The Old Trainer: Don't let dog manipulate you

September 14, 2012 

Dear Old Trainer: Thank you so much for the advice on the "hold" command. Charlie, our 2-year-old mixed breed learned it like magic. It is amazing to give the command and see him stop and freeze. Any other tricks that easy to teach?

-- Mark, Merced

A: Here is one Charley will learn fast with little effort on your part. Willpower yes, effort no.

We all have activities our dogs enjoy so much they refuse to stop. We say, "That's all," and they wag their tails, look at us with love in their eyes, and think, "no it's not." They are master manipulators, framing the issue on emotion rather that logic.

We love them, so we say, "OK, I'll throw the ball a few more times, then we have to go." They hear, "OK, we'll do it as long as you want."

Here is how you teach Charley to stop when you are ready. When you have enough of the activity, hold both hands out, palms facing him, spread them apart and say, "That's all."

The hand signal is the same as that of a blackjack dealer when relieved. If you don't play blackjack, it is what Tom Cruise does at least five times every movie when he "really" means it. You don't have to hold your index fingers up and turn your head like Tom does though.

Once you do it, turn and walk away. Never relent. Do it at the end of every interaction you have with Charley. In a few days he will understand the signal means the fun is over and there is no appeal. At that point it becomes a universal command, no matter what activity you wish to stop.

Dear Old Trainer: I found one of your articles on the Internet where you said you do not agree with crate training. Can you expound on why?

-- Carlin, Santa Fe, New Mexico

A: Crate training is an oxymoron. It is not training at all, it is a way to avoid training. It confines a dog without training him to do anything.

Breeders embrace it because it enables them to unload hard-to-sell puppies on unsuspecting buyers. If a buyer tells a breeder he works all day, the breeder says, "no problem, just stuff it in a box."

Leaving a puppy or a full grown dog in a crate has long-term, negative consequences on the dog. It is the same as confining a human in a space one-third the size of a prison cell.

If you need to confine a dog, put it in a bathroom or the kitchen and put a baby gate across the entrance. Put a crate in the room with bedding in it and leave the door open so the dog can enter and leave at will, and leave food, water, and toys in the room.

If you must use a crate, never confine a dog for more than two hours and never put the dog in as punishment.

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

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