How to train a dog to come, stay, and heel on command?
September 24, 2012 12:05 PM   Subscribe

I want to train my dog to stay, come, and heel (or, "come in closer, but you don't have to come right up to me"). How do I do this?

Those are the only commands that I care about at the moment.

One priority is that I want the dog to truly understand the command word, not learn how to guess according to context what will get a treat ("OK, when he does this, see if sitting is what he wants, and then when he says something else in the command tone of voice go to him, and get a treat!").

In other words, if I say "pumpkin" and "come" in the exact same tone of voice, I only want the dog to react to "come."

I'd also like solid responsiveness, so that even if there's a cat or person or dog or whatever that the dog wants to chase or greet, stay means stay and come means come.

The training will almost certainly have to be just me and the animal most days.

How long should every training session last?

How frequent should the sessions come? Twice a day? Daily?

Once the commands are "learned," how often should time be taken to reinforce them?

What precise steps should I take to train the dog?

Not particularly interested in theory, but I do want to utilize only positive reinforcement.

Discrete steps or processes that are valid would be more of a help than recommending a large book filled with theory that I don't particularly want to read or have to understand to get results.

The dog is a long-haired dachshund.
posted by jsturgill to Pets & Animals (12 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Sue Ailsby's general process to get a behavior soild is this:

(1) Teach the behavior (Dog thinks, "Oh, I get a treat when I come over!") It sounds like you're at this stage with a lot of behaviors.
(2) Teach the cue (Dog thinks, "Oh, I get a treat when he says come and I come over!")
(3) Generalize the cue (Dog thinks, "Wow, this works everywhere!")

How many times you train and how long is going to depend on the dog. My greyhound's can't really focus for more than 5 minutes at a time, so we should be doing several short sessions basically whenever they're awake. Other dogs can train for hours if the reinforcement rate is high enough.

Once a command is really solid, Ailsby says behaviors should be treated like they have an imaginary piggy bank stuffed full of pennies. Every time you ask for the behavior and don't reward it, it's like taking a handfull of pennies out. When you reward a behavior again, it's like putting a penny back in. The size of the handful (ie, how much a dog will start to backslide if they aren't rewarded) depends on the dog and the behavior. If a dog likes to sit, for example, they may self-reward, so they don't need reinforcement as frequently. Or if they hate the behavior (for example, our dong is very scent-motivated and he hates to 'come' if he smells something interesting - we have to reward him basically every time we ask him to come away from something smelly).

(Aislby's essays, many of which are online, are very concrete and less theoretical, in my experience. The problem is that every dog is different, so recipes like "reinforce every 2 days" are not practical.)
posted by muddgirl at 12:15 PM on September 24, 2012

This is a kind of complicated question, but I'll see if I can distill it to something useful. Treats + shaping are the best ways to train a dog using only positive reinforcement. It's boring for the human but pretty effective.

To teach come and stay, your dog needs to already know sit. I'll assume he does, but if not the process is the same. Teach stay first, so you can have the dog stay while you walk away to train come.

Do this in 5-10 minute sessions:

1. Show the dog treats.
2. Command the dog to sit. Wait for him to obey.
3. Give a treat the first few times he sits.
4. Say "stay" once.
5. Wait half a second.
-If the dog moves/gets up/etc, say no firmly, and go back to step 2.
-If the dog doesn't, say "good dog!" in a high pitched tone and give him/her a treat.

As the dog begins to understand what the heck you wait, you can (very slowly!) add more time. Once the dog will hold a stay for 10ish seconds, take a tiny step back and repeat the process, slowly adding distance. This process will take several days to a week of 5-10 minutes 2-3x a day, depending on the dog. Once the dog becomes more consistent, give a treat only 4 out of 5 times, then 3, then 2, then 1, and then only occasionally. If at any point the dog fails or seems confused, go back a step.

Especially in the beginning, it is important to say the commands, "good dog", and "no" in exactly the same way every time. It helps them associate the sound with what you want more rapidly. Stop as soon as the dog looks bored, this is supposed to be fun for them and not torture.
posted by zug at 12:21 PM on September 24, 2012

You're going to get lots of advice on this.

I will suggest this book, but replace the clicker, which creeps me out for some reason, with a "Good Girl!" That book, and a few visits with a trainer to teach me some best practices worked pretty well with my terrier. She'll come, sit, stay, lie down, roll over, shake hands, "go lie down" (during dinner), and a couple others we roll out to impress.

How long should every training session last?

No more than 10-15 minutes. Both dog and person become exasperated after that.

How frequent should the sessions come? Twice a day? Daily?

We trained twice daily. Sit, stay, down, come, and walking on the leash. When those were down we moved on to tricks, which we also incorporate into the walk and play time.

Once the commands are "learned," how often should time be taken to reinforce them?

We use most of them daily. When she appears less responsive, we train for a coupla days.

What precise steps should I take to train the dog?

Read the book. Start at sit and work your way up. Treat liberally at first, then reduce treat frequency to increase response.

Not particularly interested in theory, but I do want to utilize only positive reinforcement.

This is all about positive reinforcement. My dog has learned that "uh oh" is wrong and that trying another behavior often results in a reward (if only a "good girl!")

Discrete steps or processes that are valid would be more of a help than recommending a large book filled with theory that I don't particularly want to read or have to understand to get results.

But it's a short book with a few introductory chapters, then step-by-step instructions for each behavior or trick.
posted by notyou at 12:22 PM on September 24, 2012

Oh, to train obedience in difficult situations (whatever is difficult for your dog), do the same thing I described but in progressively more distracting environments.

So, once your dog has "stay" down solidly indoors in a quiet area, try outdoors. Once he's mastered outdoors, throw treats/balls/toys at him until he will obey your command in your yard no matter what. Then work on it in a public area. Then seek out extra distracting situations and use those for training.
posted by zug at 12:24 PM on September 24, 2012

...and by "at him", I really mean "to him". If I tell my dog to wait, I can throw her favorite treat at her feet and she knows not to eat it until I say "go ahead".
posted by zug at 12:26 PM on September 24, 2012

I have a Husky, she is VERY strong willed. I started the training when she was about 8 weeks old, using positive reinforcement and successive approximation.

You start with "sit". The trick is to associate the word with the behavior. You'll never get a dog to "sit" when she first hears the word, but you can get her to associate the word with the behavior when she happens to have her butt on the ground. For example, be in front of the dog... if possible, just hang there until dog sits...that very second say "sit" and give her a treat (use very high interest treats for training. Small, and soft.. You don't want your training time spent while the dog chews up a hard treat. little bits of hot dog are great for this, there are also soft liver treats made for training). Continue that process, eventually the dog associates the word with the behavior and is following your command.

Pretty much the same with "stay" and "come" (I actually use the word "front" instead of "come").

I would train in short segments (five to ten minutes) several times a day. And, after 4 years, we still train on the basic commands on a pretty much daily basis.

I also still use reinforcement once in a while, intermittent reinforcement is the strongest way to prevent the behavior being extinguished.

And, I've NEVER hit the pup, not once, that is not the relationship you want.

The other basic command you'll want is "leave it". That can be used to keep her from picking up the cat, eating the goose poop (they LOVE goose poop, trust me), and keeping the pup from interacting with anything that you want left alone.

Have fun!
posted by HuronBob at 12:33 PM on September 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've got a puppy, and we've been working on these commands for a little while. He just got "stay" last week, finally, and it's been really exciting. I'm far from an expert, but one of the things I've been doing is making sure that my serious commands sound serious.

There's a difference between how I call him just for fun: "Hiiii, Truman! C'mere! C'mere! That's a gooooood boy! Gooood Truman!" and how I call him for business: "Truman, come."

He seems to understand pretty well that the first one is gallopy happy play time and the second one means now. All of his business commands (sit, stay, come, drop it, no, down) are done in a firm, low-tone voice, much as you would use with a misbehaving toddler. I say his name, then the command. If he doesn't listen, I just repeat. (And then plenty of upbeat "good boys" once he's actually done it.)
posted by phunniemee at 12:52 PM on September 24, 2012

Also, shredded cheese is an awesome training treat for my dog. Soft and easy to chew, flavorful, and already comes pre-shredded into tiny bits. My puppy LOOOOVES cheese, though, so YMMV.
posted by phunniemee at 12:54 PM on September 24, 2012

Watch the great youtube videos by kikopup. She has one that particularly addresses this issue. If you can't find something in her videos that helps your training, I'll eat my hat!
posted by BlueHorse at 2:50 PM on September 24, 2012

Also, along with the other good advice, I would add that this training should be done on leash--not one of those retractable leashes, you should use a sturdy 6ft long leash. I train with a choke collar--but that is somewhat out of fashion these days.

If you use one, you must use it correctly: make a "P" for puppy when you put it over your pup's head. It is most useful for training "heel." Hold the loop of the leash in your right hand, lightly hold another section of the leash in your left hand (the side the dog will heel to) if the dog pulls ahead or out or hangs back, say, "heel" and give one short tug and immediately release as the dog returns to position. Then praise or treat.

Same thing for training come. Once you master "sit" and "stay", put your dog on a sit-stay, move to the end of the leash, say, "come" and give a short tug and release to get the dog moving if it resists.

I like to train hand signals (using your right hand):

Sit--hand out, palm up, make an upward motion as you say, "sit."
Stay--hand out, palm facing the dog as you say, "stay."
Come--hand out, bring palm into chest as you say, "come"
Heel--hand down, palm facing back, motion around behind your right side and say, "heel."

Very quickly your dog will respond directly to the hand signals and won't need words. I got my lab to respond to teeny, tiny hand motions so it looked like we were communicating telepathically.
posted by agatha_magatha at 3:28 PM on September 24, 2012

If discrete steps are what you want, try Train Your Dog Like a Pro, by Jean Donaldson. It's both thorough and straightforward, and is based entirely on positive reinforcement. My copy came with a DVD, which I like—sometimes having a visual example is invaluable when you're trying to nail down tone, timing, etc.

On that note: I know you alluded to this in your questions, but the main thing I learned from the obedience classes we took was the importance of training *myself* to be consistent and clear in what I communicated to my dog, especially through body language. In fact, sometimes it turned out that my dog had really only been paying attention my body language and ignoring my verbal commands—so that's another thing to mix up in the final stages of training. (On the plus side: She picks up hand signals very quickly.)
posted by joJeppson at 3:47 PM on September 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Google "clicker training." Clicker training is very effective and, even better, it helps you develop a strong, positive relationship with you dog. Good luck.
posted by driley at 10:30 PM on September 24, 2012

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