The Ultimate Outdoor Companion: There Are No Unteachable Dogs

Even old dogs can learn new tricks

Habits are ingrained through pr

Habits are ingrained through proper training via Shutterstock     Photo: Jeff Thrower

First know this: dogs don’t sit, stay, or heel because they think it’s the right thing to do. They do it because those habits have been ingrained through training. Here are the basic principles: command, behavior, mark, reward. Every time your pup sits, say “good” and give it a treat, either a small piece of food (liver treats or popcorn are good) or a pat on the head. By saying “good,” you’re marking the behavior: your dog will quickly realize that “good” means food or attention. Eventually, it will realize that every time it sits, it gets a “good” and then a treat. At that point, add in “sit.” Before long it will all come together: “ ‘Sit’ (the command) means I should sit (the behavior), because that means I’m going to get a treat (the reward).” It’s a simple formula, but it’s also the most fundamental one. From there you can move on to “here,” “heel,” “leave it,” “down,” “beer me,” and all the other crucial commands.

1. To learn the basics of clicker training, which employs a handheld clicker to mark behavior, there’s no better guide than the delightfully corny DVD The How of Bow Wow! ($35).
2. For a more complete guide to correcting behavioral issues, get Leader of the Pack: How to Take Control of Your Relationship With Your Dog ($13; Harper).
3. Just looking for quick tips and how-to videos? Check out Outside Online’s dog blog.

From Outside Magazine, Jul 2012 Get the Latest Issue

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