Here are ‘10 Essential Life-Saving Commands’ which every pooch must learn to get Alert and Avoid Accidents.
Imagine a situation where you have taken your dog out in your compound, left him off leash because it is an enclosed area and besides you have your eyes on him at all times. But what happens when you see him going to pick up a piece of food strewn around the corners? You run towards him to pull it out of his mouth but too late he has already consumed it. And then the worst happens…your watchman tells you he had put rat poison in the food strewn around because of the growing number of rats in the premises. Emergency visit to the vet…!
Such situations can be avoided if you have trained your pooch on life-saving commands and he is obedient enough to follow it once you utter the command.
Now picture this real life situation. “I have had one situation where my dog’s collar broke and fell off in the middle of crossing a main road with lots of traffic. Thankfully, I told my dog to Stay till the traffic passed us, finished crossing the road safely with the Heel command and then asked her to sit on the other side of the road while I fixed her leash around her neck. I took her back home like that,” tells Huzannah Banajee Joseph thankfully. However, Huzannah cautions, “Different dogs respond differently in emergency situations. In these situations, the dog will respond in a positive manner to any commands if he has learnt and practiced them well before, and most importantly, if the pet parent maintains his cool and calmly talks to the dog. If the pet parent gets stressed out, the dog is bound to pick up on the stress too and act out rather than act calm.”
First command to teach your pooch…
“The first thing we teach a dog is his Name. The dog’s Name has to be the best thing in the world for the dog; so whatever he gets (food, love, treats or toys) should come after his Name is said,” says Delano Henriques.
While Huzannah says, “I teach all my client dogs three things first – Their Name, Leave It (or No), and Come.”
Malaika Fernandes feels that all pooches should learn these three basic commands – Sit – Stay, Come and Down – Stay.
Best command for safe-walking on the street…
“Teaching a dog to walk with you in a subordinate manner (Heel) is the most important command on the streets of a busy city. If your dog pulls, you both could meet with an accident or if he is off the leash, he could meet with an accident, or injure someone else. Come and Stay could also help you in traffic, off leash and on leash. If your dog is well trained, you can use these commands to get through traffic or and other situation the environment has to offer,” tells Delano as a matter of fact.
Motivating dogs to learn…
Each dog is an individual, even in the same breed. “Each dog will have a different drive and temperament;
we need to identify the dog’s temperament and use his drive to motivate them while working. Temperament in dogs is similar to personality in humans. Drive is ‘will to work’ (pack drive, prey drive, play drive, food drive, defense drive, etc),” says Delano.
“To start with, we should work with a dog for 10 to 15 minutes maximum. Make it a game at first, work the actual training into your play. Give a command, make the dog execute it correctly, and then make a big to-do over it. Before his interest wanes, quit the lesson in the same cheerful note as when you started it, and with an exercise that the dog does well and enjoys,” she adds.
While Huzannah says, “Dogs who are interested in training are always excited and motivated to learn new things. We help create and enhance this interest with the help of treats and toys initially, but wean them off these soon. The dog then continues to want to learn because it is fun, and because this is a time for bonding with the pet parent.”
Malaika Fernandes gives a few tips to motivate your pooch.
- Find the motivation: Find out what motivates your dog in the beginning by keeping these key factors in mind before you begin training.
- Choose the most valuable reward: The key is to find out what drives your dog a little crazy – it can be a toy, praise or a very valuable treat. Once you know what works for your dog, it can be used to train him, which makes it fun for both you and the dog.
- Train your dog at home first: Just as important it is to know what motivates your dog is how comfortable he is in an environment. So, begin by having his training sessions at home where he feels secure and safe to give you his undivided attention.
- Keep distractions to a minimum:Train him in a place where there are not many distractions so that your intended reward should be the only reward your dog gets, otherwise you will end up creating confusion and encouraging unwanted behaviours.
Basic obedience is a must for all canine citizens and more so for canines in the cities, because they are the life saviours in the hustle-bustle of the city. Here are a few life-saving commands for your pooch.
1 Dog’ s Name
“The first thing your puppy should learn is his Name. It means that he should respond by looking at you when you say his Name. The easiest way to teach him is by giving him a treat or praise, each time he looks at you, regardless of whether you call out his Name or not. He will soon learn that making eye contact is worth his while. Then once he makes eye contact, add his Name just prior to him making eye contact, follow it either by a treat or praise. He is now learning that the sound of his Name paired with eye contact results in a treat or praise. Remember do not use his Name when disciplining him, especially when he is first learning it,” shares Malaika.
The Come command is one of the most important exercises you must teach your dog. “A dog who comes reliably when called can be called out of life-threatening situations like running across roads etc while chasing another animal/ball, etc. A dog who doesn’t come when called can also get lost if he manages to run off from the house or comes loose from his leash during a walk,” tells Huzannah.
“Inside and outside the house, it is important to train your dog to have a reliable recall command. This command allows your dog to be called away from potentially dangerous situations,” adds Malaika.
“A dog who can be trusted to Stay in a particular spot can be a big help in situations where a door is left open, or a leash or collar breaks during a walk. This command can also be used to prevent a dog who is free from running off,” tells Huzannah.
While walking on the street, it is a good idea to train your dog to Sit where a street and a sidewalk meet. This way, you will avoid situations that he will trot into the street when a vehicle is moving towards him.
“Move your reward from right in front of your dog’s nose backward and upwards at a 45-degree angle commanding Sit. Do not move your reward too fast and don’t lift it too high otherwise you will have the dog jumping and snapping at the reward. If this doesn’t work, then use the following method. Gently pull the lead upwards in your right hand and, simultaneously, push down the dog’s rear end with your left hand, using the treat like you did earlier at the same time. Give a crisp command Sit. Don’t push on the spine, instead push on the buttocks folding the dog’s back legs, and don’t grab at the dog’s fur,” tells Delano.
Pet parents can avoid dangerous situations by asking their dogs to get Down when something dangerous approaches them. It gives them time to reach their dogs and save them.
Here’s how to teach the Down command. “Start always with the dog in the sitting position. Take your reward in your right hand and hold it right in front of the dog’s nose. Pull it downward in between the dog’s legs and once the dog bends down to sniff, give the command Down and pull the reward slowly forward in an ‘L’ away from the dog. Stop about 250 mm away and get the dog to go down. Gently pull the dog down with your left hand on the training collar, only if it is necessary. Only once the dog is down, does he get his reward. If this method doesn’t work, gently pull the lead downwards with the right hand and give the command Down clearly and sharply. The dog should now be lying in a flat position, with his front legs stretched out in front of him. For a more placid method, move the dog’s front paws out in front of him, or simply roll him over to a side into a down position. Always praise lavishly when the dog obeys,” tells Delano.
6 Lie Down
Once the dog has learnt his Down command, give him the Lie Down command! “Lure him with the treat towards the back of his head (form the alphabet C) starting from his nose toward the side you want him to lie. Only reward and praise once in position,” adds Delano.
“If a dog is trained to follow this command, he will not indulge in behaviours like jumping up on visitors or either bolting out of an open door. This command can help save your dog’s life or from harm as it did in the case of my dog Prince. I had left Prince off leash during his night walk where he ventured quite far away from me. The Indian pariah in that territory had begun to chase Prince and would have bitten him. Since it would take me some time to get to where Prince was being chased, I shouted out the Sit command. As soon as Prince sat down, the pariah just sniffed at Prince from a distance and before matters could get worse I was there to rescue him,” tells Malaika.
Training your puppy to Sit and Stay should be started on leash. Stay is a stationary (passive exercise) command. Don’t move too far away from the dog too fast. Consistency is more important than distance in this exercise. Your results will be much faster if you work in small successive steps and in a positive way (for all obedience exercises). The Stay means getting your pup to Stay where you have left him and in the position until you return to him and praise him for staying there,” tells Delano.
“This slightly more advanced command is often accompanied with a hand signal like an extended arm high up in the air which your dog can see from a distance. For instance, if your dog is on one side of the street and you on the other side and a car was coming. You would not want to call the dog to you, but instead would use this command to stop the dog in his tracks and make him lie Down and Stay until it was safe to call him to you,” tells Malaika.
9 NO or Leave It
“This is an essential skill for dogs, especially in our country where a regular walk involves lots of exciting smells and things on the road that might be unhealthy or even poisonous for the dog to eat or take in his mouth,” tells Huzannah.
“It can also translate it to a Do Not Touch command, a safety command that can be useful both indoors and outdoors. For instance, if you were to drop something that may be dangerous like medication, cleaning chemicals, hot or sharp objects, toxic substances, etc this command can save your dog’s life,” adds Malaika.
“Randomly place one or two objects around when he goes to sniff it, you must give a stern loud NO that should get his attention. When he steps back he can be rewarded with love or treats,” adds Delano.
“Hold the lead in your right hand, and use the left hand only for guiding the dog into the Sit, to praise your dog, stand your dog and to control and get your dog back when he surges ahead or when you want to turn left. Measure the lead before moving. With the dog sitting at Heel, measure enough lead from the dog’s neck to your hand, which is hooked in your belt by your navel. Your lead must be short but not tight, and you must guide your dog, not pull him around. You must show your dog what you want, and guide him into doing it correctly. Never force him: he will only fight back, and not learn anything.
The first thing you want to do when you are walking with your dog is to get his attention. Let him know that something is going to happen. That he is going to move! Therefore, each time before you start walking, (Heeling) or whenever you want your dog to move, you will start the command with his name followed by the Heel command. You will walk forward with him, and he will be watching and listening for your ‘praise’! If you do not remind him of what he is supposed to be doing, his mind will wander. Be careful to keep him on your left. Remember, you know where he is supposed to be, he doesn’t. Therefore, you are going to teach him always to be on your left side by not letting him walk anywhere else. While Heeling, use his name occasionally to keep his attention. Do not nag, just keep up an ‘interesting conversation’. The lead must remain short. Stop often, and tell him how pleased you are of his performance, by petting him. Do not walk a mile the first time out. A few steps at a time will do.
(With inputs from Delano Henriques who started training dogs and counseling their pet parents professionally in 2005. He has done a dog training course in South Africa (2008) and started ‘Delriques Kennels’ in Mumbai, which is a boarding cum training centre for dogs; Huzannah Banajee is founder of Paw Pals in Pune and she is a dog trainer & behaviourist who trains therapy and pet dogs, and also works with aggression and behaviour problem cases. She runs the internationally recognised ‘Be a Tree, Dog & Baby, and Dog & Toddler’ programmes in India; Malaika Fernandes is a certified canine behaviourist & trainer (Northern Centre of Behaviour, UK) and is the director of Walk Romeo – Canine Training, Behaviour Modification, Grooming & Pet Sitting Services, Mumbai).