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Dog Training Basics


Pick a Marker Word or Use a Clicker:

A marker word or the sound of a clicker is a Polaroid picture of something your dog’s done right, something you asked for. We humans are slooooow compared to our canine friends, so we need a way to mark a desired behavior that’s quicker than delivering food. By the time we get the food to a dog’s mouth, the dog’s moved on from that “sit” we asked for to looking left, scratching her head or some other activity that’s NOT the “sit” we asked for. You might easily end up rewarding your dog for looking left instead of sitting!

So pick an easy-to-remember, mono-syllabic marker word – “yes” or “good” are fine – or, use a clicker, and use that to say “Perfect! Treats are coming!” to your dog.

Pick a Release Word:

This is a signal to your dog that he’s successfully completed a task or command, and that the exercise is finished. It’s how he knows that “stay” is done, that it’s time for a little play with you, and that he can relax. Choose a phrase or word that you’re not likely to say accidentally (like “OK”), but one that’s easy to remember. “Free,” “done,” “break,” “play time” and a gazillion other phrases are fine.


The only requirement for this command is that the dog looks in your eyes. He can be sitting, standing, lying down or moving. When first starting, bring the dog’s attention to your face by holding a small piece of food in each hand next to your eyes and say “watch” (or look). AS your dog looks to your eyes, say “yes!” or click and then reward him with a treat. Alternate which hand you give the treat from. Be very quick with the “yes”! or click. You’ve got to catch the moment he looks in your eyes and mark it with that word or click.

Once the dog is comfortable with this, start moving your hands with the treats to your shoulders, then behind your back, then have no treats in your hands.

As you and your dog get more comfortable with this exercise, see how long you can hold your dog’s gaze – and be sure your face is soft and friendly and not staring intently down at him. Be sure to mark your dog BEFORE he looks away. Can you count to two? Then three? Then five? How long can you and your dog look at each other? Wait to say “yes” or click until you’re ready to end the look. Again, don’t push your dog too far too quickly. We want only successes!

Get It Game:

This is Law & Order dog training – you can do it while watching TV, cooking dinner, reading – anytime. It’s the foundation for a good, solid recall. Toss a treat in a way that your dog can see where it goes. Tell her to get it! Once she’s gotten the treat, say “Fluffy, come!” in a nice, friendly tone, and hold another treat out in your hand for her to see. When she gets to you, give her the treat while you hook a finger through her collar with your other hand. If your dog doesn’t come, don’t repeat the command. Walk up to her, stick the treat under her nose and back up to where you were. Give it to her when you get there. If she didn’t follow that treat, you need better treats! Practice this several times a day in several locations. You can do this outside with your dog on-leash, or in a fenced yard off-leash.