There’s so much our dogs have to teach us. They inspire us to live in the moment. They show us how to be judgment-free listeners. And they lead by example when it comes to unconditional love. What do we offer in return? Hopefully, more than shelter and food. We can offer companionship, return that love they give so freely and show them the affection and leadership they crave. What better way to bond than by playing games and spending time together? This is exactly what training is when it’s done right.
For those who missed it or need a refresher, we’ve shared a few “Essential Commands To Teach Your Dog” to get things started. This is where we recommend teaching our dogs the basics, like their name, how to come when called, when to sit and lay down, as well as how to leave something alone, drop the ball, wait in a spot, and stay close.
We also get a little more advanced in, “More Essential Commands to Teach Your Dog.” This is where we address common guardian pain points like teaching our dogs not to jump on guests, how to take a toy when we ask, and how to calm themselves down when all they want to do is bark at the mailman or other disruptions.
The average dog is capable of understanding 165 words and phrases. Smarter breeds, like border collies, have been documented at over 1,000 words and phrases, with skills in processing and astute understand that ranks higher than the average human toddler. When we put this in the context of training, it’s easy to see just how much opportunity we have to learn from and teach our dogs meaningful skills and commands.
Let’s also just make a quick note that tone of voice and body language are just as important as any command. In fact, as we get increasingly advanced in our training with Fido, we can get rid of vocal commands almost altogether. This is often where guardians have the most fun with their pups. It’s also where bonding is taken to the next level because communicating with clear signals and understanding how our dogs think are crucial.
For those of us who live in apartments or take road trips with pups, we know we can’t always take Fido on a walk just to let him do his business. Sometimes, we just have to let him out for a few minutes so he can relieve himself, and keep the time commitment to just one actual walk per day. The “eliminate” command is perfect for this. We can let Fido know that it’s time to pick a spot and let it all out. And, for the sake of clarity, we really do need two different commands. Of course, depending on each of our vernaculars, we may choose “go poopie” and “go piddle.” Others may choose “go one” and “go two.” Fido doesn’t care. He just needs the direction we’re providing.
Begin by taking Fido out for normal walks and wait until he actually needs to do his business. Once he begins to go number one, then use the command for number one. Say it in a friendly tone so he doesn’t suddenly stop doing his business, thinking we are trying to tell him to do something new. When beginning this process, we are just getting him used to hearing the words and associating them with the action. When he defecates, we need to use the command we’ve chosen for that activity. Say it over and over throughout the entire time he is doing his business. When he stops, cheerfully say, “good piddle!” Or “good two!” We don’t need our pup associating treats with doing his business, especially since he is just learning to associate the command with the action, not the reward. Just offer a head rub, rump rub, a cheerful voice, or any other common, quick reward he’ll enjoy.
Consistency is key. We need to repeat the command over and over, every single time he does his business in front of us. Then offer the cheerful reward, whether vocal or with a head rub. After a few days, he’ll begin to understand what these words mean. After a few weeks, he will have built a pavlovian response. To test this, take Fido out at a time of day he isn’t used to being out. Give him one of the commands and watch for his recognition. It may be a little confusing for him to realize he is hearing a command and then the action is happening, but for those of us who have been consistent, we’ll see our pup trying to make it happen, even if he doesn’t have to go. If he is successful, reward him with those head rubs. If he tried but didn’t eliminate, just give him a “good boy,” and move on. He legitimately may not have had to go yet. Keep practicing, even when he does have it down.
Most importantly, do not ever punish a dog for doing his business without the command being spoken. If a dog goes potty at a time or place he isn’t supposed to, we need to revert back to training basics 101, which is to redirect him to a better place to go. Dogs need to eliminate without fear of punishment. Otherwise, they’ll develop anxiety, can end up with illnesses, and we’ll ultimately break the trust we’ve so carefully built with our pup, making future training exercises more difficult.
This one can be a lot of fun, is impressive to those who are still training at the basic level, and is a great command to have in our back pockets for safety reasons. Imagine our pups are off leash running around in a pasture when we come to a break in the fence, and a street. Normally, we would just call our pups back to us. However, what happens when our pup crosses the street before we catch on to what’s happening? Do we risk getting them hit by a car by using the call back command? Do we run toward them so we can cross the street, and just hope they’ll wait on the other side of the road? What if we are hiking and realize there is a bear or other obstacle between ourselves and Fido? Do we stand there, helpless, hoping Fido doesn’t choose to approach or do we call him and home the obstacle or animal doesn’t harm him? The answer is neither. We use the “stop” command.
This requires a long lead line (at least 12 feet, but 20 feet preferred), and may require the help of a training buddy. It also requires eye contact and clear body language. This isn’t a command where we can rely solely on vocal commands. For those of us with a friend to help out, have them hold the lead line, and stand right at the end of the length of the lead. For example, if we have a 20-foot line, we’ll stand around 19 feet away from our pup and our friend. We’ll use our body language and our vocal command to call our pup. Our friend will walk toward us with our Fido. They are nothing more than a learning aid to help demonstrate the action we want our pup to take. They are not allowed to repeat the command or distract our dog. After a few feet, make eye contact, call out “stop” over and over while leaning forward with both hands in front of us like we are gesturing to stop, and while walking toward our pup.
We don’t want our pups attention on our friend because we want them to understand that they are only listening to and working with their guardian. The eye contact tells Fido we are talking to him, not our friend. Standing tall when we call them, then leaning down and pushing our hands in front of us in a “stop” gesture helps to visually reinforce that the command has changed. Walking toward our pups as we do this creates pressure. Pressure is a concept that is used in more advanced training where we are communicating direction and spatial concepts to our pups.
Clarity is crucial. It’s important that we get our actions and body language right if we want our pups to figure out what we are trying to say. Practicing the movement a couple times, so it feels natural is a great idea. Then we can work on calling our pup, and telling them to stop, over and over. Our friend can also follow our direction, but with a longer and longer lead line, until our pup doesn’t even need the prompt of a person next to them and can work on following directions on his own. Work on letting him get farther and farther before giving the stop command.
The last thing to keep in mind is that our pups have been trained to come when called, no matter what. We are adding a disruption to that, which means it can take some time for pups to get the hang of it. We’ll also need to practice this one pretty regularly to stay fresh. Never punish a dog for coming, rather than stopping. Just give a little encouragement, take breaks as needed, and start over. When we punish dogs for following through on the recall command while working on the stop command, we introduce too much uncertainty. They will end up always questioning themselves during future recalls.
For guardians who aren’t advanced enough to understand how to utilize positive reinforcement without falling back on negative reinforcement, consider working with a skilled dog trainer who has broken past the elementary level reward/punishment training model. It will change everything and brings dogs and guardians closer together.
One of the biggest challenges dogs face when training is limited mobility. Joint pain can be a big distraction, and long days playing and training can end in soreness later that day and for several days to follow. EcoMobility is a joint and hip complex for dogs that provides real relief. It’s an all-natural, inexpensive, and easy-to-use supplement that ensures our pups get the hip and joint support they need to remain in optimal agile health. Give it a try and see the difference for yourself.
Stay tuned for future dog commands. Have a request? Send us a line on social, or comment here with an idea for a specific command you and your pup would like to learn.
- “The Psychology Behind Positive Reinforcement” AKC
- “Six Facts About How Dogs Think,” Psychology Today
- “Why Punishment Should Be Avoided,” VCA Animal Hospital