired dog.
Zekie exhibiting the benefits of a tired dog.

A tired dog is a good dog. This is Zekie, my problem child. Can You Tell Which Dog Is Reactive? You can read more about him at the link. This is Zekie resting after today’s walk.

All dogs’ behavior will be at least a bit better if they expend some energy. Here are some ways to do that which allow you to maintain social distance from other people.

  1. Walk your dog. You can take a mask along incase you encounter others. There are many trails that should provide good opportunities.
  2. Play frisbee or ball. You can play in your yard or in a field at a school. Enclosed tennis courts may be an option if your dog needs to be confined.
  3. Kick the toy. Rather like the child’s game kick the can. We play this indoors, down the center hallway of our house when the weather is inclement. Extra points if we can get the toy past the dogs and down the basement stairs!
  4. Obedience or trick training. This expends more mental energy than physical, but this is also tiring.
  5. Hide and seek. Played indoors. Have your dog sit and stay. Or someone can hold your dog. When you’re ready, say ok, find me.
  6. Hide and seek variation. Confine your dog in some manner while you hide treats for them to find. Make the first ones easy until your dog gets the hang of it.
  7. Provide chews such as nylabones, rope bones, antlers, etc. Monitor so your dog does not swallow small pieces. Chewing does not use as much energy as running around but it does help.

Walk your dog.
Walk your dog.

Dogs are social, active creatures and need to be provided an outlet to burn off energy. Finding a way to do this make both of your lives happier.

Training With Zekie

Zekie in the fall leaves

Zekie and I took a walk around our property this evening so I could get some fall photos. I decided this was a good opportunity to work on sits and stays.

Zekie in front of the burning bushes

I was pleased. He did very well. We also worked on his paying attention to me and sitting whenever I stopped walking. That went pretty well too.

Zekie and squash

He even did a sit-stay on the house steps. Those treats in my pocket worked wonders!

Benefits of the Sit-Stay

Zekie holding a stay in front of the irises

Zekie staying by the wygelia

We walked around the yard this afternoon checking out various plants. As Zekie walked by some of them, I thought what a beautiful photo that would make. So, I told Zekie to sit, and then to stay.

He is familiar with this process now. I can saw his name to get him to look at the camera and he continues to hold his stay. He waits for a release command which could be in the form of:

  • Ok-meaning you’re released to move about
  • Come-means come to me
  • Ok, let’s go-which means come to me and we will proceed to walk

These are just commands as I use them. Unless you are competing, it really doesn’t matter the words you use as long as you are consistent and can communicate with your dog to get the results you want.

With most dogs, keeping commands short, one or two words is best. This is what I do for all our dogs. Zekie is very communicative and seems to be able to comprehend sentences at other times though. Such as, “be quiet or you’re going in your crate”. (“Be quiet” when used by itself is less effective.) “Where is daddy?” “Go get your bone.” “I’ll be right back.” He responds appropriately to all of these sentences.

An intelligent mind can be both a blessing and a curse in a dog. They spend lots of time thinking. It is up to us to channel those thoughts in a direction that we find appropriate. Otherwise, the dog will channel them as he deems appropriate, and we may not agree!

Training and Walking

I have heard it said that racing greyhounds can’t or don’t sit. They are even exempt from the sit during Therapy Dog testing. Our retired racers have always learned to sit, some better than others. So I have started working on teaching Cassius the sit command. I put him into the position and praise like crazy. We will have to wait and see if he catches on like the others have.

In my renewed effort to walk dogs regularly, we have been walking this week. I always take Zekie because he has so much to learn to be a “normal” dog. He is doing excellent on his sits, downs, and stays. It will soon be time to work on these commands with distractions at a distance. But when it’s just us, he does great.

See how well Zekie holds his sit-stay. I couldn’t keep Cassius in a sit, but he did do a stand-stay. I’ll take it for now. He at least stays still enough for a picture.

Cassius was confused as to why were not going inside though. He thought since there was a door, that we should enter and see what there was to see. Zeke kept his sit but seemed puzzled as to what Cassius was doing. So was I, Zekie, so was I.

All these shenanigans were apparently very exhausting. Of course Cassius is originally from a racetrack in Florida so the cold may have played a part in wearing him out too. Cassius came home and felt the need to take a nap. A tired dog is a good dog. Good boy, Cassius.

New Adventures

I am enjoying my first week of retirement. This morning I decided to take Zeke and Shelby for a walk down the road and back for some exercise and some training. We walked down to the township park which is about 3/4 of a mile away. On the way we stopped occasionally to practice sits, downs, and stays. The picture above was taken while practicing stays in front of the local church. They had this pretty garland up for Christmas and I thought it made for the perfect photo opportunity while we were working on holding a sit. The pups did very well, especially considering that the recycling truck was emptying dumpsters just a few houses away. Shelby was not a fan of the grinding and banging but she did hold her stay.

We live in a small, rural community and apparently people are active in the morning. I never knew this because I was at work. On our way home a lady opened her front door to greet us as we passed by on the street. When she first saw Shelby, she thought her dog got out because she has a sheltie too. Once she realized it wasn’t her dog, she opened the door anyway to introduce herself and say hello. We talked for several minutes and I’m sure we will talk again as we had lots to say.

The dogs and I walked a short distance farther and another lady driving by in a van stopped to say hello and introduce herself. She said she knew where we lived and that I had visited another nearby homebound neighbor with two of the shelties before. We visited for a couple minutes then went on our separate ways. I learned that she also lives nearby.

What a lovely morning getting to meet two neighbors that I had never encountered before. I think that I am going to like this different life outside of the work environment. It is foreign to me but that just means it is a new adventure.

This is Zeke shortly after we returned from our walk and training. When the lady stopped in the van, he wasn’t sure if this was ok or if he should protect me. I told him it was alright and as the lady and I talked, Zeke relaxed. He was a good boy. This was a relief because he can sometimes be reactive to people or dogs that he does not know. But his response this time was just right. All the activity and decision making apparently wore him out. He needed a nap, so crashed on the living room couch with his head on the pillow.

I can’t wait to see what adventures tomorrow brings!

Lights Out

This evening was our last class of Therapy Dog Training for this school year. It’s nice to have that evening free now, but I’ll miss my students.

In fact, I was debating if I wanted to make that kind of time commitment again, but I so enjoyed the students, and especially the dogs, that I think I will. Especially since the goal is so worthwhile.

Shelby is posing with one of the class props that the Animal Science kids use. This was just before our final “lights out “.

My Student

We just completed Week 5 of 6 sessions of the Therapy Dog training class that I am teaching. All of the dog and handler teams have shown improvement. I was so happy this evening to see the dogs performing their sits, downs, and stays.

Most importantly, they have all got the idea that they should pay attention to their handlers. This is such a big step. You can’t teach your dog anything if he won’t pay attention to you.

There is more work to be done, but this group of dogs will get there. The improvement from the first class to now is notable. As with anything, you proceed forward step by step, with an occasional step backwards. Persistence is the key to reaching your goals.

Above is my student, Remy. I just love him! I am sure he is capable of reaching his training goals. For now, I have the pleasure of spending time with him during class. What a lovable dog!

Teaching Assistants

I am currently teaching a class in Therapy Dog Training at our local vocational and adult education school one evening a week. It is so much fun! Above are my co-assistants. Shelby, on the left, accompanies me to every class. She is extremely reliable. The only reason I don’t say 100% reliable is because no one is perfect. My other sheltie Nikki helped this week too. Shelby demonstrates the exercises and both girls fill the role of “the neutral dog” when we work on distractions.

Our class is held in the school’s animal lab. That’s why there is a bunny in the background. There are lots is small animals: rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, lizards, fish, turtles, and an assortment of birds. They provide quite the distraction for the “student dogs” in class. Shelby and Nikki are not impressed by the menagerie.

The dogs taking this class are a huge golden retriever, a Norwegian elkhound, and a pit bull. All are under three years old so, it is an exciting time. They are all great but I’ve wanted a pit bull for a few years so, I can’t get enough of petting his big head and scratching his ears.

This is a labor of love. When the school asked how much I wanted to make, I said “I don’t care, I would do it for free”. I believe that it’s important to get more dog and handler teams available to visit nursing homes and other care facilities. I know if I lived in one, I would want someone to come visit me with their dog. I even had one lady who thought I was bringing her dogs in to visit her! That is a great reward.

Separation Anxiety and Retraining, Part I

Zeke has separation anxiety. One of the things I have undertaken as part of his treatment to manage this is retraining.

When people contact me, via our dog rescue (Northeast Ohio Shetland Sheepdog Rescue) to ask for advice on a multitude of things, I almost always advise obedience training. This helps with so many issues. People tell me that their dog’s lack of obedience is not the thing they are unhappy with. Training your dog for sits, downs, and stays is not exactly the point.

The point is that you are working with your dog and teaching him that you are a team, and you are the leader of that team. He learns that he should listen to you. You call the shots. This carries over to so much more than just the sits and stays. Dogs are creatures of habit. Listening to you and watching for cues become a way of life. This in itself should result in a calmer dog. It is stressful being the leader. Take that stress away from your dog. It was time for me to practice what I preach and start training.

Taking an obedience class together is a good option but not strictly necessary. For Zeke, I chose to train him myself. We have multiple dogs and regularly encounter multiple dogs so I didn’t need the group setting that this socialization can provide.

Because Zeke’s training was mostly to deal with separation anxiety, I began making him earn everything, including attention and affection. Zeke was so attached to me that he could not bear to be away from me. Part of this started because I needed to know where he was at all times to know if he was getting into trouble. Often, yes, he was. Then it became cute, Zeke had to be near me all the time. It was gratifying that he followed me around the house and jumped up to stare in my eyes and lick my face. And it was comforting when he laid on me for a nap.

Shame on me! These things were comforting to him too. So much so that Zeke became stressed when I wasn’t nearby. My husband said to me on more than one occasion, he’s sitting on you so he knows where you’re at and you can’t get away. It wasn’t too long of a trip from there to full blown separation anxiety. Rather than cracking down on his neediness, I gave him attention. I released the monster.

Now I think Zeke did have issues with this before I got him because he was already missing two fangs, probably from crate chewing. But he could be contained, and he crated well when he came to our house from the shelter. If I had known what I was dealing with things might have gone differently. Then again, maybe not. I have never dealt with anything like this before and we have fostered over 50 dogs in the past 15 years.

So the training began. I took a cue from Cesar Millan, The Dog Whisperer. He always talks about calm assertive energy from the human and sometimes from another calm dog. So I had Shelby, my certified therapy dog, with us during all of our training sessions. Shelby exudes confidence. Our sessions took the form of walks with stops along the way for obedience work.

We worked on walking on a loose leash. Zeke was on a choker collar. I like to train new dogs with a choker because the sound of the chain becomes a cue for the dog. Occasionally we would stop and I would ask the dogs to sit or perform some other command. After they successfully did each task they would get a treat. (I just used small pieces of kibble so as not to add a lot of calories and I could treat often.) At first I gave a treat after every obeyed command. Training science says that once a task is learned, random treating, rather than every time produces better results. I don’t understand this but who am I to argue with science. I can see how not treating every time would be helpful for when you don’t have treats. So I started asking for multiple behaviors before giving the treat. And a few times I didn’t give any. I do always give praise in some form for each task done.

Shelby thought this was all great fun. Zeke was confused. In fact, the first night we attempted this, Zeke’s behavior was terrible! But I persisted. The next night was better. Both dogs began to look forward to our special time together. Zeke became easier to walk. He started paying more attention in case I gave a command with an opportunity to earn a treat. I know dogs can learn from each other. I have seen it many times. My decision to include Shelby was I think, a good one. I could tell when I asked Zeke to do something that made him nervous, such as a stay where I walked about 15 feet away while the dogs were in a sit-stay. Once I got farther away than Zeke was comfortable with, he whipped he head around to see what Shelby was doing, without breaking his stay. He saw Shelby still sitting there, smiling happily. I could just see Zeke’s mind processing this information. “Oh, Shelby’s not upset and she’s still sitting. It must be ok, I think that’s what I’m supposed to do too.”

Over time we’ve worked on various commands: watch me, sit, down, stay, give paw, wait. We worked on these for varying and increasing lengths of time. And Zeke definitely got better at the commands. In fact, he is quite good at them. I think I saw Zeke’s behavior improve in regards to the separation anxiety too. Since it was so severe, I did pursue getting him the mega crate from my previous post but I have hope that, in time, he will be a mostly normal dog.

We retrained on many other things too but those will have to be shared in the next post. So until next time…