Teaching the Six Basic Commands


Sit


The Sit command is a good place to start your training. Initially, start
your training in an area that’s familiar to your dog, and free of distraction.
Once your dog has the basic command mastered, you can move him to a
more challenging area that’s less familiar, and combine this command
with the heel command.


To start, with your dog standing directly in front of you, have a small,
tasty treat in your hand. Now simply put your hand – the one with the treat
– a few inches from your dog’s nose and move your hand up and over the
back of his head, keeping your hand just a few inches away. Your dog will
follow the treat with his head, and his tail end will end up on the ground in
a sit. As soon as his behind makes contact with the ground, give him the
treat and praise him.


Repeat this step a few times. Then, add the command. Just before you
begin to move your hand, say “sit.” Immediately move your hand as
before, and give your dog lavish praise (and the treat) as soon as his back
quarters make contact with the ground. Soon, your dog will be trained to
respond to this command without the treat.


Once your dog has mastered “sit” in a familiar area, try it in more
challenging areas, such as in your front yard or at a park. It’s important
that your dog knows to respond to the “sit” command at all times and in
any place. Once mastered, you can combine the “sit” command with your
work in teaching your dog the next command – to heel.

Heel


If you want to enjoy walking with your dog on a leash, training in how to
heel is essential. It’s pathetic to watch a dog owner dragged down the
street by a large dog that’s ignoring its owner’s pleas to stop, slow down,
behave. It’s equally unpleasant to see owners having to drag a reluctant
dog that’s trying to lag behind. A well-behaved, well-trained dog will
walk at your side, with its head generally in line with your knee – ready to
respond when he senses you are slowing down, speeding up or turning.


In training to heel, use a training collar, and remember the dog’s nose
should generally be in line with your knee. When you begin to walk with
your dog on the leash, if he gets ahead of you, gently tug on the leash.
When you do, the training collar will tighten and gently remind the dog to
fall back, keeping his nose in line with your knee.


If your dog falls behind you, gently urge him forward. You might try
holding out a toy to lure him.


In the early stages of training, keep a steady pace. Once your dog has
begun to master the heel and is walking at your side, his nose in line with
your knee, try varying the pace so he can practice aligning his pace with
yours. Remember: never adjust your pace to match the pace of your dog.
It’s his job to match your pace.


You can further this training by combining the “sit” command, and by
challenging your dog to follow properly when you turn and go in other
directions. These approaches will teach your dog to always watch for
where you want to go, anticipate your movements, and accompany you
smoothly and easily.

Good dog!
To combine the heel training with “sit,” as you are walking with your dog,
stop abruptly. If your dog doesn’t stop when you stop, just give a slightly
sharp tug on the leash to remind your dog.


Once the dog has stopped by your side, give the “sit” command and urge
him to sit by placing your hand on his hindquarters and pushing gently.
Remember – don’t use too much pressure, and push steadily and slowly,
rather than abruptly.


As with all the training, repeat, repeat, repeat, with consistency and
patience, until your dog responds as you want. You’ll know your training
is having the desired effect when you stop and your dog sits on his own,
automatically, without the command.

Giving the “No” Command


It’s imperative your dog know and respond to the word “no” promptly.
This command will help avoid confusion about what behaviors you want,
and what behaviors you don’t.


“No” helps you tell your dog that he isn’t doing what you want – it
identifies unwanted behavior. Timing is important – say “no” clearly and a
bit sharply immediately when your dog does something you don’t want.
Then follow with an action, such as removing the treat or pulling a bit on
the leash. Note: your instinct may be to perform the action, then say “no.”
Reversing that – saying “no,” and then performing the action – will get a
better response and train your dog to respond to “no” more quickly.

The “Stay” Command


The “stay” command is another command that will lay the groundwork for
more complex, advanced training, so it’s important your dog masters this
command.


Choose a time when your dog is relaxed and not too energetic (a walk
before you teach this command may give your dog a good attitude toward
the training).


You should have already mastered the “sit” command. Place your dog in a
sit, and slowly begin to back away from him, holding the leash loosely.
Your dog wants to be with you, and his instinct will probably be to stand
and begin to follow you. When he does, return to him and again ask him
to sit – then again, begin to back away.


As you repeat this process, your dog will begin to understand and will stay
seated as you back away. Once your dog has mastered this step, you can
move on to dropping the leash as you back away.

Then drop it, and back further away. It’s natural for your dog to become distracted, stand and begin to move. As always in this training, just remain patient, consistent, and lavish with praise when your dog performs well. He’ll get there.

It’s a great feeling when you can put your dog in a “stay,” move far away, and know he’ll stay put. When that happens, lavish the praise, and give
yourself a pat on the back, too.

The “Down” command


Teaching your dog the “down” command gives you the ability to keep him
in one place. This command may take a bit longer, and a bit more
patience, to teach, but it is useful helping your dog calm down when
stressed and putting him in a position that will let others feel comfortable
meeting and petting him.


Start with a treat in your hand, and your dog sitting or standing. Bend, let
your dog briefly smell the treat, and begin to lower the treat to the floor.
Say “down” as your dog begins to lower himself to the floor. Once he’s all
the way on the floor, you should have the treat between his paws. Give it
to him – but only after he’s all the way down on the floor. Then give
praise.


Once your dog has mastered “down,” combine it with “stay” to give you
the ability to put your dog in a down position and know he will stay there.
One note: be sensitive to the surface your dog is on. Don’t ask him to do
“down” and “stay” on a hot or gravelly surface.

The “Off” command


The “off’ command is a lesser-known command that is useful in training a
dog not to chase cars, bikes, people or cats.


Bicycle riders will tell you how annoying – and frightening – it is when a
dog chases them. And, your dog’s instinct may be to chase – but that’s
what training is for. If your dog responds when he sees a bicyclist, cat, or
other moving object, and begins to strain at the leash, simply say “off” and
tug at the leash. With time and patience – and lavish praise for good
behavior – your dog will learn to respond to the command, without the
accompanying tug on the leash.


If you’ve completed this training and you and your dog have mastered
these six commands, congratulations! You’ve made a great start in having
a dog that’s a loving and pleasant companion. But even more, you’ve done
a great deal to strengthen the bond you have with your dog and reinforce
your position as the pack leader. It may surprise you to know that a dog
trained in obedience is a happier, more stable dog. Dogs are pack animals,
and training supports your dog’s need to know who the pack leader is, and
trust them. So establishing yourself as pack leader means your dog will
respond to your commands – and feel safe and secure in knowing he
knows what’s expected of him.


And consider the other advantages of this training. Your dog got exercise
(good for him and you too, most likely!). He feels accomplished and more
confident because you asked many things of him and he was able to
comply. Essentially, you’ve given him work to do – as he’s been bred to
do for hundreds of years. Dogs were bred to herd, guard and protect. More
often today, your dog is not a working animal so much as a companion
animal – but the instinct and need to do work is still present for him, and
this training helped satisfy that. You’ve given him something to do, and
that goes a long way toward offsetting bad or neurotic behavior.


This training and the training you’ll continue to do as you make your way
through this book will engage his mind and body. That’s an especially
important accomplishment for high-energy breeds, like Germa Shepherds.

All dogs, but high energy dogs in particular, need a place to put their extra energy, in a way that also brings them – and you enjoyment.


The next chapters will look at various approaches to dog training, and help
you choose the approach that’s right for you and your dog.