LOS ANGELES — Your mutt isn’t destined to be a movie star, therapy dog, bomb-sniffing expert, AKC champion or working K9?
No worries. He or she can still be a well-behaved pet. A basic obedience class is one way to do it. But a little home-schooling can do wonders.
Three veteran trainers were asked by The Associated Press to share the first five or six things they think every dog should know. The first thing on the list is so basic it’s a wonder they even need to mention it.
“I am often amazed at how many animals do not know their names,” said Lauren Henry, co-owner of Talented Animals, with offices in California and Oregon. She trains hundreds of animals for TV and film appearances every year and often teaches classes for other trainers and animal owners.
“They need to know their name so you can get their attention before the next command or bit of information. Dogs hear a lot of noise that they tune out, but when they hear their name they need to respond and look to the person for the rest of the information,” she said.
Here are some other commands, how-to behaviors and skills that every dog should know, according to Henry and two other trainers — Jaime Van Wye, who founded Zoom Room, a social petworking club with franchises across the country, and Ron Davis, of Camarillo, Calif., a representative for Natural Balance Pet Foods known for his work with Tillman, his skateboarding English bulldog.
- Pay attention. Henry says this is “the behavior on which I spend the most time with any new animal. If they are not paying attention, none of the other commands will matter. After name recognition, they need to learn to keep their attention on the person and not get quickly distracted.”
- Come. “The key is repetition and building up a strong reward history, letting the dog know good things happen when it comes,” said Van Wye. “Don’t call them when you know they won’t come and if you are mad at the dog and when he gets there you are going to scold him. Make sure good things happen when the dog comes when called.”
Henry said teaching a dog to come when called is “the single biggest lifesaver. Come away from distractions (danger) and come quickly.”
Related to that, Davis said the biggest thing he teaches is “voice recognition. If you are with a bunch of people or around cars, your dog needs to learn you are the pack leader and your voice is his key to fun and safety.”
- Down and/or sit. “You can keep your dog out of all sorts of trouble with these,” Henry said. “Keep them from jumping on someone, from chasing. Your dog cannot get into trouble if it is lying next to you.”
- Leave it. “It means stop paying attention to that, whatever that is,” said Van Wye. “We teach it early and start with food. The dog gets rewarded when they pay attention to us. It works with things dogs find really distracting like other dogs, people, kids, bicycles, cars, cats, whatever the dog wants to pay attention to.”
Henry says teaching the dog to drop something is also “vital if they have picked up something dangerous off the ground.”
- Stay or wait. “Teaching a dog to wait at a door when it’s being opened or wait in the vehicle when you open a car door and not bolt out is definitely critical for safety,” said Henry. “Stay is important, but most people don’t get the stay well enough trained that they should ever trust it in a critical situation. A leash is much safer than relying on a stay.”
Van Wye also thinks teaching “wait is better than stay. Wait is like a pause button. I’m saying: ‘Stop moving. You can go when I release you.’ It’s good for in and out of doorways, in and out of cars so they don’t run into traffic, if you put their food down. Stay is a more formal command. Wait is hold on a second.
- Go to bed. Van Wye puts this at the top of her list. “It’s a boundary stay,” she said. “It works really well if you use a bath mat, an actual dog bed, some kind of hot spot. You tell the dog: ‘You can’t get off this. You can do circles, sit, lie down, stand up, turn around or do back flips. I don’t care what you do, you just can’t get off this.’”
She added: “It’s a great command if you have more than one animal or if you have ordered pizza and don’t want the dog on the table trying to steal it or have people over who don’t like dogs.”
- Let’s go. “This is not a formal heel but an informal loose leash, a command to walk next to me and don’t pull on the leash,” Van Wye said. “I equate it to holding hands with a kid. You can smell, you can look, you can do your own thing as long as you respect that you are on a 6-foot leash and I don’t want to have to be pulling you around.”
You are training for lifestyle more than obedience, Van Wye advised. If you want to put the baby in a stroller and a leash on the dog and have coffee at Starbucks, you should be able to do it without the dog barking at people, pulling on the leash or causing a distraction, she said
- Socialization and play. “I don’t want a dog that will fight or be aggressive,” said Davis. “Socialization is greatly overlooked in the dog world.” He added that owners should “let dogs know when it’s a good time to play and when it’s not a good time to play. Playtime is when a dog can be a dog and have his fun, you can let him pounce and do all the things that dogs do.”
- Swim. “A dog should know how to swim so they don’t panic in the water,” Davis said.