Training Basic Commands Using Food Lure Training
Obedience training is important for all dogs. The best way to get the job done is to start early in the pet’s life, use positive motivation, and avoid harsh physical techniques. This will help ensure quick learning and make the training process more fun. If you begin the pet’s training when it is a puppy, you’ll find that early obedience training can be a big help in establishing leadership, socializing your pet, and controlling unruly behaviours.
An easy, non-force method for teaching obedience commands involves the use of small bits of food for training lures and reinforcements. Most dogs are very motivated to take food, so the best choice for a food lure is the pet’s own dry food. If this is not sufficiently appealing, try small, quarter-inch pieces of semi-moist dog treats (adult/puppy coachies) or freeze-dried liver. An excellent time to train the pet that is picky about treats is just prior to its dinner time, since the dog will be more focused on the food and quicker to respond.
You will use the food to lure the pet into the response you want as you give the command, and then immediately following the response the food will be given as a reward. The food will gradually be phased out as the pet learns the correct response. You’ll do this by picking only the best responses (best position, quickest response, etc.) to reward, and withholding food rewards for less exact responses during subsequent training sessions.
One of the advantages of food lure training is that your pet will learn two cues for each command. Since hand movements with the food lure accompany the verbal commands, the pet will also be conditioned to respond to hand signals. Learning a double signal (verbal and visual) will make the pet twice as likely to respond to you.
To help ensure that the pet learns with a minimum number of mistakes, avoid training when it seems overly energetic or has a shorter attention span. Work in a quiet area, keep the training sessions short, and stop before the dog begins ignoring commands. When the pet’s response to commands becomes dependable, you can gradually take the training to environments with increasingly stronger distractions. Be patient, take your time, and make sure the pet knows one command well before proceeding to the next.
Your tone of voice is important. Use a happy, high-pitched tone of voice when teaching ‘come,’ ‘sit,’ and ‘down.’ An upbeat tone will help motivate the pet to move. Use a deep, commanding tone that is more likely to cause the pet to hold its place when teaching ‘stay.’ You should avoid repeating a command over and over. If you do this frequently, the pet will learn that it does not have to obey the first time you ask. Whenever you give a food reward, always say ‘good dog.’ The pet will learn to associate the words with food and the words will eventually become a valuable secondary reinforcer to sustain the response as the food is gradually withdrawn.
Recall on command
This is a fairly straightforward command to teach. Say the dog’s name so it turns and makes eye contact with you. Extend your hand toward the pet with a piece of food in it. Wave your hand with the food toward you and say ‘come’ as the pet runs to you. Give the piece of food to it as you say ‘good dog.’ Take a few steps back. Show the pet a second piece of food, say its name, and repeat the recall for food. The pet will learn two cues to come on command, a verbal cue and a visual cue.
Sit on command
With the pet in a standing position, hold a small piece of food in front of its nose. In a steady, slow motion, move the food over the dog’s head. The pet’s nose will point up and the rear end will ease down to the floor taking it into the sit position. Say ‘sit’ as the rear hits the floor and give the food. Avoid holding the food lure too high over the head or the pet will jump up instead of sit. It won’t be long before you’ll notice that the dog will go into the sit position when you sweep your hand in an upward movement, even without food. As soon as the pet learns this command, you should ask it to sit before it gets anything it wants. By doing this, you teach the pet that you have control.
Down on command
Begin this lesson with the dog sitting on a smooth surface. Quickly move a piece of food downward from in front of its nose to the floor directly next to its front paws. As the front end of your pet slides down to the floor, say ‘down’ and give the food.
You must make sure that you keep the food on the floor close to the pet’s paws. Otherwise it is likely to stand up and walk toward the food lure. Eventually, a downward sweep of your hand by itself will cause the dog to go into the down position.
This command may take a little more patience and time than the first two. Only use the word ‘down’ when you are teaching this command. If you use the same word to tell the pet to stop jumping on people or to get down off counters and furniture, it may be confused about its meaning.
Stay on command
The ‘stay’ command is probably the most challenging command to teach a young dog. Don’t even attempt to teach this command unless the pet is calm. A helpful strategy is to wear the dog out with a long walk or play session just prior to training.
Ask the pet to ‘sit’ without using a food lure. The second the pup sits, lean toward it, look it in the eye in an assertive manner, extend the palm of your hand toward it, and say ‘stay’ in a firm tone. Wait only one second, then approach your dog, calmly praise it while the pet is still sitting, give a release command ‘OK,’ and hand it a small food reward. Repeat the command, adding a second to the stay following every five or more repetitions. Once the pet can stay for at least 20 seconds, you can begin working on distance. Ask the pet to ‘stay’ and take one step away from it. Gradually work from a one to a 20-second stay at this position, then move back two steps and repeat the process. In no time at all, you will have the pet staying for longer periods at a significant distance.
Common causes of failure to teach the ‘stay’ command include attempting to make the dog stay too long or at too far of a distance too quickly, as well as attempting to get the response when the pet is too active or distracted. Try to anticipate when the pet will become bored with training and stop well before then. If the pet’s eyes start to wander or it seems like it might move too early, calmly repeat ‘stay’ in a serious tone of voice, make strong eye contact, and lean toward it. Maintain the stay for just a few more seconds then quickly release the pet.
Heel on lead
The goal is to teach the pet to walk without pulling on a slack leash. Before training, try to wear the pet out with some aerobic play. The initial training should be short and held inside without distractions. Later, training can be moved to the yard, and then to sidewalks. If the pet is incorrigible about pulling, use a head halter for more control.
Begin the training session by asking the pet to ‘sit.’ Stand on the pet’s right side, facing the same direction. Take the leash in your left hand, holding it about two feet from the pet. Show the pet a treat or toy held in the right hand. Say ‘heel’ and walk forward, keeping the pet’s attention on the object in your right hand. Take a few steps, stop, ask the pet to ‘sit,’ and reward it with the food or a pat on the head. Repeat, gradually taking more steps between each ‘sit’ command. Use an upbeat, animated tone to keep the pet’s attention.
Say ‘heel’ and reward the pet with praise and/or a treat whenever it walks along at the same speed and the leash is slack. If the pet begins to pull forward, immediately turn and walk in the opposite direction. When the pet catches up, ask it to ‘sit’ and repeat the above exercise.