It’s not true what they say…you can teach an old dog new tricks! If you haven’t trained already trained your dog with commands, what’s the point now that he’s two? Five? Ten!?
The reality is, certain commands and’t just nice-to-haves, they can actually save your dog’s life. We talked to our friend John Woods, founder of All Things Dogs, and member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers about which life-saving commands are most important. Here’s what John had to say:
Explains John, “Heel is the command we use to ask our dogs to walk closely to us.” He says it’s helpful for older dogs to help us monitor their interactions with other dogs. Senior dogs can be a little more anti-social with other dogs, so the heel command can help head-off potential confrontations.
How can you train your dog to heel? Says John, “It helps to have a treat bag on your hip for this one, but failing that, simply a pocket full of treats.” He explains that goal is to help your dog learn that close to you is actually a great place to be.
“Lure him towards your treat pocket so he knows that’s where the good things are,” says John. “Once he’s realized, he’ll pay a lot of attention to it. This means, he’ll stay close.” John says to reward him regularly with treats for staying close by initially.
As he stays close, verbally label the behavior, “heel!” Over time, you can start “variable treating,” which means vary when you reward with treats. The point is, your dog can’t predict when the treat is coming so he must stay close, just in case.
This command is helpful if you are walking towards traffic or hiking in the woods and you need your dog to stop exactly where he is.
To train it, encourage your dog to come towards you. As he does, throw treats towards him and just behind him. He will stop to eat them. When he does this, verbally label the behavior “Stop.” Repeat.
Says John, “You want to get to the stage that you can then call the command, he stops, and then you reward.” Some owners train “sit” or “down” in addition to “stop”, but this is personal preference.
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Explains John, “This is the command you want in your arsenal if you have a scavenging dog!”
Consider that you’re walking along the sidewalk or even through the woods, and your dog is showing interest in leftover take-out or a dead carcass on the rocks. To train him, hold a treat in your closed hand. Your dog will likely show interest, but don’t give him the treat! As soon as he turns away or shows disinterest, give him the treat. Repeat.
“You want him to learn that if he ignores something, something good happens anyway,” says John. Repeat the process and verbally label the behavior as he is “leaving” the scene.
“Recall is the absolute most important command for any dog,” admits John. “It can quite literally save his life.”
To teach, start with your dog in front of you as you begin to walk backwards. Lure him towards you with a treat or toy. As he follows you (and the treat!), label the behavior as “come!”
John suggests that you can, “Act excited or jovial if he seems disinterested. Stop and reward him.” Over time, progress to asking a helper to hold his collar while you call his name from a few feet away. Again, lure him with treats then reward him as soon as he gets to you. As he progresses, you can add in distractions, including other people or animals. Says John, “Always reward a successful recall! You never know when you’ll really need it.”
Need more expert advice? It might be time for a house call.