I began training my pups Missy & Buzz as soon as they came to live with us at 8 weeks of age. We first worked on the basic commands such as “sit”, “down”, “stay”, and “come”, as well as “leave it”. They had a fairly good knowledge of them all at about 6 months of age. We’ve been incorporating the commands every day since then, both on walks and during playtime, feeding, and while learning new tricks.
I took the following video a few days ago, which shows them in their respective beds in a down-stay, waiting for my release to eat the kibble I poured on the floor.
Update: This was back in our kibble feeding days. We now feed a raw diet.
I’ve learned one thing in the three years of training my own dogs: It is absolutely necessary to have a solid amount of patience, calmness, & consistency when training your dog(s). It is of equal importance to work with a balanced dog. A dog who has pent-up energy will not be able to focus on you and to concentrate on what is asked of him.
Walking To Avoid Pent-Up Energy
The “trick” to get rid of pent-up energy is to simply provide daily, breed-specific exercise. We always started our days out with a morning walk, followed by breakfast, and several short play-and training sessions throughout the day. When the pups were old enough to add a doggie backpack to our morning walk routine (8 months old, we checked with our vet), we did just that!
Check out my post How Do I Train My Dog To Accept A Dog Backpack? to learn more about this topic.
The pups learned early on that they have to “work” for their breakfast, i.e. go for a walk first, and then get rewarded by a job well done with food! They would always play hard for about 5 minutes after our walk, and then be totally tuckered out. They’d lie down on their own, which is when I stepped into the kitchen and began preparing their breakfast.
Capturing = Using A Natural Behavior In Your Favor
I knew they wouldn’t be likely to move after the energy they just expanded on the walk and during playtime with each other, which was the perfect timing to add the command to the behavior they were already performing for me! This training approach is called capturing.
The moment they’d flop down on the threshold between kitchen and living room, I’d calmly say “down”, while adding the matching hand signal to the command (stretched out hand with palm facing downwards). I then added the “stay” command, again simultaneously with the matching hand signal (stretched out hand with palm facing their heads).
Side Note: I’d prepare my morning coffee and the pups’ breakfast at the same time, taking me anywhere from 5-10 minutes. I would then place their bowls on the ground, wait a few moments, and then release the pups from their down-stay by saying “ok, go eat” in an upbeat voice! They developed a routine where Missy would always eat on the right, and Buzz on the left. They still eat in this very same pattern 3 years later!
Never Repeat A Command!
When giving any type of command, I would and will always say it once only. I learned the concept of only verbalizing a command once when reading Patricia McConnell’s The Other End Of The Leash.
It’s certainly true that our human species has a tendency of repeating itself quite a bit! But it really makes sense not to do that when training dogs. After all, we want them to come when called the first time, and not after a frustrated 10th call..The same concept applies to training every other command, to include the “stay” command.
Praise, Praise, Praise!
Showing our dogs that we are proud of their achievements is a very important part of the training equation. That’s why the moment Missy & Buzz obey my command, I praise them to communicate that I’m happy with their interpretation of the situation.
Know What Motivates
Besides verbal praise, most dogs do well with an additional food or toy reward. Knowing what works for your dog is key ~ Missy is a slave to her stomach and responds very well to food rewards as well as to belly rubs, while Buzz will do anything in exchange for a ball!
Side note: Keep in mind that training treats add to the daily caloric intake, and be sure to reduce their meals accordingly to avoid unwanted weight gain.
Another key point to keep in mind is to slowly fade out the food rewards. Ultimately, we want our dogs to respond no matter if we have food on us or not. Slowly decrease the treats; You can still hand them out, but not each time your dog obeys a command. That will keep him curious and wondering when he’ll get to enjoy another delicious bite of food!
Releasing a dog from his position is another important part of training ~ slowly increase the time span during which you expect your pup to hold the given command, and then praise & release him. You could say “ok”, “move” or whatever else you want to use to trigger the release. Once you’ve decided on a release word, you should stick with it so your dog doesn’t get confused.
I slowly began introducing distractions to their down-stays, such as throwing a toy, opening the front door, and then the ultimate distraction of the outside!
Thankfully, a fellow dog owner and now good friend lived in the same apartment complex as we did at the time, and was raising her Australian Shepherd Shade.
We figured out very fast that we were on the same page as far as raising & training puppies was concerned, and practiced obedience together, both indoors as well as outdoors.
The sky is the limit as far as exterior distractions go ~ we added a bicycle to our training sessions at one point, where we would tie our pups to some trees on their leashes, while one of us would ride by them on a bike, and the other one would work with them on their down-stays.
Consistency and patience are key when training a solid down-stay command. Remember to keep training sessions fun and rewarding to keep your pup in a motivated state of mind.
I’ve had a lot of training success by using a command only once, using a naturally performed behavior in my favor, and by incorporating shorter training sessions throughout the day.
How did you train the “down-stay” command? What are some good motivators for your pup? As always, we’d love to hear from you in our comment section!
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