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Taking your dog training off lead

Many dog owners are anxious to give their four legged companions the freedom of going off lead, but it is important not to rush that important step.  Dogs should only be allowed off their lead after they have become masters of all the basic obedience commands, such as walking at your heel, sitting and staying on command

Another skill that must be completely mastered before the dog can be taken off the lead is the come when called command.  Even if the dog can heel, sit and stay perfectly, if he cannot be relied upon to come when called, he is not ready to be taken off the lead.

Taking any dog off the lead, especially in a busy, crowded area, or one with a lot of traffic, is a big step and not one to be taken lightly.  It is vital to adequately test your dog in a safe environment before taking him off his lead.  After all, the lead is the main instrument of control.  You must be absolutely certain you can rely on your voice commands for control before removing the lead.

After the dog has been trained to understand the sit, stay and come when called commands, it is important to challenge the dog with various distractions.  It is a good idea to start by introducing other people, other animals, or both, while the dog is in a safe environment like a fenced in garden.  Have a friend or neighbour stand just outside the fence while you hold you dog on the lead.  As the friend or family member walks around the outside of the fence, watch your dog’s reactions closely.  If he starts to pull at the lead, quickly tug him back. 

Repeat this exercise until the dog will reliably remain at your side.  After this, you can try dropping the lead and eventually removing the lead and repeating the distraction.  It is important to vary the distractions, such as introducing other animals, other people, traffic, rolling balls, etc.

After your dog is able to remain still in the face of distraction, start introducing the come when called lessons with distractions in place.  Try inviting some of the neighbours and their dogs, over to play.  As the dogs are playing in the fenced in garden, try calling your dog.  When the dog comes to you, immediately give him lots of praise and perhaps a food reward.  After the dog has been rewarded, immediately allow him to go back to playing.  Repeat this several times throughout the day, making sure each time to reward the dog and immediately allow him to go back to his fun.

After the dog has seemingly mastered coming when called in his own garden, try finding a local dog park or similar area where you can practice with your dog.  It is important to make the area small, or to choose a fenced in area, in case you lose control of the dog.  If you cannot find a fenced in area, choose an area well away from people and cars.  Practice with your dog by allowing him to play with other dogs, or just to sniff around, then calling your dog.  When he comes to you, immediately reward and praise him, then let him resume his previous activities.  Doing this will teach the dog that coming to you is the best option and the one most likely to bring both rewards and continued good times.

Only after the dog has consistently demonstrated the ability to come when called, even when there are many distractions around, is it safe to allow him time off lead.  Off lead time should never be unsupervised time.  It is important, both for your well being and your dog’s, that you know where he is and what he is doing at all times.  It is easy for a dog to get into trouble quickly, so you should always keep an eye on him, whether he is chasing squirrels in the park, playing with other dogs, or just chasing a ball with the neighbours kids.

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Training your puppy – start by winning his respect and confidence

The basis of training any animal is winning its trust, confidence and respect.  True training cannot begin until the animal has accepted you as its leader, respects you and entrusted you with his or her confidence.

The mistake many puppy owners make is mistaking love and affection for respect and confidence.  While it is certainly important to love your new puppy, it is also very important that the puppy respect you and see you as his leader.  Dogs are naturally pack animals and every dog looks to the lead dog for advice and direction. Making yourself the pack leader is vital to the success of training any dog.

Failure to gain the respect of the dog can create a dog who is disobedient, out of control and even dangerous.  Problem dogs are dangerous, whether they are created through bad breeding, owner ignorance or improper training.  It is important to train the dog right from the start, since retraining a problem dog is much more difficult than training a puppy right the first time.

It is important for any new dog owner, whether working with a 12 week old puppy or a twelve year old dog, to immediately get the respect of the animal.  That does not mean using rough or dangerous handling methods, but it does mean letting the dog know that you are in control of the situation.  Dogs need structure in their lives, and they will not resent the owner taking control.  As a matter of fact, the dog will appreciate your taking the role of trainer and coach as you begin your training session.

When working with the dog, it is important to keep the training sessions short at first.  This is particularly important when working with a young puppy, since puppies tend to have much shorter attention spans than older dogs.  Keeping the training sessions short, and fun, is essential for proper training.

Beginning training sessions should focus on the most basic commands.  The heel command is one of the most basic and one of the easiest to teach.  Start by putting the dog or puppy in a properly fitted training collar.  Be sure to follow the instructions for fitting and sizing the color to ensure that it works as intended. 

Begin to walk and allow your dog to walk beside you.  If the dog begins to pull, gently pull on the leash.  This in turn will tighten the training collar and correct the dog.  If the gentle pressure is ineffective, it may be necessary to slowly increase the pressure.  Always be careful to not over-correct the dog.  Using too much pressure could frighten the dog and cause it to strain more.  I the opposite problem occurs and the dog lags behind, the owner should gently encourage it until it is walking beside the owner.

Most dogs figure out the heeling concept fairly rapidly and quickly figure out that they should walk beside their owners, neither lagging behind nor pulling ahead.  Once the dog has mastered heeling at a moderate pace, the owner should slow his or her pace and allow the dog to adjust along with it.  The owner should also speed up the pace and allow the dog to speed up as well.  Finally, walking along and changing pace often will reinforce the lesson that the dog should always walk at the heel of the handler.

From heeling, the next step should be to halt on command.  This halt command works well as an adjunct to heel.  As you are walking, stop and watch you dog.  Many dogs immediately realize that they are expected to stop when their handler does.  Others may need the reminder of the leash and the training collar.

After the halt on command has been mastered, the handler should encourage the dog to sit on command as well.  Once the dog has stopped, the handler gently pushes on the dog’s hindquarters to encourage the sit.  Usually, after this walk, halt, sit procedure has been done a few times, the dog will begin to sit on his own each time he stops.  Of course, it is important to provide great praise, and perhaps even a treat, every time the dog does as he is expected.






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Dog training – dealing with house training issues

The best house training uses the dogs own instincts to avoid soiling its bed to train the dog where and where not to eliminate.  That is the basis behind crate training, in which the dog is confined to its crate in the absence of the owner and den training, in which the dog is confined to a small area of the home.  In essence, the crate, or the room, becomes the dog’s den.  Dogs are naturally very clean animals and they try their best to avoid using their dens as toilets.


This type of training usually works very well, both for puppies and for older dogs.  Problems with this type of toilet training are usually the result of not understanding the signals the dog is sending, not being consistent with feeding times, or trying to rush the process.


While the house training process can be sped up somewhat by consistently praising the dog and rewarding it for toileting in the proper place, some dogs cannot be rushed through this important process.  It is always best to house train the dog properly the first time than to go back and retrain a problem dog.


If the dog continues to soil the den area after house training, the most likely reason is that the owner has left the dog in the den for too long.  Another reason may be that the den area is too large.  In this case, the best strategy is to make the den area smaller or to take the dog to the toilet area more frequently.


If the dog soils the bed that has been provided in the den area, it is most likely because the owner has left the dog there for too long and the dog had an understandable accident.  Or it could be that the dog has not yet adopted this area as the bed.  In addition, urinary tract infections and other medical conditions can also cause dogs to soil their beds.  It is important to have the dog thoroughly checked out by a veterinarian to rule out any medical problems.


One other reason for house training accidents that many people overlook is boredom.  Dogs who are bored often drink large amounts of water and therefore must urinate more frequently than you might think.  If you notice your dog consuming large amounts of water, be sure to take the dog to the established toilet area more often and provide the dog with toys and other distractions to eliminate boredom.


Boredom is the root cause of many dog behavior problems, not only house training issues.  Chewing and other destructive behaviors are also often caused by boredom and separation anxiety.


Other problems with house training can occur when the dog’s den is not properly introduced.  In some cases dogs can react to the den as if it is a prison or a punishment.  Those dogs may exhibit signs of anxiety, such as whining, chewing and excessive barking.  It is important for the dog to feel secure in its den and to think of it as a home and not a cage.


The best way to house train a puppy or dog, or to re-house train a problem dog, is to make yourself aware of the dog’s habits and needs.  Creating a healthy, safe sleeping and play area for your dog, as well as a well defined toilet area, is important for any house training program.


House training is not always an easy process, but it is certainly an important one.  The number one reason that dogs are surrendered to animal shelters is problems with inappropriate elimination, so a well structured house training program can literally be a lifesaver for your dog.