George started training classes on Monday, and I have been thinking about what would be the 5 Essential Commands to teach your Dog. I am in no way an expert and I'm not a trainer, but these are the 5 that I believe to be the most essential from my 14 years of experience of having whippets. I only use reward training, and absolutely believe it is never appropriate to punish your dog. If your dog does something wrong, the most effective way to deal with it is to ignore your dog for a short amount of time, this is all the discouragement you will need, especially with a whippet who’s goal in life is to please you and make you happy.
This is probably the most basic of commands and one of the easiest to teach. George had already worked out that when he sits and looks cute he gets attention or a treat before we even got him home, so this one has been easy, but we do it every day and in different places and times, and at 5 months old now he is much more distracted, so I am stepping up the training of the sit.
Teaching this to a food motivated puppy is so easy, Bruno was and George is. Frankie was untrained and 9 months old when we took her into our home, and even teaching this basic command was harder, but she got it with the use of roast chicken and sausage!
All you have to do is hold the tasty morsel in your hand, show your dog you have it, and move it towards them; they will naturally back up and sit. When they have done this a couple of times introduce the word SIT, and if you want to add a hand signal this is the time. Practice frequently, your dog will love it and get to know the word and or hand signal. You can do it a meal times, in the garden, on walks, and then you will be able to make them sit for toys, or just on command – it won’t take long for a willing pup to get the hang of it!
Why is this command essential? Imagine this scenario, you have friends over and in excitement your dog is jumping up, and running around. Would it not be better for all if you could get your dog into the sit position, distracted by treats, and being calm? Giving your dog focus on you and not the guests or the jumping up behavior – something you need to train your dog not to do, but guests will often not give the dog the same command for this leading to confusion!
Otherwise known as recall. Very important! Now, any owner of a wayward hound who is off chasing squirrels will know how hard it is to get your dog to return to you at this time, but in general to have good recall is essential, so that you can have control of when your dog is off lead. We meet lots of dogs on our walks and George likes to greet them, but we don’t really want him going off with them, so it is essential that when we call him, he comes.
Bruno’s recall was so good that on the odd occasion he didn’t come back we knew something was wrong. Luckily Frankie always came back and would lead us to him.
You can practice this all around the house and in the garden, so that your dog really knows his name. When you call your dog and he comes back give him praise or a treat, and touch him, give him fuss, you want him to want to come back to you. Practice when you are out of sight. Then call when your are outside and the dog is inside, hide behind trees and call on walks, just do it often. Some people use a long lead, which is good for a rescue dog, or one you aren't sure will come back reliably. George is of an age when he doesn't want us out of sight, so it has been quite easy to now, but when he discovers squirrels and rabbits......well, I will keep you posted on that one!
Why is it essential? The main purpose is that your dog comes to you in every situation and you don’t get separated from each other. There will also be times where you see someone approaching with a dog on the lead. This could be because the dog is elderly, nervous, injured, or aggressive, but whatever reason it is good practice to put your dog back on the lead and not let him run up to the dog approaching you. So knowing that that your dog will come to you when called, to have the lead put on, is essential. You might be tight for time on a walk, if your dog doesn’t come when called you could be consistently standing in a cold field stressing about how late you are likely to be! And let's face it, we have all seen those poor people standing waiting for their dog to return in their own good time!
This is another very useful command. It can avoid your dog eating all manner of unwanted items and stop them thieving from your coffee table. If your dog has a penchant for eating other animal’s poo, this command can avoid that! Bruno loved dried rabbit droppings, which caused him no harm, but I drew the line at a wet cow pat!
The way I have taught this is to hold a piece of food in the palm of my hand and close around it, but having shown the dog that I have something tasty in there. He will sniff, lick and try and get at the food, but when he gives up and backs away, give the treat to reward that he has left it. Repeat and repeat, and when your dog is backing away and not trying to get at it start to use the word LEAVE. They do pick this up very quickly, and your will be able to hold the treat in an open hand before you know it! George is getting very good at this! I try and do this for 5 minutes a couple of times a day.
Why is it essential? It can stop your dog from eating something that might harm them. Image it is Christmas, you have people round, and someone drops a mince pie on the floor. If you are able to tell your dog to LEAVE they will not eat the mince pie that is full of danger to them.
I see so many people out with their dogs being pulled along by them – this is not good for the dog or the owner, and with some work and the use of treats it is easy to train your dog to walk beside you with no pulling on the lead. Bruno was so well trained that he would walk beside me reliably without a lead, he just had to believe I had food in my hand!
Teaching your dog to walk to heel, can take time and patience, but it is really worth persevering. I am teaching George with the use of chicken – it needs to be something soft that can be eaten while walking. I show him the treat and we start to walk, he is looking up at the treat, and so wants to stay close, I reward him frequently and have now started to say heel when he is walking without pulling. He is getting the hang of it. It is the easy option to let him pull, which is why so many people give up.
Frankie was a nightmare to train because she was an exuberant 9 month old who had never been taken for a lead walk. On the advice of a trainer we used a Gentle Leader for her, until she got the hang of it, and it worked really well.
Why is it essential? For the safety of you and your dog. If your dog is pulling, he will be straining his neck, or harness and this can cause injury. Also if your dog pulls he could pull you onto a road, make you trip, the list is endless. So teaching your dog to walk beside you will mean less stressful and safer walks, in town and country.
This, for me is one of the most important because if you can get your dog to WAIT it might just save them from danger.
When Frankie was just 3 she ran off across a lane without us realising, and when we called her – she came but it was into the path of a car coming up the lane. We had not taught her the WAIT command. If we had she might have just stopped in time for the car to pass, but sadly she didn’t. She was hit, and smashed her pelvis into many pieces. Luckily for us our local orthopaedic vet was Noel Fitzpatrick who saved her life, and put her back together. It took a year of TLC and rehab before she would go off lead and run again, but we taught her that WAIT command until it was 100% reliable. It is surprising how often you might need to use it!
This command has been perfected by Kerry Jordan who takes our product images, she manages to get her whippets to reliably WAIT to have a photo taken! They know that when the camera shutter clicks they get a reward!
Why this is essential? – you might live near a main road, so telling your dog to wait when you open the door will avoid him bolting out into potential danger. It is also useful when you open the car boot to get your dog out, telling him to WAIT will give you time to put the lead on, and be in control.
I have always been a fan of Victoria Stilwell and she has a fantastic website with great training videos that will show you how to train these important commands - she only ever uses reward training, and it worked for Frankie and Bruno and so far it is working for George. For this one the information on her website is far better than I can jot down here! It takes a lot of time and effort but in my experience it is SO worth it.
THE most important thing is to have FUN!! make it great for your dog and he will reward you over and over again.
Your can find LOADS of great videos on how to train your dog at Victoria Stilwells website - www.positively.com
You can book a session to have your dog photographed with Kerry Jordan at - www.whippetsnippets.co.uk