Most dog owners will start training their puppy with basic commands of sit and down. You can do it everyday in your home, with minimal effort required. Dogs pick it up quickly and will respond to the verbal cue’s for the rest of their life. But if like me, your house is noisy enough, why not teach hand signals for these commands so you don’t even have to say the words? Handy if your dog is stood in front of the TV whilst you’re trying to watch the nail biting season finale of the latest Netflix box set and you don’t want to start raising your voice…just me?
Either way, it’s cool to develop your own language with your dog. I use variations of a clenched fist for these three commands. You can also teach things like ‘give a paw’ by just holding your hand out. Achieve maximum smug dog owner status if you teach your dog left and right give paw! And remember, the saying about old dogs and new tricks is rubbish. It’s never too late to teach your dog something, plus you’ll both have a lot of fun in the process.
Get prepared. I recommend using the smelliest treat your dog loves, for Lupo this is cheese. Break it up into small pieces ready for regular rewards and be careful to adjust their normal food if you have a lengthy training session.
For ‘sit’, I think I’d spent too many years watching the owners on Crufts with this same body language. Having a clenched fist like this is a great way to hide the treat, but not have it on display so the dog is tempted to snatch. When Lupo was a puppy we said ‘sit’ and used the hand signal at the same time, right from the beginning. You can use this hand signal to teach them the movement of sitting down. standing in front of them, holding the treat and edge it closer to their nose. They will naturally move backwards and eventually sit down as the solution to not moving further away from the treat they want.
Applying the same rule to the ‘down’ command, have the treat in your hand and let the dog follow it as closely as you’d like, leading them to the ground. Lupo responds to the action of the hand making a downward motion, even if you are a fair distance from him.
Remember with all these commands to make a real fuss of your dog, whether he gets it straight away or on the 20th go. It’s what they live for! yes the treat is great, but you won’t always have a pocket full of cheese, so use your best high pitched, excited voice to tell him what a good dog he is.
Finally, not as useful as the first two but one I always wanted my childhood dog to learn but never mastered, the ‘speak’ command. Lupo needs no encouragement in making noise, but this is a good lesson in control. For this imagine you are imitating a crocodile’s jaws, with your hand – snap snap! This is a hell of a lot easier to teach if you have a dog that barks when he gets impatient. If I stood there long enough with the treat and gave the command to speak, with hand signal, Lupo would get so annoyed with me that he’d bark.
And that’s what you want, as eventually they will learn what you want and what the hand signal is associated with. When he was a pup he would bounce around like he’d sat on a cactus, bashing in to me and barking. Anyone with a large breed pup suffering this same behaviour, don’t worry, it doesn’t let forever!
Keep training sessions short and sweet, especially with puppies who will get tired quickly and resort to behaviour like nipping as their own fun and games. I recommend sparing five minutes right before you give your dog their evening meal, so they are interested enough in the treat and the meal is the final reward. All this type of activity is great mental stimulation for your dog, they love to learn just like us humans and you will see real joy on your dog’s face when you praise him for mastering a new skill.
In the next post in this series, I will share ‘stay’, ‘give paw’ and ‘commando crawl’. I also have some ideas for recall training you can incorporate to your walks.
After that, I should probably start teaching my old dog some new tricks…
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