5 Must-Do Training Exercises for Busy Dog Owners

Dog behaviourist Mike Mullan shares five fun exercises which will form the base for all the other exercises that you may want your dog to learn in the future and explains his theories.

There are five basic exercises that your dog must learn and always respond to. They are fun to teach and all can be linked together, this will give the dog both mental and physical exercise while at the same time they will build a strong and reliable bond between you.

Dog behaviourist Mike Mullan shares five fun exercises which will form the base for all the other exercises that you may want your dog to learn in the future and explains his theories.

My motto when it comes to your dog is “be firm, be fair, be fun and most of all be consistent”. You and your dog must both respect and trust each other, this forms the foundation for your living, training and your companionship with each other and your families.

5 Must-Do Training Exercises for Busy Dog Owners

Kind positive training methods will create a confident, reliable dog; negative training methods will result in a nervous, aggressive, unreliable dog, therefore you should always start your training when you are in a good mood.

You must be able to touch your dog absolutely on any and every part of him/her, and they must recall to you when called, 'sit' at your request, 'wait' at your command and walk beside you in a calm manner on a loose lead.

A new puppy will be very easy to train, a dog that you have adopted will need more care, time and patience as will an old dog that has established set ways within your household.

These 5 exercises below apply whether you own a puppy or have brought a new dog into your home, or whether you have a bored dog and are looking to introduce some fun training.

1. Using treats and giving your dog a quick health check

I use an empty travel sweet tin to start any new training procedures and place a couple of pebbles and a selection of tasty, smelly natural dog food titbit treats in this. When sitting in my armchair in the lounge and the dog is close to me I rattle the tin, the noise will immediately attract its full attention. I remove the lid from the tin while at the same time I call the dog to me using the dog's name and the command 'come'.

5 Must-Do Training Exercises for Busy Dog Owners

The aroma from within the tin will ensure that the dog comes directly to me. Once he arrives, I give him a titbit and one gentle stroke on the front of its head and down its back. I will then keep a second titbit in my right hand hold this in front of the dog's nose while I run my left hand around the crown of its head down over the muzzle and just under the chin, I do this a couple of times then I proceed to gently go all over the head, ears, gently open the eyes with your finger and thumb, then check the teeth (I always give the command 'teeth' before I do this).

I then slowly, while talking quietly to the dog, go over the whole dog. As I do this, he receives a few titbits. It is important that I check between the toes and bend his feet back and check his pads. For example, I make sure I check the whole of his tail and under the tail, I then roll the dog over on to its back giving the command 'roll' and check all four armpits, it's full under carriage including its naughty bits. I finish with a little light play, tapping his feet, rubbing his tummy and running my hands under his neck and chin and once done I call him up on to his feet.

If you carry out this procedure on a regular basis you will always be aware of any minor injuries or other problems your dog may be carrying. This also builds trust in you and will ensure that he is relaxed when his vet needs to check an injury or lumps and bumps that could develop in the future.

2. A secret method for teaching your dog to come to you

As we rattled our titbit tin and called the dog to us each time we wish to check him over (using the dog's name and the command 'come') we have in fact started his recall training and these two exercises can run alongside each other.

5 Must-Do Training Exercises for Busy Dog Owners

At any time that we are in a different room to the dog or even when the dog is in the garden, we only need to rattle the tin and call the dog by name to 'come', he will oblige as he knows that it is to his advantage to do so.

When he comes to the call we can start by giving him a titbit, then gradually give fewer titbits and more fuss. Next time just offer fuss as a reward, then over time gradually increase the ratio from one treat in two commands, one in three, one in four and so on, but always drop back to a one to one for a couple of times to reinforce his confidence in the titbit tin.

3. Using treats to help your dog learn to sit

As the dog is now coming to us quickly we can introduce the 'sit'.

When he comes quickly on command instead of giving him his titbits you place the titbit between your finger and thumb and slowly hold it in front of his nose, and then take it very slowly up and closely over his muzzle and his head. Automatically your dog will follow your hand command and his head will tilt backwards up towards you and his bottom will go to the ground.

As we carry out this procedure the command is always the dog's name followed by 'sit' then you give him the titbit. Eventually, you won't need the titbit but can continue to use the same hand movement where you've previously placed the titbit in between your fingers holding in front of his nose making his head tilt up towards you and him sit by default.

By repeating, this same hand movement will then become a signal to him along with your verbal command. In due course, you will then only require the verbal command.

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5 Must-Do Training Exercises for Busy Dog Owners

4. How to teach a dog to wait

With the 'recall' and 'sit' exercises now understood by the dog, we can introduce the 'wait'. With the dog sitting on your left-hand side this is accomplished by quietly but firmly using the word 'wait', while at the same time moving your cupped left hand with all fingers closely together in a cross and upwards movement about 3 inches in front of his nose. Make sure you do not use the dog's name as this will result in him standing or otherwise moving.

Once you have given the 'wait' command and simultaneously the cupped hand signal, you then silently (not out loud) count to three. If you have been still, quiet, and used a firm voice your dog will not have moved. You can now repeat the verbal command 'wait' and hand signal.

5 Must-Do Training Exercises for Busy Dog Owners

After a silent count to three you can, without any fuss quietly give your dog a small titbit - this should have come quietly from your pocket, not your titbit tin.

Once the dog has eaten the titbit you can now reinforce this by repeating the command and hand signal and the three-second count. Then as before, a second three second count followed by a second titbit from your pocket and a positive but quietly praise your dog. You may now command the dog to 'wait' using the above method.

Stepping off on your right foot move forward without waving your arms - two small paces count to two, turn and face your dog and quietly, but in a friendly way, call your dog to you. When he comes, make a big fuss of him and do no other work with him for five minutes, then start the whole procedure again, repeat a third time.

Do not do this more than three or four times in any one session, and keep sessions short, upbeat and lively. It's better to have three to four short two minutes sessions daily than one larger twenty minute session to keep your dog's attention and focus.

As your dog's confidence grows you can gradually increase the time you spend making your dog 'wait' before rewarding him while also gradually increasing the distance that you go from him. Always be firm, happy and consistent when you call him to you.

Eventually you will be able to use the 'wait' situation while you do other exercises with your dog, just as fitting his collar, placing the food bowl, throwing a ball, opening a door or releasing him from his leash and so on. This will give you a good degree of control.

5. Training your dog to walk to heel

When we take our dog out for a walk we want him to be well mannered and walk beside us, not pulling or attempting to go towards other people or dogs. As with all exercises, there are many different ways that we can teach him to walk happily and close beside us. Whichever method you choose to use, it's best to start this in an enclosed area, such as a garden, and I always start with the dog sitting on my left-hand side and with him looking at my face.

I achieve this by holding him on his leash with the leash held in my right hand and at least three titbits in my left hand. I roll a titbit forward in my hand holding it between my finger and thumb, making sure my finger and thumb are in front of his nose.

5 Must-Do Training Exercises for Busy Dog Owners

As he comes forward for it, as he inevitably will, I take the titbit slowly forward out of my thumb and finger, while at the same stretching my arm out and moving my hand in a semi circle so it ends up at my back and in line with my spine. This is designed to capture your dog's attention and get him interested in what the titbit is doing and where it's going.

I then draw my hand forward close to my left leg and because of the previous motion and movement of the hand and treat, the dog will follow the titbit once again. As soon as his head is just in front of my left knee I take the titbit up and over his head and at the same time, I will command the dog to 'heel'.

As I draw him forward and command him to 'sit' I take the titbit over his head, (remember we have already taught him this part of the exercise while getting him interested in the titbit tin). When he is sitting I give him the titbit and immediately roll a second titbit forward to my finger and thumb.

Again, take the titbit straight in front of his nose then move it, not too fast, up to my face. You will see your dog's eyes following the titbit automatically. As I take it up to my face I command the dog 'watch' then I count to two and give the dog the titbit.

Then, I roll another titbit forward in between my finger and thumb and repeat the procedure.

With the dog sitting on my left-hand side I command him to 'watch' which gets his attention, I then step off with my left foot giving the 'heel' command.

My left hand, fist clenched holding a few titbits is down and just in front of my left leg. Dogs will smell the titbits and his head will remain in the correct 'heel' position as we move forward a few paces. After about six steps I will give him a titbit. I will keep walking for a further six steps and give him another titbit, I will carry on for three further steps and command him to 'sit'.

If need be I will draw my left hand back over his head, in the same manner, I used when first teaching him to 'sit'. As soon as he is in the 'sit' position, I command him to 'watch', as I do this my hand is up pointing to my face. Making sure I have a titbit between my finger and my thumb, which I give to him after the second or third 'watch' command, I then repeat the whole procedure three or four times, and then have a run around game with my dog to end on a fun note.

You will find it won't take too many repeats of this procedure to have your dog walking, sitting and watching on command without the use of a titbit. Eventually, your dog will learn where your hand is placed for the 'heel' command and he will begin to automatically look up towards your face when you command him to 'watch' even if he is away from you.


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