Dogs have a significant capacity for training their trainers. Apart from making us wave our hands and bark odd words, we regularly fetch treats and run after tennis balls. Not useful to us, but the dog enjoys it.
To put things back the way they’re meant to be, assert your alpha status. One of the foremost methods is a frequent use of ‘the stay’. Just what it sounds like, the stay requires the dog to remain stationary, in place, while you move about. Just the reverse of the usual situation in too many cases.
First, train the dog to ‘sit’ on command using the word and hand signals. I snap my fingers and simultaneously flip my extended index finger down at an angle to the ground. This gets the dog’s attention – without tying up my hands with a clicker – and shows the proper direction for the dog’s rear. It works surprisingly well.
Then with the pup, teen or mature dog in the sit, I thrust a hand in the dog’s direction palm first and fingers raised giving the voice command ‘stay!’. Not yelling, just distinct and audible over other noise and distractions. Hand movements should be precise and unique to a particular command/behavior.
Take one step back.
The dog will tend to follow, so repeat the hand gestures for sit and stay. If the dog fails to comply, take a treat or toy and move it over the dog’s head and slightly back of the eyes. Still visible, but in a direction that forces the chin up. Some dogs will rotate around. Repeat until you get the correct behavior then praise lavishly.
Now try again.
Once the dog will remain stationary after one step back, take two. Then four, then eight. Usually the further you are away the less control you have. The dog naturally wants to follow the alpha (leader).
One trick for overcoming this is to leash the dog on a collar and long leash or rope. Wrap the leash around a tree or post a few feet behind the dog and hold the leash as you face the dog. As the dog stands and steps forward, give a tug on the rope and issue the voice command and hand gesture. Don’t pull so hard as to unbalance the dog. You want to restrain not punish. A partner can be used instead of a tree, but dogs can become confused about whom to obey, making that a secondary choice.
Some dogs will tend to lie down during the exercise, especially as you back away a few feet. You may have to train an ‘up’-‘sit’ combination before mastering ‘stay’. Breeds and individuals will vary in how long – how many repetitions over how many days – it takes them to consistently obey, but almost all get it eventually.
After the stay has lasted a few seconds, issue ‘come’ with a unique tone and hand gesture. Make it something you can do precisely, but aren’t likely to do during normal activity. Command gestures should be unique and reserved for specific behaviors.
When the dog comes, praise lavishly and repeat the exercise, making the stay last longer as the dog learns. You’ll have succeeded completely when you can go back into the house and the dog will ‘stay’. Don’t forget to release him after a minute.
Of course, he’ll be expecting you to bring back treats and a tennis ball. Don’t disappoint.