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Techniques for Training Dogs

Animal trainer Kathy Santo joins Martha to demonstrate techniques for training dogs.

The Martha Stewart Show, January 2008

Dogs are popular holiday presents, and that means owners will be spending the good part of the year training their new pet. In fact, training the dog is a resolution many people make each January but don't follow through because they're too busy or don't know the proper methods. But these techniques from dog behaviorist Kathy Santo will help you train your dog in little time.

Instead of teaching one command at a time, teach four; that means even if you only have five minutes to train, you'll be working four commands at one time. Whether you have a new puppy with no knowledge of commands, a shelter dog with a few under his belt, or a dog that selectively listens, you can tailor this method to your dog's needs.

Gently push down on the dog's rear if it doesn't sit on command.

Once dog is in a sitting position, the "stay" command tells the dog not to move. For puppies or dogs with little or no training, hold the dog's collar or keep them on a tight leash and say, "Stay." As the dog progresses, let the leash become loose and increase the length. When the dog no longer breaks its stay on the leash, you can progress to no leash at all.

Start with a toy or treat. Hold the leash tight, throw the treat, and say, "Get it!" If the dog won't go, you can take a step forward and point toward it so they knows it's okay to leave your side. If that doesn't help, you can walk with them to the treat. Once the dog realizes that "get it" means it's okay to get the treat, they won't need you to move with them. Once the dog has mastered this command with food, teach it to pick up something it can bring back and actually give to you, like a dumbbell or a stuffed animal.

The minute your dog picks up the food, give them the "come" command. Call your dog immediately because you don't want them hanging out away from you, getting distracted with something else. Remember, this is the command that will ultimately be a lifesaver if your dog is ever running toward something dangerous.

Give your dog a treat when they return to reinforce that the "come" command is rewarding. Eventually, you'll faze the food out altogether and your praise will be the only reward. This is key, because there will be times when there's an emergency and you need your dog to come, but don't have a treat.

Emergency Down
This teaches the dog that even in motion, they must lie down quickly. The most important rule for this exercise is not to progress to the next step if your "down" is slow. Common reasons for using the emergency down are when a dog is wet and muddy, when a dog is taking a running leap at your guest, or if you're preventing a dog from running on a wet floor. To do this, tug on the leash as your dog is lying down and repeat, "Down." Once they understand the meaning of this command, begin using it as you walk your dog.

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