The Sit and Come
By Nona Horsley
Along with socialization and play come good manners. Fortunately, good manners are the beginnings of obedience training. Let’s start with the “Sit.” Of course Beardies would rather jump (preferably on you and with muddy paws), but that’s the point. Teaching your Beardie to sit on command will alleviate many problems such as when friends or strangers approach and your friendly Beardie wants to jump on them and lick their faces. As cute as your pup may be, muddy paws on someone’s best wool skirt or pants isn’t cute.
You will need a flat collar, leash, long line, lots of treats, something soft and quick to eat such as cut up pieces or rollover or cheese (I use lowfat mozzarella since my Beardie likes to overeat), some crunchy that take longer to eat such as milkbones and beef jerky and, above all, a sense of humor and patience.
Your pup should get used to the collar and wear it during the day. To teach the “Sit”, put the pup on leash so she can’t wander off and put the food above her nose so that she naturally sits. Say the word “Sit” as she sits and reward with a treat. Do this often enough and the dog will associate the action with the word. Practice this with friends in various situations. When the doorbell rings and you and your pup go to the door, have the pup on leash. Have your friend at the door tell the pup to sit and reward with a treat.
It won’t take long for the pup to get the idea and you won’t have such negatives as jerking the pup off friends and shouting “DOWN!” The pup will like your friends — and your friends will like your pup.
After you are sure that the pup understands the word “Sit,” begin to randomly reward with a treat. We all know dogs that will do anything for food but ignore their owners when the reinforcement is taken away. And unlike conformation, no food is allowed in the obedience ring. Another reward and release from the exercise is the throwing of a favorite toy. The more motivators you have, the easier the dog is to train.
Teaching your dog to come is essential and not an optional exercise. The dog should learn early on that this is not voluntary. Getting used to the leash should also be a positive experience. I put a six-foot lead on my pup in the morning which she drags all over the house. When I call her, she has no choice but to obey because I have the leash. If she doesn’t respond, I give a gentle pop on the leash and she comes. Again, it doesn’t take longer than a few days for the pup to associate the word with the action.
Then we graduate to the long line for outside. This is a gradual process where the dog is slowly given more distance between her and you. I tie the long line around my waist if I am working in the garden or washing windows. This is also great for walks in the park. If the pup gets distracted or refuses to come when I call, I give the pop correction.
The pup is not given the chance to run off! If the pup voluntarily comes, reward with a treat, toy, or play or all of the above if it came in an extremely distracting situation.
Beardies, you will find, are extremely intelligent and independent. The basics at the puppy stage set the foundation for everything later. It is tough to convince an adult dog who has never been conditioned to obey that it should come when you call it. It might if it wants to, but then again, it might not if it doesn’t want to. A puppy who has been conditioned since you first got it won’t think that way. It is also your job to make the dog think that you are the most wonderful thing in its world so that it will always want to come to you. You are the prime motivator.
Another great way to get your dog to want to come to you on command is to have a friend hold your dog either by the collar or with both arms around its chest. Take the long line and let it all the way out, then call your dog in your most animated and loving voice. Have your friend hold the dog until it struggles to get loose to get to you. The dog should race to you. Don’t worry about making her sit in front of you. Let her lick and jump and definitely reward with a treat or toy and hugs. Alternate the treat idea with a throw of a favorite toy at the last moment so she will jump and not slow down as she nears you. All of this is the beginning of the formal “come.”
The long line is the built-in correction in case she doesn’t come to you. A pop will ensure that she does. This alleviates the other game Beardies are fond of: chase me until you catch me. There is nothing more infuriating than chasing a dog who will not come. Refuse to do that. Keep the dog on a leash or long line until you know it will come. If you do get into a situation where the dog is free and you have called it and it won’t come, do not chase it. Walk away from it. Better yet, run from it. Its prey instinct should kick in and make it want to chase you. When you do get the dog, do not punish it. After all, it did finally come. Keep your temper, put it on a leash or long line and don’t let if off until you can trust it. Proof that trust in a fenced in area such as a tennis court or fenced playground.
Still another way to reinforce the “come” is through games. Hide behind a tree or bush and call your dog. It will love to find you. In the house you can hide behind a couch, in the shower, (use your imagination), and call your dog. Beardies LOVE hide and seek. Sometimes rewarding with a treat is a bonus to the shy or reluctant puppy who did come and find you. All of these exercises will help to make the formal “come” easy to teach if you do decide to do obedience training.
Every pet owner should have a dog who will come when it is called. One final thought: even when you are sure your dog will come when called, keep it on leash in potentially dangerous situations. A failure to come might result in your beloved pet being hit by a car or attacked by a loose dog.