Basic Training: First Steps



Every dog should know where boundaries are. Even the most spoilt ones should respect their owners and obey three basic commands: sit, stay and come here.

One of the biggest mistakes we owners do is the over use of words when working with dogs.

Commands have to be short, firm and simple, and need to have been learnt beforehand with a strong foundation. Less is more here.


Big and high-energy dogs have the reputation of being the most difficult ones to teach, but this doesn’t have actually to be the rule. Small dogs, besides, usually enjoy more of our indulgence, as they appear to us les fierce and defenceless, comparing to big ones, but they can be as stubborn and difficult as anyone can.

However, both small and big ones can become a huge problem if they are not kept under control. Barking, biting, crazy-running, furniture-destroying and other nasty behaviours may get too many enemies to your furry friend and this is not a nice thing to live with. 

Once you have a dog that is gentle, obedient, and knows how to please everyone, you’ll enjoy a good friend that will fill your days with pleasant and happy moments. And every time you teach your dog a new thing, learning process will be shorter and shorter. You’ll then get addicted to teach him or her more tricks.

But your have to start with the basic. And bear in mind that every dog is different, and that although the breed determines most of the animal traits, it doesn’t have the last word of the dog’s temperament and behaviour. You do.


When to start?

It’s never late to start learning, no matter species, genre, age, nothing. It never is.

Although starting when puppies, of course, will get you to a lot faster results than going with a dog that already has his or her story (and they cannot even tell you that story!), you can get to the same respectable point than anyone. It’s a matter of time, effort and love.

Don’t be afraid, you’ll get there. And most important, don’t get desperate or lose hope. Every day is different and dogs can have a bad day too, even when people say they’ll always cheer you with the same enthusiasm, it doesn’t mean they have the same exact disposition every day to learn or obey. It can take months and years, depending on the task, to get to some places… don’t give up. Ten minutes each day, and you’re even allowed to rest on Sundays, will do. There’s no magical or 2 minutes solution. Whoever tells you this, is not telling the truth, sorry. It takes time. The same with children (although, once mature enough at the incumbent task, the response of your dog will always be the same. With people, you’ll never know).

  Amazing pic by Piscila Du Preez


How to start?

If you can afford it and you don’t mind not being the one who teaches basic things to your puppy, you can get a professional to do it. That’s perfect if you want to. But if you want to do it yourself, “let’s start from the very beginning”…

What will I need at the beginning?

For starters, you’ll need the dog’s collar, the leash, and some very small and soft treats. Later on I’ll tell you what to add when things start getting complicated. When I say very small treats, I mean small. The size of kibble is OK, but smaller will actually do better. There are plenty of treats in the marketplace that can be small. If they are not, I strongly recommend you to break them down into smaller pieces, no more than half centimetre of diameter. The reason you should not use a large one, like a stick, long-chewable thing, is that attention span for dogs is very short when they’re learning. If you reward them because they did something good, and the dog spends more than two seconds enjoying the treat, it will distract her or him from the next exercise and this will reduce the discipline and therefore power you’re gaining on the session; you really need to keep up the momentum.

Also, when using treats as rewards, please bear in mind they don’t have the purpose of feeding your dog, but to create a positive experience that the puppy will associate with pleasing you (in the long run you’ll quit the treats altogether). So in this case again, less is more.

First thing: walking.

Walking your dog may not be the easy task you can see as a normal scene in the street. If your dog already does this without pulling and biting the leash, fantastic! Skip this step.

However, if your little friend still doesn’t, you’re in for probably hours of training.


First step: make your dog look at you.

How to do this? Just take a treat, make sure he or she knows it’s a treat (you can get it close to their nose so they can get interested in it), say the dog’s name, and take the treat to your face, in the middle of your eyes, so your dog can look you in the eye. Once the dog has done this, you can give the cookie to him or her. Repeat this 5 times, rest five minutes, and repeat five more times. Rest another five minutes, repeat five times, and play with your dog. The reason we do this is because the dog will need to learn to look at your face for instructions. Some dogs do this really naturally, but other, especially the elder ones that never have been trained, don’t. And you need to get their interest and attention. You should get results in this exercise on the first day. However, if not, don’t worry, keep it up. You may need to do it three times a day, as this is fundamental and needs to produce the reaction you want right after you start doing this. After three repetitions doing this exercise, do it only with your bare hands, not cookies included, as you want them to pay attention to you and not the treats. Your dog should have learnt in less than 3 days this, but if not, keep it up until it does. It will.

Start simple: Luring.

Leash your dog indoors first. Take a treat, either at your left or right hand (wherever you want your dog to be at). For the purpose of these training lessons, I’ll always refer to my left side. The reason most trainers do this is because theoretically it frees your right hand up, but it’s not necessarily a must. Now, placing the treat as close as you can to your knee, give it 4-5 steps, ensuring your dog is smelling (even licking) the treat that is in your hand, keeping walking really close to you, and release the treat for him or her at the 5’th or 6’th step. Repeat this for about 5 mins indoors, take several turns, and then, go outside. The reason you make your dog walk beside you with the treat is because they have to carve in their minds that being close to you is always a positive experience, and especially walking close to you. Once you go outside, it can be a bit distracted and not do the exercise well. Don’t worry, it’ll come round. Give him or her another 10 mins with this (watch out for your back as if you don’t take care it will ache and can even cause you a serious injury), and then do your normal walk. More on the next chapter!

Happy reading, love your dog and take care!

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