How to Train Dogs to Listen

Learning how to train dogs to listen is an important part of basic dog training. A dog comes when called when it's in the dog's interest. That's only natural. If you're calling a dog to go for a walk or get dinner or a treat, it will be all ears. If the dog's busy baying up a tree at a squirrel or you're trying to get it to mind you on a leash when it's interested in the dog across the street, you're a murmur in the background. You are simply not as interesting as the squirrel or the neighbor's dog.

Having a deferential and attentive dog is really part of your total relationship. There is no one training exercise or rule. However, there are plenty of daily interactions you can use to build a better bond. The more your dog listens to you and looks to you for guidance, the more trust it has in you, and the calmer it will become.

Be Honest
Do not ask your dog to do something that you cannot enforce. If it is running after a squirrel and ignoring you, don't keep yelling, "Come here!" repeatedly-the dog is tuning you out. Follow the dog and grab the collar, or run in the opposite direction and start calling if it turns and heads towards you, because then it is complying.

Never, ever call a dog just to punish it.

If you aren't offering a treat, don't yell, "Want a treat?" in an effort to get the dog to come. Unless you have a treat in hand, tricking the dog in this manner will lead to distrust.

Be Consistent
If you want your dog to sit, say, "Sit," and expect it to comply. Say what you mean and mean what you say.

Don't say, "Sit down," if you mean sit and not down. Or "Off" when you mean "Down." This is confusing for dogs. They communicate by body language and we often give them conflicting signals. Be consistent.

Dogs do just as they are taught, so be a good teacher. If they're not expected to have manners and pay attention, they won't. They will do what comes naturally and what feels good.

Tone of Voice
Don't entreat, plead, ask or yell. Dogs react to the tone of your voice as well as the words you use. A low, calm voice is usually heard better than a squeak or screech. There's no need to yell anyway; most dogs have extremely good (if selective) hearing.

Expect More
Don't hand your dog a treat just because it looks cute or is bouncing up and down in front of the treat cupboard. Expect your dog to sit, offer a paw or do something in exchange for the treat. Expect your dog to defer to you this way before meals too. No grabbing and pushing to get food. Dogs like to work, and they enjoy having mastery over their own behaviors. It doesn't have to be just "sit"; the dog can do any tricks you ask. In fact, once the dog figures out the routine, it will start offering the behavior.

You may read advice about not letting the dog go out the door ahead of you because this is an act of dominance. It's just as likely an act of eagerness. This doesn't mean you should allow your dog to hurl itself your front door without paying attention to where you are. Your dog should be able to sit or stand calmly while you attach a leash and proceed nicely out the door.

If your dog constantly nudges your hand or jumps on you, demanding attention, ignore it. Instead, call your dog and give it all the hugs, belly rubs and ear scratches you want. Call your dog for dinner as well. You want it to be secure in the knowledge that all good things come from you. This makes you more interesting.

Attention Games
The "watch me" command can be very helpful. The aim is to have full eye contact from your dog, no matter what is going on around it. Start with a handful of tiny, soft treats. Hold them near your face. Say, "Watch me." The dog will probably be staring at your hand. Repeat "Watch me" at some point. Annoyed that you're not handing out goodies, the dog will look you in the eye. Shove a treat in the dog's mouth and praise. As the dog gets better at the game, start moving your hands in different positions while saying, "Watch me." Add other distractions gradually.

Eventually you will get to the point where a strange dog can be barking 10 feet away and you can tell your dog to watch and have its undivided attention.

As with any training, use treats often at first. As your dog learns what's expected, use them intermittently. After a while, you won't need rewards. The action itself becomes the reward.

Do you ever hike off leash with your dog? If so, keep its attention on you by hiding behind a tree or something when the dog's not looking. Dogs become a bit concerned when their human has suddenly disappeared. When the dog finds you, give it a great big hug and a treat.

If off leash, occasionally call your dog, give it a big hug for coming and then give permission to run off again. Don't call your dog only when you're about to put the leash on, otherwise it will associate coming to you with the end of freedom.

Whether on leash or off, keeping some treats or a favorite toy in your pocket is a good idea. Randomly call your dog to you, at times when you know it will come. Reward and praise, then let the dog go back to whatever it was doing.

Who Is Walking Whom?
You have probably seen that dog on the leash that is setting the pace. Whichever direction the dog decides to go, the human follows. The dog stops when it wants to stop, speeds up, goes in circles and zigzags. The human on the end of the leash a mere nuisance.

Dogs need time and space to amble and sniff at their own pace, but this can and should be structured.

The point of incorporating these tips into your relationship with your dog is to have a better-behaved, more secure pet. Your dog will trust you and look to you for appropriate behavior, and it will happily and willingly pay attention to you.

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