Dear Old Trainer: Sharpy, our 3-year-old Shar-Pei, has always been well-behaved and obedient. She obeys most of the time, but when we are at the park, there are times when she just ignores me and does what she wants. She will look at me when I call her, but then go back to what she was doing. When she finally comes, she behaves like an angel again. What is going on?
-- Jeff, Merced
A: Sharpy is challenging you to see whether you will back up your commands. All dogs test the leader at some point.
Think of the scene in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," when Butch and Sundance return to Hole in the Wall and Harvey Logan challenges Butch to a knife fight.
You are Butch, and Sharpy is Harvey Logan, but you won't need a knife fight to assert your leadership. Two simple additions to your training routine will do the job.
Before you begin, make sure she has the sit-stay-come series of commands down pat. These three commands form the basis of all training and I cover them on a regular basis.
In case you missed previous columns and are unfamiliar with the commands, I emailed you instructions on how to teach them. Work on all three every day.
The first addition will be incorporated into the daily feeding. Order Sharpy to "sit" and do not put her food down until she obeys. Once she does, set the food down and give the "stay" command. Use the same hand signal as a traffic cop when he holds traffic.
Don't allow her to approach the food until you give the OK. If you have to, restrain her with your hand while you repeat the command.
After a few seconds, say "OK," and allow her to eat. Teaching her that she eats only when you allow it is the important part, not the time she waits. After she learns to obey you, vary your actions from day to day. Allow her to eat immediately some days, order her to stay on others.
The next step is to use the same "stay" command before allowing her in or out of the house or the car. Open the door, but she cannot walk out the door until you give the "OK" command and motion her forward. Do this on every entry and exit.
Stand erect as you train her, give the command in a normal voice, allow Sharpy 10 to 15 seconds to think through the process, and pet and praise her when she complies with your order.
The two exercises condition Sharpy to the fact that you are the leader and you give the orders. Each time she obeys your commands the bond between you becomes stronger.
She will soon understand you are the leader and will obey commands as soon as they are given.
As always, the most important part of training is the petting and praise.
Jack Haskins writes as The Old Trainer. A trainer for more than 30 years, he has rescued, trained and placed more than 2,000 dogs. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.