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The Use and Enforcement of Training Commands

Bill Gibson

dog training

Before you start your pup’s training, the first thing you need to do is to decide what voice and whistle commands you will be using.  Whatever commands you choose, you must at all times use the commands in a consistent and repetitive manner.
As an example, if you decide to use the word “sit” and as pup progresses, transition to one blow on the whistle for “sit,” you should always use these commands.  Don’t repeat the “sit” command two, three, four, five or six times.  When you are nagging by giving the command more than once, do you want the pup to sit on the first, second, third, fourth, fifth or sixth command?
The answer is simple; you want pup to sit on the first command.  So give the command one time and stay quiet until the pup responds.
Likewise, once transitioned to the “sit” command using one blow of the whistle, don’t blow the whistle one time for “sit” and then the next time blow the whistle more than one time for “sit,” because these mixed signals only serve to confuse the dog and when confused, the dog is not learning anything.  So be consistent, and you and your dog will be better off for it.
Here at GameKeeper Kennels, we use feeding time, to teach our pups to sit and to stay seated until we place their food bowl down and then releasing him to eat by saying “OK.”  Using this methodology, we teach the pup to sit at an early age and at the same time lay the foundation for building steadiness by not letting the pup eat until we say it’s time.
dog retrieveNext, we gradually extend the time frame between the “sit” command and saying “OK” until our pups remain seated for an extended period of time.   How do we accomplish this?  We enter the pup’s kennel with his food bowl in hand, hold the food bowl up, tell the pup sit and after pup sits, we gradually lower the food bowl.  If the pup starts to stand up, we raise the food bowl and repeat the “sit” command.  When the pup stays seated we put the food bowl down and then tell the pup “OK.”  By training your puppy to sit and wait at this early age, the pup will have a head start when it’s time to start his formal training.
By the time your pup is six months old, you should have the command “sit” firmly entrenched in the their mind, and at feeding time they should now be sitting and staying until you release them by saying “OK.”  

What problems might you encounter down the road?  Let’s move onto formal training where you will be reinforcing the “sit” command and introducing the “stay” command.
With the pup sitting, back away from him. If he moves toward you, and you ignore the movement and by choice take no corrective action, what have you done?  This simple mistake of wittingly or unwittingly “not correcting” the dog for moving has introduced an inconsistency into your puppy’s training.

Instead, you should have made an immediate corrective action by lifting the pup’s front legs off the ground and returning him to the exact spot where he was sitting, give the voice command “sit,” and then back away again.  It may take two or three tries, but in short order, your puppy should understand that “sit” means “sit.”  There are many other examples that may be sending mixed messages to your dog and these potential pitfalls should be avoided.  One of these is the “stay” command.  First let’s differentiate between the “sit” command and the “stay” command.  The “sit” command means sit until I command you to do something else.  Thus, from the remote sit position, you can recall the pup, remote cast the pup to the right, remote cast the pup to the left or cast him back.
Whereas, when you leave your pup and command “stay” you must return to the pup’s side and then cast him in the desired direction by first realigning him so that his tail, spine and head are pointed in the direction of the retrieve.
You should never remotely send your pup on a retrieve or recall him to you from the stay position. To send pup on a remote cast or recall him from the “stay” position will adversely affect his steadiness.  A dog that is not steady in the blind can wreak havoc and create a potentially dangerous situation by knocking over guns or by breaking on gunfire and possibly exposing himself to gunfire while attempting to make the retrieve.  Again, just remember that “sit” means “sit” until another command is given and “stay” means “stay” until you return and give a command.

Further down the training road you will want to train your pup to sit on the whistle at a distance.  Assuming that your pup has been taught to “sit” at feeding and this behavior has been transitioned to sitting on a whistle while walking at heel, it should be an easy transition to sitting on the whistle at a distance.  

Two of the training exercises that we use to get pup to sit at a distance are (1) training to sit on the whistle while playing and (2) the pull-push drill.  The first is accomplished while out playing with the pup.  When they are several yards from you blow the whistle while holding your arm and hand out in the traffic cop “stop” position. Pup should quickly learn to stop and sit at a distance when he hears the whistle and sees the hand and arm position.
dog swimmingThe second method, the pull-push drill will build on this foundation.  To use the pull-push command, start by having the pup sit. Then back away about ten yards or so, throw a dummy over his head and about 10 yards behind him.  Blow the recall whistle-three or four blows on the whistle.  Upon hearing the recall whistle, the pup should come to you and when he is about half way back, hold your hand and arm out in the cop “stop” position and blow the “sit” whistle, they should sit. After the pup sits, hold your arm straight up and give him a “back” command to send him back for the dummy.  In short order, pup should quickly understand the drill.  Use of the pull–push drill is not singular in purpose; instead, it reinforces steadiness, the sit command, and the here command, and introduces the pup to the back command.

Remember, to avoid mixed messages and the resulting confusion, everyone in your family or anyone having contact with your pup should be made familiar with what is expected of them when engaging in any activity with pup.  Likewise, everyone coming in contact with the pup should be following the rules and the verbal and/or whistle commands established by you.
For example, you have your pup sitting on the whistle and steady to thrown bumpers and one of your family members, or for that matter, someone you know is throwing multiple bumpers without requiring the pup to be steady. By repeating this worthless exercise over and over again, this person is most assuredly introducing inconsistencies into your training program that are negatively impacting basic obedience commands and steadiness.
The results will show as you try to move forward with the dog’s training.  When scenarios like this are allowed to continue over a few days or weeks these unwanted behaviors can become conditioned habits that can be suppressed in the short term, but will likely resurface over the long haul and are virtually impossible to completely eliminate.

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