How do I "sharpen" the obedience of my dog?
January 8, 2012 2:40 PM   Subscribe

How do I "sharpen" the obedience of my dog?

My dog knows all the important commands (come/stay/sit/down/heel) but she's usually pretty lackadaisical about obeying them. Unless I have treats, I'll have to give her the command once or twice, and sometimes I have to throw in the negative "enh enh" sound before she decides to go along with it. I'm mostly concerned with this for her own safety, like if she wanders into the street and I need to call her back. How do I get her to respond the first time?
posted by malhouse to Pets & Animals (7 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Some ideas. Look at using higher value rewards, something she absolutely cannot resist. Once she starts to respond better look at not handing a treat out everytime but randomly that ups the attention of my dogs. Some dogs are not super food motivated, your dog might not be super motivated by treats, some dogs prefer play or other things as a reward, carry her favourite "tug" toy and when she comes have a short game of tug of war or something.

Dogs also tend to have very situational learning, they learn to come in your back yard but don't realise you mean the same thing when you are out or at the park or a different location so you have to practice, practice practice in every location and situation you can think of. You might want to look into clicker training, I have found that very effective with my "what's in it for me" mentality Silky Terrier and it helps as you can mark the behaviour you want in stages while the dog is away from you. I had to use clicks to reward him just for turning toward me when I called his name he would get so stubborn, then clicks for stepping towards me etc.

These are just things that have worked with me with one very bloody minded and independent terrier/terror.
posted by wwax at 3:22 PM on January 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Train with one meal a day (assuming you feed twice a day), and have a few extra good goodies in there (bits of cheese, cooked chicken, whatever). Happy, upbeat, rewarding. And make GETTING to the treat part of the reward. Ask for a sit, when she sits, say "YES!!!" and then RUN to the food bowl for the reward. Proof your training by taking her to new places and working her when she is hungry (but remember that you need to increase your rate and value of rewards every time you increase the distractions). You can then start varying the rate of the rewards, ONLY AFTER you have the behaviors as snappy as you want them. I don't work for free, I don't expect my dogs do, but what I do by rewarding a lot in practice, is build a bank account of "this got me something before", which increases the chances that my dog will make the decision I want her to make when there are no rewards. I reward a LOT, and this gets me the behaviors I want, including in competition scenarios where I cannot reward until the end.

Adding a verbal negative is not going to get you what you want, making it a fun, rewarding and exciting game will get you what you want. Also, clicker train a new trick every week. Dogs hate drills as much as people do, mix it up. Think fun and happy, not stern and exacting. And ALWAYS reward your recalls! ALWAYS. I never walk my dogs without at least a couple of bits of kibble or cookies in my pocket. There is no such thing as a 100% perfect recall, on any dog, all you can do is stack the odds in your favor that your dog will come when called, and the way you do that is by making it worth her while, NOT by correcting her, but by rewarding her, sometimes lavishly. And never punish a dog for coming when called, always reward it, no matter how leisurely it was. Sometimes call her and feed her a cookie in the house for no reason at all, sometimes go to her, call her name, and feed her a cookie, build the association in her mind between her name and good things.
posted by biscotti at 4:07 PM on January 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't know about sharpening so much, but I can tell you how to teach your dog to respond immediately.

Use one very specific call or command for feeding time. A whistle between the teeth or a click in your cheek and use it only for feeding time. Don't use her name or anything that can be confused with any other training you're doing. After a short time, maybe a week or so, that call will begin to also mean, "I need you NOW!" Which will result in an immediate response.

Yes, it sounds too simple to be true, but I've been raising dogs for about 30 years and that is always their first lesson.
posted by snsranch at 4:23 PM on January 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

YMMV since my current dog has never been trained with treats. However, when he doesn't respond within the timeframe I consider appropriate (and he's a very stubborn terrier, so he tests my patience pretty frequently), I keep working him with the same (and other) commands until he executes them immediately and perfectly, then I praise him in the extreme. Once you have signaled to the dog that a lackadaisical response to your commands is sufficient, the dog will continue to do that unless you set and reinforce a new standard. Fortunately, it's reversible.
posted by DrGail at 5:33 PM on January 8, 2012

What DrGail said - our dog trainer told me "You don't expect your dog to respond fast enough." So, "heel" is said right when I start walking, and she's to look to me and keep up (and be praised for doing it right). If she stops paying attention to me (being a sniffy hound), I make quick turns and stops until she realizes she'd better smarten up a bit (and we have a command "walking" which means "Less ambling and sniffing please, spit spot, we've got places to go!"). If she doesn't "come" when I call, I go get her and she's on leash and we work on it until she's praised for doing it right. If she doesn't "sit", my hand guides her to. Sadly, walking my dog isn't relaxing and enjoyable because of her history and breed - it's always work.

Besides, to do all this, you also need to make sure she's looking to you, and you also praise her for paying attention to you - with eye contact and praise words.

Our trainer also said you have to pay attention to your dog, and call them when they will come. Say, when they spot that perfectly rotting, festering pile of stinky squirrel carcass - there's the moment where they're going to be able to resist and respond, and the next moment when they're going to say "Screw it, it's worth it and I'll take the reprimand." You have to look for that half-moment in-between them and use it.
posted by peagood at 6:57 PM on January 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Biscotti has said everything I could, but better. Find out what most motivates your dog, and reward success with that. There is nothing wrong with rewarding a dog with food, or praise or... whatever works. Most dogs do not have an inclination to "work for free."
posted by vers at 6:59 PM on January 8, 2012

I have a stubborn terrier, and I basically did what snsranch is suggesting - I call it the "I mean it" sound, and when she hears it she stops and looks at me.
posted by mrs. taters at 6:46 AM on January 9, 2012

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