This page on Command Training is part of the Advanced Course of the
D.S. Dog Training Workshop, and an element of the Dog Science Network

Comprehensive Behavioral Conditioning for Dogs
Section Two of the Advanced Course

Command Training
Page Ten
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Setting the Stage for Success by Fading Your Mutt Into More Challenging Environments

As with all training, you should begin teaching your dog to come to you on command in situations that are free of any kind of distraction, so put away his favorite toys and do whatever else is necessary to keep anyone or anything from diverting his attention, be they canine, human, or some other form of animal.

With nothing else to do and little else to attend to, you will find your dog to be a more focused pupil, and a far more obliging individual.

Of course, if your goal is to get perfect voice control over your dog, you will eventually want to take him out where the distractions are strong and put him to the test.

However, you should always start by working with your dog in a controlled setting where there are no distractions whatsoever, because it is always best if you first work to achieve 100% compliance from the animal in a tranquil setting, before you begin introducing him to more challenging surroundings, where his resolve will be tested by more alluring diversions.

If your goal is to be able to control your dog even when things go crazy and all hell is breaking loose around you, then, over time, you will want to gradually expose the animal to more potent distracters, so that he will learn to stay focused and follow your commands no matter how chaotic the situation around the two of you may become.

However, while you will want to gradually expose your dog to environments containing more potent distracters, it is essential that you proceed along the continuum of difficulty so slowly that your dog is able to adjust to each new set of distractions with equanimity.

To illustrate, let's imagine that you have ten different physical environments in which you can train your dog. In environment number one, it is just you and the dog, with no distractions whatsoever.

Training environment number two contains just a couple of tiny distractions that were not present in environment number one, but in succession, each of the other eight training environments contains more potential distracters than its predecessors, until, by the time you get to number ten, there are a potentially overwhelming number of distracters present.

The idea is to fade your dog from the distraction-free setting where he performs perfectly, into a continuum of sequentially more challenging, distraction-prone settings, until he reaches the point that he performs flawlessly, even in environments where distracters are present in potentially overwhelming numbers.

While it is true that you will want to gradually introduce your dog to a succession of carefully selected environments that have been sequenced for distractability, your goal should be to never place your dog in a setting where the potentional distractions prove potent enough to actually succeed in distracting him from his lesson.

With that in mind, you should take care not to place your new trainee in a setting where the distractions are likely to prove to be more than he can resist.

Shooting for Perfect Recall

If you intend to walk your dog off lead, then, it is essential that the animal possess perfect recall, because a dog that won't come back on command is a dog out of control, which can translate in the blink of an eye to swerving cars, colliding frames, and the kind of lawsuit that you hoped never to encounter in this short lifetime. Indeed, it is the kind of trouble you might never recover from.

If you are going to be taking your dog out in pubic, off the lead, then, you will need to know with certainty that you can always count on him to respond instantly to your recall, no matter what he's doing, even if he is immersed in a thrilling game of tag with a group of dogs that are making an oblivious beeline toward disaster.

If your command to Come results in less than perfect recall, then, you really need to think long and hard about the wisdom of having the animal off lead in a public place, or in a place where wildlife could be vulnerable to a dog that is less than perfectly socialized.

Assessing Your Dog's Potential for a Flawless Recall

There are three factors that will determine how reliable your dog will be on the recall.

  1. How good you are as a dog trainer, and how thorough and persistent you remain over time.

  2. The breed of your dog.

    If it is important to you for your dog to have the kind of perfect recall that will allow you to walk him off lead, then, you will want to choose your dog from among the breeds that are predisposed to develop first-rate obedience skills. If you have a mixed breed dog, his obedience potential will be determined by the combination of the predispositions of all the breeds that contributed to his lineage.

  3. The age at which you should begin training your dog.

    All dogs will learn more quickly and will more thoroughly absorb and integrate their obedience skills if they undergo intensive training during their critical stage of development, and beyond.

    It is extremely rare for any dog who did not experience a highly stimulating training regiment during his critical stage of development to ever develop a level of expert and eminent performance in the obedience domain.

    That is why you want to start working with your dog while he is still very young.

If Your Backsliding Dog Should Disregard Your Command to Come

In most cases, after issuing your dog a command in the proper manner, you should wait just an instant to give him a chance to respond on his own, and if he fails to execute the command in that instant, you should immediately place your hands on the animal and gently move him into position.

However, if your off-lead dog ignores your call to come, that's a different matter, because as a rule, if you are calling your dog to you, that means that he is probably far enough away that you can't instantly put your hands on him. In a worse case scenario, the dog may be far enough away that it will take you more than a few seconds to reach his location.

You should never punish or otherwise intentionally do anything to upset a dog who is confused, or unsure of what is expected of him.

However, in the example that follows, I am speaking specifically of a dog who is well enough trained to understand exactly what he is supposed to do when he is commanded to come - a dog with an established history of responding to that command in proper fashion, but who, for whatever reason, has willfully decided to disregard your recall.

First, as an aside, I need to point out that you should never have your dog off-lead in a location where he is surrounded by distractions that he is likely to find more enticing than your recall.

As your dog becomes more reliable and better trained with age, you can take him off-lead into settings where the distractions are increasingly compelling. But it is up to you to know what he can and can't handle, and to keep him on-lead in places where the distractions are likely to be more alluring than his growing compulsion to respond to your recall.

Nonetheless, it will still just be a matter of time until you inevitably find yourself in just exactly that situation, with a trained off-lead dog who willfully disregards your recall.

If that happens, do not repeat the command a second time, at least not initially. Rather, after giving your dog the command and waiting an instant for him to respond, you should walk or jog to where the dog is, grip him by his collar or halter and roughly drag him along until you get back to approximately where you were when you gave the command the first time.

Do not say anything to the dog as you propel him along.

Just how rough you'll want to be will depend on how big you are, how big your dog is and how sensitive he is by nature.

To be sure, you don't want to terrify the dog by overreacting out of all proportion to his transgression, and you certainly don't want to inflict pain or injure the animal physically. But short of that, you do want to make his journey over to the original point of recall an at least somewhat upsetting experience. The incident should certainly be something that he will not be eager to repeat again any time soon.

In any case, when you get to within a few feet of where you stood when you originally gave the command to come, you should release your grip on your dog, walk to that very spot and command the animal to come in proper fashion.

When your dog obeys the command, you should act absolutely delighted and reward him accordingly. After that, let it go. If you feel any irritation with your dog, keep it to yourself. Now that he has obeyed the command you should act as though you no longer have any recollection whatsoever of the unpleasant incident that just transpired.

Now that he has paid his debt your should just forget, and set about making sure that both of you thoroughly enjoy your outing, as you make the most of your time together.

Step Three: Making Your Dog Want to Do What You Want Him to Do

Before proceeding with more information on command training, we need to pause to focus on the issue of how you can best make obedience work a rewarding experience for your dog, in order to ensure that he will want to do what you want him to do. That is an important matter, because the more your dog wants to do what you want him to do, the happier both of you will be, and the happier he is, the easier he will be to train, which in turn, will enhance your own enjoyment of the experience.

With that in mind, before proceeding further, please take a minute to read about how to make your dog happy in general.

Go forward to page eleven of the command training section

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This page on Command Training is part of the Advanced Course of the
D.S. Dog Training Workshop, and an element of the Dog Science Network