While sit and lay down may be the first things you teach your new dog or puppy, there are a few essential skills all dogs should know. These behaviors promote focus, safety and good handling and may also prevent problem behaviors from forming.

What Are Good Behaviors?

A good behavior is one that is positive and helps teach your dog good manners and impulse control. Good behaviors can be used to replace unwanted behaviors and some, such as wait, drop-it, or touch help your dog focus and avoid dangerous situations. Read on to learn about our top six recommended skills. 

Our Top Six Favorites

Orient to Owner:  Teach your dog that orienting to you is always valuable and reinforce-able.  Rather than verbally prompting your dog to look at you and possibly getting no response, wait for him to offer attention in your direction and reward that behavior with a treat.  Start inside and gradually increase the difficulty by moving outdoors.  Your dog’s success will vary according to the level of novel distractions.  You will need to be patient and wait your dog out at times, but if the environment is too overwhelming, move to a different location to help your dog be successful.  

Take-It/Drop-It:  Take-It and Drop-It teach your dog when it is OK to take something, or not. You can play “tug of war” to teach this. Offer a safe toy and ask your dog to “take-it”. Play for a few moments, and have some fun! Then, put a treat under your dog’s nose and ask him to “drop-it”. When he does, trade the toy for the treat.  This game can help teach your dog when it is time for play, and when to leave an item alone.

Say Please:  Say Please requires that your dog perform a simple behavior, such as Sit (followed by a release), to earn an environmental reward like going thru a door or a sniff or greeting opportunity.  Food is not always your dog’s desired outcome so its important to incorporate other types of reinforcement into your training, especially leash walking.  Anything your dog shows interest in can be used as a potential reward (rather than a distraction) so long as it is safe and appropriate. 

Touch:  A “targeting” cue, such as Touch, involves physical interaction between your dog and a designated object, in this case your dog’s nose to your extended hand. The practical applications are unlimited.  Teaching your dog to touch his nose to your palm is a fun way to move your your dog from one spot to another.  Touch is helpful on walks and can also be used as a recall cue.  It’s a great confidence building skill for new dog learners.  Some dogs, find Touch to be an exciting game – enough so that it can be used as a reward in and of itself. If you are considering a future in dog sports, Touch will always be a useful control prompt.

Wait:  Wait, simply put, means don’t move forward.  Unlike Stay, Wait is more user friendly and practical than Stay and does not require that the dog do anything other than stop moving forward until released by you.  Wait is helpful at street corners, doorways or stairs.  Wait and Stay are often used interchangeably but are actually two different cues with two different outcomes for the dog.  With Wait, the dog can be released from a distance, such as when practicing an emergency recall.  Stay refers to holding a particular position for a duration of time and the dog is never released from a distance. 

Mat Work:  Mat training is another “targeting” behavior with useful life applications. The initial goal of mat work is for your dog to learn to relax on a designated mat or bed.  The end result is a dog that goes to his mat on cue and even chooses to hang out on his mat without being prompted by you.  My favorite things about mat work is that mats are easily moveable, the behavior transfers well from place to place and having more than one mat in use at a time is not an issue.  In my house we use mat work whenever food is being prepared or served.  We have two mats – one in sight of the table where we eat and one on the other side of the kitchen island – out of sight from food preparation.  When we travel with our dog, the mat is a visual cue that he instantly recognizes as his own.  In a hotel or house guest environment, he knows exactly where to go to relax and stay out from under foot.  I also coach my students on how to use mat work to improve greetings at the door.

The Importance of Training Classes

If you can teach good behaviors at home, why take a training class? Training classes are great for a number of reasons. One, you get the assistance of a pro that can help you with any difficulties in training. Second, you’ll get a lot more repetition than you probably do at home.  Also, you and your dog get to practice around controlled distractions.  A combination of structured learning plus play time can help make training more fun and exciting.

No matter the age of your dog, working on these essential behaviors can help ensure your dog stays happy, healthy, and out of trouble!

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