Lessons & Learning

Dog Training 101: Leadership

The Basics of Leadership

When I was in grade school, gym class was a torment. Led by a muscular, energetic man with very little knowledge of what it’s like to be a twelve-year old girl, Mr. Dix (seriously, that was his name) would pick the two best athletes in the class and then let these girls pick their own teams…and woe to the slow, the clumsy and the uncool. As the pool of candidates shrank and the choices got more difficult, Mr. Dix would blow his whistle impatiently and shout “Just pick one!” Thirty years later, I’m still a little mad at Mr. Dix. He was a bad, bad leader.

A good leader or team captain is empathetic, supportive and patient, bringing out the best in everyone. As your dog’s team captain, always be the kind of leader you would want to follow. Don’t be a Mr. Dix.

Use the 5:1 Ratio

Consider your dog’s perspective and be patient as you train her. She doesn’t understand the difference between a stick and a chair leg—wood is wood in her mind. She may think it’s her job to protect you from intruders, even if the “intruder” is your 85-year old great aunt. Try to think like your dog and use training exercises to guide her towards a better way of reacting.

A good team leader encourages more than discourages. Aim for a 5:1 ratio – say GOOD DOG five times for each NO you say. By focusing on good behavior, you make your dog feel good about herself, and she will cooperate more. Use food and toys to motivate your dog early on, but never let these rewards take the place of verbal and physical praise.

Tip: It is important to say your commands once, clearly and firmly. Repeating a direction like “Come” or “Sit” is confusing and delays understanding.

Dog Park Etiquette

Finally, we’re experiencing warm, dry days! It was a long winter and everyone — kids, dogs, puppies and grownups — are itching to get outside. This seems like the perfect time to talk about dog parks.

Dog parks are a great place for dogs and dog lovers. Your dog gets to run around with four-legged friends and you get to hang out with like-minded dog people. To make sure that your visit goes smoothly, follow these basic rules of dog park etiquette.

Follow the Rules. Though each dog park is set up differently, they all have list of rules to ensure everyone enjoys their time at the park. Take the time to read the rules – usually posted at the entrance — and please respect them.

Look Around. Before letting your dog out of the car, look around. Are the dogs getting along? Keep your eyes peeled for the bully—just like a schoolyard, there are always one or two tough guys (or gals) who think it’s fun to terrorize the other kids. A dog park can be unsafe if these poorly socialized dogs are allowed to run free. (continued on next page)

Come Prepared. Most parks have water and poop bags available, but it’s always wise to bring your own supply. Some dogs don’t like to drink out of the communal water bowl, so bring your own water dish, too.

Reinforcements. Bring a supply of food rewards and favorite toys. Offer one whenever your dog returns to you. Your dog may be well behaved at home, but the freedom and fun of a dog park will test his listening skills.

Know When To Go. Some days will be perfect – your dog will meet nice friends, you’ll bond with the other pup parents and your dog will sleep like a log when you get home. Other days, the bullies will be running the park, no one will laugh at your jokes and your dog will throw up in the car. That’s ok. Just leave. And always leave – right away – if any dog (maybe even yours) is being aggressive. While it’s rare, serious dog fights have erupted at dog parks.

For more information, read my article “Know A Good Dog Park?.”

Teaching Your Dog to Walk on a Leash

In the long, intertwined history of people and dogs, the leash and leash walking are relatively new inventions, designed for convenience and safety. Humans walk in straight lines, confident in the belief that they are in charge because they are holding the leash. But restricted, linear walks are unnatural to dogs, who prefer to meander and explore. Dogs pull on the leash in an effort to increase the meandering. Humans pull back to increase the restricting. This combination of pulling away and pulling back puts pressure on the dog’s collar and he starts to choke and feel very, very anxious.* Here are some quick tips to make your walks more pleasant:

* Roaming ahead teaches your dog that he is walking you. He’ll make directional decisions and react to other dogs, people or nuances. Teach your dog to walk with you, not in front of you.

* When walking near roadways or crowds use a hand held or hands free lead. Long or retractable leashes encourage pulling and reactionary behaviors such as barking, lunging and jumping.

* If your dog pulls, consider using a No-pull harness or Head Collar or correction collar to shape cooperative walking skills. Speak to a professional to help you select what might be most appropriate for your dog.

* Use treats and rewards to encourage your dog’s attention. Consider using a clicker to highlight the moments your dog is paying attention to you.

* If a sight or sound distracts your dog do not look at your dog or respond in the moment: stay calm, setting the example by simply ignoring it. Walk faster and encourage your dog to follow you.

Dogs spend a lot of time hanging around the house – it’s safe and comfortable but a bit limiting. Share the world with your dog by learning how to walk together.

*Excerpt from Sarah’s syndicated column on the Bedford-Katonah Patch.

Play Training The Come Command

Come is difficult request: you’re asking your dog to leave something they’re enjoying and return to your side. While some dogs are responsive and prioritize their owner’s request, more act like self-absorbed children. Getting frustrated won’t help: staying positive will. Remember these tips as you begin to work on this command.

* The command “Come” is equivalent to shouting out “Huddle!” The ultimate invitation to reconnect.

* Staring while calling a dog can be confusing. Imagine my calling you to the kitchen in a foreign language: no matter how loudly I spoke or how often I repeated myself it wouldn’t be any more clear if I stood there staring at you.

* Start using the command when your dog approaches you: when he comes for meal, reward or affection say “Come,” and praise him. The command will highlight positive interaction instead of confusing separation.

*Use other words to call dogs to the car or indoors, such as “Car” and “Inside.” Use a treat cup to encourage a positive association.

* Play train this command. A light, happy approach is much more successful and lasting than heavy-handed, domineering, fear-based methods.

* Use a long line if exercising your dog in an unconfined space.

Looking for more Quick Tips on teaching this important command. Refer to Sarah’s Teach Yourself Visually Dog Training book for more on this command and others!