This is the latest from guest columnist, Melissa, who is a Pet-ology Expert and In-home Dog Trainer at Le Chic Pet in Issaquah. To get more training tips visit the LeChic website.
During a recent lesson with a new dog training client I was asked “What commands should a dog know?” It honestly threw me for a loop. See I’ve never thought of the words I teach my dog to be universal. I teach her the things I feel she needs to know to exist comfortably in the world I’ve created for her and me. Those words are not the same for every dog owner.
I’ll admit this dog (watch video here) made me feel a bit inadequate about her vocabulary. Chaser is a Border Collie with a vocabulary of over a 1,000 words. That’s right 1,000. Upon hearing about this super dog I counted and Lola has about 30 words and a couple of phrases. It’s enough for us, although I’m sure my sweet dog could learn 2,000 if we tried…sniff.
There are some things she doesn’t know. For instance I never taught her Loose Leash Walking – she pulls like a seventeen pound freight train. For me it was more useful to put her on a flexi lead and let her go back and forth and side to side to her heart’s content. I walked two miles; she walked six. This was very helpful in exercising an enthusiastic terrier puppy. She wasn’t ever going to pull me down so we were cool. Now had she been an enthusiastic Lab, well we may have trained that all important command.
As it stands she knows far less than Chaser but enough to make our lives easier. These are my favorites…
- Stop! I think this would be the command I use most often with Lola. We live on a very long dirt road and at this point she is frequently off leash. I use Stop if I feel she is getting just a little too far away from me or if she is getting close to a driveway where a car could be coming. I say it and she stops dead in her tracks. Generally she turns, looks at me and stomps her little furry feet impatiently while she waits for me to release her with okay. I trained this command on leash until I was 99% sure she knew what it meant.
- Okay is paired with many of her commands. It just signals the end to whatever behavior she was doing. It is called a release word or marker.
- With me, is our variation on come and heel. It means simply get your furry dog butt over and hang out on my left side. Since she is loose so much of the time I find it useful to be able to call her back if I see something potentially dangerous that I need her to come away from, like an unfamiliar animal or a car on the road. I trained this command in a large field with a pocket full of hotdogs. Expert trainer tip, dogs love hot dogs.
- Sit, oh so pedestrian but oh so helpful. Before we set off on this trainer career path Lola and I had a home decor store we managed. Okay, she wasn’t supposed to be there but no one really seemed to mind. Lola had her fans that would come in just to see her. Some encouraged her to put her tiny paws up so she could be scratched, some didn’t want a dog jumping on them. Oh so confusing for a little dog. The end result of this confusion is that she still tends to greet folks by jumping up. Fortunately for us sit is so well ingrained that I can use that alternate behavior to keep her down when people would prefer it.
- Go Potty, a seemingly trite command that is oh so useful in this climate. Any Washingtonian will tell you a dog that will eliminate immediately on command is worth its weight in dog bones. Less time spent in pouring rain waiting for poop to happen is a very good thing. I accomplished this by waiting until I knew she really, really needed to go, taking her out and giving the command just as she squatted. Practice made perfect and now she will go on command…Priceless.
These are my favorite commands, but you may have completely different needs for your dog. Large dogs may need to know how to Drop It to help with their ball playing skills or to Down to avoid counter surfing. A very food motivated dog may need a really solid Stay to keep him away from the table at dinner. You may decide, after all, to try to dethrone Chaser from his “Worlds Smartest Dog” title, that’s okay too.
The more words you have, the better you and your dog can communicate – and the happier you’ll be.