Heather McLeod, President / Owner of RuffSport gives us some great Positive Dog Basic Training Foundations Tips. Heather enjoys, competes in, performs and teaches multiple dog sports including Agility, Dock-Diving, and Disc. She knows that having a solid foundation is key.
I’ve been training Kilo the pug using positive reinforcement techniques. His “sit” and “stay” has become really strong and is helpful during our photoshoots.
Give your puppy the basics of dog training with Heather’s positive reinforcement training tips. Or brush up on your dog’s training foundations to have a stronger recall and more control. We thought it would be useful to revisit some tips we got from a trainer friend when we first started working on the Talent Hounds Documentary 3 years ago.
Positive Reinforcement and Rewards
A solid foundation for training can be built using positive reinforcement or reward based techniques. This technique may include breaking down behaviors into small manageable pieces, and signaling or marking correct behaviors clearly in stages while ignoring behaviors you want to avoid.
Understand your dog’s natural instincts and behaviors, ignore or redirect the bad behavior, reward the good behavior and set your dog up to succeed.
Rewards may include:
play or an activity your dog loves
Clickers and Marker Words
Heather uses a clicker or “yes” marker verbal cue at a precise moment to signal the correct behavior then rewards the dog immediately to reinforce it.
I use a verbal “yes” marker with Kilo the Pug. You can discourage bad behavior you do not want, simply by ignoring it and “fading it out”. Dogs are clever and usually want to please, so they will catch on if you make things clear- “ if I do this, I get that!”
Heather’s Foundations for Training
The goal of these basic training tips is to have your dog do simple commands with simple cues. Heather’s techniques require patience, time and commitment from the handler, but the fun in getting there and the excitement when everything comes together are worth it. Have play sessions in-between your short working sessions to build excitement for the behavior of ‘sitting’ and keep things positive and fun.
How To Train Your Dog To “Sit” On Command
When the dog is next to you, start by capturing the moment the dog attempts to lower his or her butt. You want to wait for the dog performs the behavior. Then say the marker word “sit” and/or click and reward quickly and efficiently each time.
Be sure to only reward for a “sit” and not any other action or else your dog can become confused. The baby steps towards a “sit” might be, backing up, head tilt up and butt movement downward. Remember to hold the reward in the right position to build your picture of “sit”.
Once the dog understands the behavior 90% of the time, start naming the behavior while doing it. The dog will start to associate the behavior and the name. Then introduce the “sit” cue and if the dog sits, it has understood.
You can practice a simple “sit” anywhere in your dog’s day. Try it before crossing the street, which prevents your dog from bolting out onto the road or before receiving dinner or going out for a walk. After a while, your dog will know the cue and offer do it automatically because it is so rewarding.
I use “Sit” to distract or focus Kilo any time he gets anxious or starts badgering me to play. He loves showing off his Sit to people on the street or anytime really. It is very handy for getting him to pose for photos. He now does Zoolander-like sits whenever he sees a camera or phone.
Once you’ve attained a reliable “Sit”, you will need to work on a Release Cue!
Teaching Your Dog Commands Through Play
It may seem silly to have to teach your dog how to play, but it is a great opportunity to build the bond between you and to teach them more commands. Playing can bring out their natural instincts to chase, tug, pull and chew. It also creates that special human-animal bond because of the interaction. The goal is to establish HOW to play with your dog and making it Fun and not intimidating.
Training through play also tells them when it’s okay to tug and chew things. You can alter the toy you play with based on your dog’s individual needs. You want to begin by playing with your dog and the toy, encouraging the dog to chase, chew and tug the toy and cueing the words “get it”.
The “Drop it” or “Out” cue, is just another behaviour that needs to be built through a shaping process of properly timed reinforcement. Get the dog interested in and playing with the toy in its mouth then hold a treat to the nose, if the dog does not drop the toy (the “Out”) immediately, you may need a higher value treat.
When your dog drops it you “click”, reward and praise. Repeat this until your dog drops/outs the toy as soon as your hand moves in. Then move onto the verbal cue once the dog is doing it 90% of the time. Soon your dog will “Drop it or “Out”” and “Get it” as soon as the cue is given.
Once the “Drop it/Out” and “Get it” cue is trained you can start playing games where your dog retrieves the toy. When building a retrieve, you want to build the desire to bring the toy back to you to tug and play or throw it again. Practice and your dog will be on its way to more difficult tricks and behaviours in no time!
When building a retrieve, you want to build the desire to bring the toy back to you to tug and play or throw it again. Practice and your dog will be on its way to more difficult tricks and behaviours in no time!
Commands like “Bring it” can be taught as cues as well and come in handy when your pooch gets ahold of something you don’t necessarily want them to have. We’ve all heard of the “dog ate my homework” or those new heels you just bought. Kilo restyled a beautiful pair of shoes of mine recently – didn’t need those fancy bows anyway.
Instead of making a big deal and causing confusion to the dog (who thinks everything’s a toy) simply use the cues! Your dog should bring and drop/out whatever they have with a simple command and reward. I have to say that teaching Kilo to “Bring it” or “Drop” on command has been very challenging. However knowing to trade things he shouldn’t have for high-value treats has been invaluable. He sometimes aggressively resource guards, so it keeps everyone safe.
Playing tug with a favorite toy can become a reward for further behaviors in Agility and even Police work.
“It’s Yer Choice” – Control and Focus.
This Game was introduced to Heather at a course at Say Yes. It is based on Self control. You want your dog to be able to choose to resist something, however appetizing or fun it looks.
Begin with the dog in front of you and place his/her favorite treats in your palm at their nose. Make sure your dog is aware of the treats and simply reward your dog for choosing to back away to get a reward. Build the behavior first with treats from the opposing hand quickly moving to the one hand. Praise and reward your dog with a piece of the treats from your hand for resisting the temptation. Placement of the reward is key.
After your dog repeats this 80-90% of the time begin to teach their release cue “OK” ( Free or Break) by allowing them to take the treat that’s left. Eventually, you would like to see the dog to sit and wait for the release command to get the treat. There are no “Leave it” cue’s. They are the one making the decision.
Test your dog by lowering and then placing the treats on the floor, and slowly moving them closer. As long as your dog resists the temptation to get the treats, praise, and reward!
I practice this with Kilo but he generally does need a “Wait” cue. He is just too food motivated to make the decision to leave a treat on his own (or even a dirty tissue).
It is a constant process of positive reinforcements, using the “clicker and or “Yes ” marker word to train your dog happily.
But in the end, you will have a calmer, more relaxed dog who knows what you want when you want it. There is no need for yelling, scolding or physical punishment. Pats, hugs, and kisses when it comes to training!
There is no need for yelling, scolding or physical punishment. Pats, hugs, and kisses when it comes to training!
Watch videos of some of Heather’s own dogs and her team and students on our YouTube Channel.
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I am Susan Nation - I manage the community. Kilo the cute little Black Rescue Pug is my sidekick and inspiration. Please join our community. Contact us if you have content, tips or resources to share.