Thursday, August 4, 2011


My wife and I adopted a dog when we moved to Tennessee. We have wanted a dog for a while, but our apartment in Maine would not allow them.

Rudi is a three-year-old, German Shephard. He is pretty big--bigger than any other dog my family has owned. He is friendly and playful, and a bit attention-seeking. But if you ignore him for about five seconds, he will usually walk away and lie down. The previous owner had had him for those three years. He was house trained in simple ways, but beyond sit and one trick that was it, and he didn't really know sit.

After a day, we managed to get him to wait for our signal ("It's OK", and a tap to the shoulder) before moving through the doors leading into or out of our house. In about two minutes, we managed to teach him to stay inside any boundary we set for him (in the kitchen when we are eating in the dining room; in the hallway when we are in our bedroom, etc). In about two days, we also got him to be calm when we come home. Rudi was not leashed trained, but we got him to walk on a slack leash in mostly about 2 minutes in our backyard, and then another 5 min outside for a walk around the neighborhood.

Most of this was done by gently using our bodies. For defining boundaries, we simply 'backed' Rudi up with our bodies (no hands or arms), and calmly said, "Rudi, Back up". When he would cross the boundary, we would just do it again, until he got the picture. With the door, we would just crack the door open and if he made any movement we would close the door. We gradually opened the door more and more (occasionally asking him to back up), until he knew that the door would not be opened until he remained back. It took no time for him to learn that a friendly, "It's OK" and a tap means that you can cross the boundary or go through the door. For the leash, we just didn't let Rudi decide where he was going. If he pulled forward, we excitedly and happily turned and ran the other way and saying, "Rudi, this way." If he started pulling that way, we change direction again. There was no yelling or telling him not to pull, or yanking the leash in punishment. If he did walk with a lack leash, we would just continue forward. On the first walk, we had to turn around less than a half-a-dozen times. Since then, he has only pulled the leash a little as we are returning back to the house. Finally, Getting Rudi to be calm when we come home was also easy. When he came home, we simply did not say anything or look at him until he was calm, and then he would get our attention.

More recently, we have started to work on "Come" and "Stay". Stay has been easy, because it is part of the "back up". We are just using "stay" to mean, don't move at all, rather than "back up", which is move back and then don't move forward. With "come" we are using treats and praise to get him to come. I think next week, we will work on "Drop it". The only other verbal talk we use with him is "all done" with a crossing hands gesture, when we are all done playing with him or giving him pets. We then put toys away and ignore him until he settles. If he is still excited enough to come up and bother us, we simply pull our hands up, cross them, and turn away from him. He gets the picture really quick.

It is very enjoyable to train a dog without ever having to yell or feel angry. Using your body and a calm voice makes things so efficient, but also pleasurable. The only escalating sound we use is, "Bop bop!" with accompanying claps to get him to "leave something" alone -- like the trash can. But the sound is not used in anger. Rather, it's used in a distraction kind of way. It startles him and directs his attention to the noise and to us. Pretty soon we will work on a "leave it" command.

Anyway, I wanted to write about this because

(1) It's about learning and teaching, and

(2) I want to write another post about how I "learned" to be this way with dogs.

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