DEAR OLD TRAINER: A couple of months ago you sent me information on how to train Fletch, my 1-year old hound/spaniel mix, to stop jumping on people and to sit. I was amazed how easy it was. He doesn’t jump now and sits on command, but if we leave a shoe on the floor he grabs it, is through the dog door in a flash, and into the yard. I chase him, but he won’t bring it back. What’s your advice?
Ryan, Steamboat Springs
A: Train your dog or your dog trains you. Dogs don’t waste time on politics or weather or the Kardashians. They just watch their humans all day and think of ways to have fun with them. Fletch got tired of seeing you loaf around and decided to teach you to play chase the shoe.
You never told him not to steal shoes so he’s not breaking the rules. Dogs are happy to obey the rules but are slick as New York lawyers in finding loopholes. Rocky, my oldest Border Collie, never broke a rule in his life. He just finds a way around it so he can do things I wasn’t smart enough to teach him not to do.
Fletch has finished basic training so it’s time to smooth off the rough edges with an advanced course. All he did was invent a way to have fun, so you don’t discipline him, you outsmart him
First, when you take off your shoe, show it to Fletch and say, “no, my shoe,” in a normal voice. Put it on the floor and put a tennis ball next to it. Toss the ball to him so he learns it’s the substitute for the shoe. Pet him when takes it, and play ball with him every day for at least a few minutes. Say “no” if he even looks at the shoe.
Then start advanced training. Walk Fletch—expandable leash, leave short leashes to the dog show folks—say “hold,” and give a slight tug on the leash to make sure he stops.
Each time he does, praise and pet him. Repeat the exercise 5 or 6 times, one right after the other, walk for a while, then repeat the process. Once he learns, go to the yard and practice without the leash.
Next, make it part of his daily feeding. As you set the food down order Fletch to “hold,” and use a hand signal the same as a traffic cop when he holds traffic. If you have to, restrain him with your hand while you repeat the command. After a few seconds, motion him toward the food and say “okay.” Don’t allow him to eat until you give the okay. Vary your actions from day to day. Allow him to eat immediately some days, order him to stay on others.
The final step is to use the same “hold” command before allowing him in or out of the car or the house. Use it every time he enters or exits. Pet him and brag on him when he does it right.
As always, the most important part of training is the petting and praise.
These commands psychologically extend your verbal control over Fletch. Each time he obeys, the bond between you becomes stronger and gives you more control when he finds the next loophole.
A trainer for more than 30 years, Jack Haskins has rescued, trained and placed more than 2,500 dogs. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.