Puppy Training – Come,Stay and Heel Commands
The “Come” Command
The Come command is probably the most important obedience command you will ever teach your puppy or older dog. At some point in time you will no doubt rely on it to guide your dog away from serious danger.
Apart from being essential for safety reasons, when your dog has mastered the dog training “come” command he/she can be allowed greater freedom in many situations. Like when you are down at the beach or out hiking your dog can go off exploring on him own but will always be alert and ready to respond to your come command.
This gives you peace of mind and is very reassuring.
Your ultimate goal when teaching the dog training come command (sometimes called recall) is to receive an immediate response from your dog upon hearing your command, every time, regardless of what else is happening in the area at that time.
Let’s not kid ourselves though, this type of response is not always easy to achieve. The dog training come command can take a lot of work, and the truth is that it is very difficult for some dogs to get 100% right. For certain breeds and dogs that love to chase or have a strong scent drive the come command actually works against their natural instincts.
Don’t let this put you off though, you can succeed using the techniques outlined below. Basically you can teach the fast come command as soon as you get your new puppy (the earlier the better) or older dog, and you’ll be reinforcing it every time you are with your dog throughout his/her life.
Why Doesn’t Your Dog Come When Called?
These are the most common reasons why our lovely dogs seemingly ignore us and don’t come when we call out to them.
⦁ Your dog does not understand what the “come” command means, he simply doesn’t know what you are requesting him to do.
⦁ Your dog may have been allowed to get away with disobeying your come command in the past and was not held accountable for him actions (or lack of action!).
⦁ Your dog may believe that following the scent trail of a squirrel or continuing to romp around with other dogs at the park is more appealing than coming back to you.
⦁ Maybe your dog has responded well to your command in the past but was inadvertently punished for him good behavior. This could mean that you called him over then immediately locked him in a crate, or called him over and plonked him straight into a soapy bath (which he hates!).
General Guidelines for the “Come” Command
⦁ Never under any circumstances punish your dog when he comes back to you. Even if your dog seems to take an eternity to respond to you and you’ve got smoke coming out of your ears through frustration, it’s important that you don’t get angry with your dog. She’ll associate your anger with the last action he did – which was coming to you.
⦁ Your goal is to make coming to you a more attractive option to your dog than any other alternative action.
⦁ Never let your dog off leash in public before you have your dog responding very well to your come command. Your dog has to work his way up to this privilege – see the steps involved in the dog training come command below.
⦁ Your come command should be something your dog looks forward to hearing, something he has a positive association with. You do this by making it wonderful each he comes to you, make it worth his while. Certainly do not only use the command to call your dog over to snap the leash back on after an off leash run or call his away from fun.
⦁ Incorporate the come command training into your daily activities. Use it to call your dog over for his dinner or call him over at any time just to give him a scratch behind the ear or a tasty treat.
⦁ When you are teaching your dog the come command off leash and your dog doesn’t respond, don’t chase after him, first try waiting for him. If you do have to go and retrieve him don’t punish him when you catch up with him, just go home or start your training session again, this time on leash.
⦁ Never call your dog in situations you know your dog won’t come to you. You don’t want your dog to think that sometimes it is ok if he doesn’t respond to your “come” command. It has to be every time and your dog must never get away with not respecting it.
⦁ As with all obedience commands start your training sessions out easy, master one step then move on and build upon it. Challenge your dog along the way, but don’t move too quickly. Your dog will gain confidence all the way along this process.
Depending on what level you and your dog are up to in your obedience training, you can apply one or all of the steps outlined below. I’ve found that if you apply repetition, reinforcement and patience to these training techniques, you and your dog will achieve great results.
The Comprehensive Six-Step Guide:
⦁ Young puppies love to follow you around and often bound up to you with great delight – use this to your advantage. At this early stage all you need to do is make it clear to your puppy that you are happy to see him each time he comes to you. Make it a very pleasant and rewarding experience every time.
⦁ The next step is to introduce the verbal “come” command so that your dog connects its use with the act of coming to you. Start inside with no distractions around, crouch down or kneel, then in a friendly and welcoming voice say “Macy come” (Macy’s my little Shih Tzu puppy), you can even wave a tasty treat around to lure your dog over if necessary. When your puppy (or older dog) gets to you, immediately praise and reward him effort. Repeat this exercise many times throughout the day to reinforce the connection.
⦁ If you have someone else there to help, you can now introduce the “back and forth” game. Position yourself at one side of the room and your helper on the other side. Call your dog over “Macy come” (only once, but you can encourage him over), then reward when he arrives, next your helper calls him over and rewards him when he arrives. This game is a lot of fun for your dog and teaches your dog to respect the “come” command from a person other than you. You can extend this exercise into a game of hide and seek by going into a different room to your partner, call your dog and let him find you. Make it worth him while when he does track you down – most dogs love this game.
⦁ Now you are confident your dog understands and is responding quickly to your “come” command you can reinforce it in different environments and situations. Put your dog on a leash (just the one you take him on walks with) and head outside. Call your dog with the same “come” command and walk backwards, when he comes close to you give him a treat and a nice scratch behind the ear. Practice this at various stages throughout your normal walk, don’t forget to always praise your dog’s good work!
⦁ The next step you can take is similar to step 4 but this time clip a long line on instead. This is a lightweight piece of rope which you can buy at pet shops or from hardware and camping stores. To start with put the long line on in a familiar environment (like your yard) and then you can progress to public places (like the dog park) when you are ready.
The long line just trails along behind your dog (she will forget it is there after a while), he will feel that he has complete freedom, but in reality you can catch him whenever you please. Continue to call your dog over “come” and praise him when he does, then send him on him way again.
Please note that the trailing long line is not used to “reel your dog in”, it’s there as a precautionary measure to stop your dog bolting away from you. It’s very hard for any dog to outrun you with the trailing leash clipped on, and hopefully you won’t need to be chasing your dog anyway.
⦁ Next you can challenge your dog with a fun game. Again you should introduce this game in a safe confined area free from distractions, then progress from there. You need your helper again for this exercise. Stand about 50 feet from your helper, with your dog wandering around without a leash (you can have a tab leash on if you choose).
Then throw a ball so it lands near your helper. As soon as the ball leaves your hand say “Macy come!”, by doing this you are giving your dog a choice to make. he can either come to you as requested (which you would reward him for) or set off after the ball. If he decides the ball is a better option, your helper leans down and picks it up before he arrives.
Your helper just holds onto the ball and ignores your dog. When your dog decides it’s time to go back to you, just give him a bit of a pat, but don’t make a fuss. It’s a good idea to mix it up a bit and throw the ball without issuing your “come” command at times, just let your dog get the ball.
If at any time while working through these steps your dog doesn’t seem to be “getting it” just take it back a step and work on an easier level.
The “Stay” Command
After you and your dog have mastered the sit and down commands, the logical extension on them is training your dog to stay. Really when you think about it your sit and down commands aren’t much value if your dog merely gets into those positions and then bounces back up straight away.
That’s why I like to add the stay command, although some dog trainers believe it to be an unnecessary extra command. Their theory being that when they request that their dog sits or goes into the down position, the dog should stay in that position until they are told otherwise. For those of you choose to use the stay command – read on.
Training a dog to stay can be difficult at first. In a way it goes against what your dog is used to (following you around) and also his/her natural instincts (being close to their pack). With this in mind keep the stay command very simple to begin with and build upon your dog’s successes slowly.
Once you have trained your dog to hold a reliable stay in any situation you will find it handy on many occasions. It’s a great behavior to request when visitors come to your home, if you need to duck inside a shop or if you have a dog who likes to bolt out the front door.
Right let’s get started – it’s a good idea to first train your dog to stay when he/she is calm and not all hyped up – after a walk is a good time. Your first training session should be in a familiar environment to your dog, free from any distractions and should only last for a few minutes.
The Three-Step Guide:
Step 1: Position Training
Put your dog into the position you would like him/her to stay in (use your sit, down or stand commands) and stand directly in front of him. After about 1 or 2 seconds, if your dog is still in the position you requested, give him some praise and a treat. You are rewarding the behavior you are looking for which is a stay, even if it is only 1 seconds worth to start with.
As soon as you give your praise and treat, the behavior is over (this is your signal for your dog to release from his stay) so it is fine if your dog moves off. Then you begin the process again from the start, this time maybe hold your praise and treat off for 3 or 4 seconds.
Just take it slowly and if your dog breaks out of the stay at any time before you have given him the release command, simply say “No”, don’t give the treat and start the process again.
Step 2: Verbalize
The next step is to add a verbal command and hand signal to step 1. It goes like this – once again stand directly in front of your dog and place him in the position you would like him to stay in.
Now as soon as he is in the desired position say “stay” and at the same time hold your hand out in front of you, with your palm facing out towards your dog’s nose (like a stop sign motion). Now after waiting a second or two praise and reward your dog for staying in this position (sit-stay or down-stay etc.).
As was the case in step 1 you can now repeat this process over and over, gradually increasing the time between your “stay” command and your praise and treat. What you are doing is building an association in your dog’s mind between your verbal “stay” command and the act of staying in the one spot.
Step 3: Distraction Training
You’ve now got the stay command sorted – in its most basic form anyway. It’s now time to add some other variables and build upon it. Many trainers label this proofing stage as the three D’s – Duration, Distance and Distractions.
Up until now (in steps 1 and 2) you have been working in a familiar environment free from distractions and you’ve just been standing right in front of your dog. Let’s mix it up a little, adding one new variable at a time. Start out by issuing your “stay” command with your hand signal, now take a step backwards, pause, and then step back towards your dog.
If your dog has remained in his sit-stay or down-stay, praise him and give him a tasty treat. Continue to repeat this process, gradually increasing the amount of steps you take back – always remember to return back to your dog before you reward him.
Keep in mind what it is you are actually rewarding him for (the stay) and if he gets up to move away he shouldn’t be receiving a reward or treat. The next challenge you can add to the stay command is to move your training session to a different location, possibly somewhere with a few distractions such as other people or animals.
Remember take it slowly and only add one new variable at a time. Another good idea is to practice your stays anytime throughout the day. For example make your dog “stay” when you go out to collect the mail or “stay” when you are preparing his dinner.
A game you can play with your dog to reinforce the “stay” command is hide and seek. This game is heaps of fun and all you do is place your dog in a down-stay then run off and hide. When you are ready, sing out your release command and your dog will set off to track you down.
Note: When training a dog to stay do not keep your dog in a sit-stay for more than 2 or 3 minutes. If you need your dog to stay for longer periods use the down-stay.
The “Heel” Command
Firstly I should say that teaching a dog to heel is a different skill than training a dog to walk on a loose leash. Training a dog to heel relies on getting and holding the attention of your dog. The heel can be called upon for short periods (like when other dogs or children are around) but is not suitable for your long daily walks.
Dog Training – The Heel
When your dog is in the heeling position it means he/she is virtually pinned to your left leg (not touching though) and must stay there until released by you. Heeling is a difficult skill for your dog to master, it must be taught slowly and built piece by piece.
I find that short, sharp and intense training sessions work best with my dogs. This is because learning to heel requires heaps of concentration from your dog and lots of repetition – don’t expect too much too soon. Start out simple, set your dog up to succeed and don’t move too quickly.
The Comprehensive Eight-Step Guide:
Ok let’s have a go at building a good solid and reliable heel. You can go through these steps off leash (if possible) or on leash. The leash is there for security only, it is not used to drag your dog around or hold him in position. The idea is to condition your dog to want to be by your side rather than to force him to be there. This is the method I use to teach my dogs to heel – as with building any obedience command, start in an environment that is familiar to your dog and free from distractions.
⦁ Stand with your dog closely next to your left leg, both of you facing the same way.
⦁ Have one of your dog’s favorite treats in your left hand, hold it up near your waist, not directly in front of your dog’s nose. Now say “Harry” (your dog’s name) to get his attention and to gain eye contact. Immediately take two steps forward then stop. If your dog moves with you and is still in the heel position enthusiastically praise him and give the treat.
⦁ As soon as your dog swallows his reward from step 2 repeat the heeling process again, then do it again. Say “Harry”, take two steps forward offering encouragement to your dog (“come on” or “that’s a good boy”), stop, praise and treat. Only ever give the reward when your dog is still in the heel position.
⦁ At this point your dog will be very interested and attentive. It’s important to note that you are using the treat to reward his behavior rather than to lure or bribe him.
⦁ If at any time your dog lags behind or forges ahead of you hold off with your praise and reward. Simply say ““No”” and start again.
⦁ Continue to practice your heel training and when 2 steps forward becomes easy for your dog, increase to 4 steps, then 6 steps and so on… Keep up your encouragement, praise and tasty rewards.
⦁ When your dog is reliably heeling for 10 or more steps it’s time to
⦁ You’ve now got the very basic heel going well and on cue, it’s time to build upon it and add some more variables. Introduce the following elements one at a time and make it as easy as possible for your dog to succeed. Mix it up – continue with your enthusiasm, encouragement, praise and treats.
⦁ Walk slowly, speed up, stop, speed up etc…
⦁ Take your training session to a new location.
⦁ Add some left and right turns and then some obstacles.
⦁ Practice your heeling around other people and animals.
⦁ Increase the duration of the heel.
⦁ Roll a ball in front of you – what does your dog do?
That’s the heel training process I follow and have experienced good results with. Always remember to keep your training sessions fun and don’t expect too much from your young puppies, it will take some time.