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Who’s in Charge?

Do you sometimes wonder if your dog is secretly running the show?  Does he mind you when it’s convenient or not at all?  Does he “demand” attention by nudging or worming his way onto your lap?  If you would like a better-behaved older dog or want to start your new puppy on the right road, try to encourage your dog to “Work For Rewards.”  This is an every day concept of teaching for you and your dog that will build a happy, healthy, confidant relationship.  It is not a cure for a specific behavioral problem, but will help you to have a solid foundation from which you can work to solve any problems.  If you work with your dog in this manner, he will learn to trust, respect, and accept you as his pack “leader”, which can help prevent many behavioral problems.

Work for Rewards:

The first step in “Work For Rewards” is to use positive reinforcement to teach your dog some basic obedience commands: "Sit, " "Come, " "Down" and "Stay." You can also add some commands for tricks like: "Shake," "Speak," "Rollover" or "Sit-up". Another good command to teach if you play a lot of fetch or retrieval games is "Drop-It." The most important command you are going to teach, however, is your dog’s release command "Free". "Free" is the command that will tell your dog you are not going to ask him for anything else and he can run, jump, play, chase the ball, etc. When you use the "Free" command, you should always reach down and touch the dog as you say it.

Once your dog has a pretty good grasp of at least some of these commands, you can begin to practice “Work For Rewards.” The object here is to ask your dog to "work" for you before you "reward" him in everyday situations. You are going to ask your dog to perform a command before you give him food, a toy, a treat, or attention (petting).

Here are some examples:

  • It’s your dog’s dinnertime. Take him to the feeding area and ask him to "sit" and "stay" about an arm’s length from where his bowl is normally put down. Your dog must stay in his position until you have put down the bowl and released him with his "free" command. If he does not, pick up the bowl and try again.
  •  You are sitting down after dinner to watch TV and here comes Fido pushing his way onto your lap. Stop him at your feet and ask him to "down" and "stay." After an appropriate length of time (don’t ask him for longer than you know he will stay), praise him, release him, and ASK him to join you in the chair.
  • It’s time to go for a walk. Go to the door with the leash and ask your dog to "sit." Do not attach the leash until your dog stays in his position quietly as you do so. Once attached, praise him, release him and off you go. If your dog is too excited working close to the door at first, try this in the kitchen or elsewhere and gradually work your way to the door as he gains control.
  • It’s time to play a game of fetch. Initially your goal is going to be to get your dog to bring you the toy and "drop-it." Never pry his mouth open to take it away, wrestle or chase him for possession. If he will not release the toy, walk away and try again a few minutes later. If he does release the toy, praise him lavishly and continue playing. Once he has the release down, begin asking him to "shake" or "speak" before throwing the toy again. When he’s gotten really good, ask him to "sit" and "stay" after you throw the toy until you give him the "free" command to go after it.
  • You want some quiet petting time with your dog. Ask your dog to "come" and "sit" while you pet him. Only pet him as long as he stays quietly in position. Vary this by asking him to "roll-over" for a tummy rub or to "sit-up" for a treat. Praise him and release him for more exuberant play before he loses interest. Remember that puppies, especially, have a lot of energy and will not be able to sit still for long periods.

Remember to go slowly and be patient. Your dog wants to please you and will try harder to do so with positive reinforcement. If you can’t get the right response after a few tries, ask the dog to do a basic command, reward him, praise him, release him and try for more again later. One note: require the dog to sit quietly for his praise when you are still working with him. Don’t always be effusive and happy if that is liable to make the dog forget he should be doing something. Once you give him the "free" command it’s Ok to get rambunctious, loud and happy telling him what a "good dog" he is.

The benefits of using this training with your dogs are numerous. You can use these techniques to curb out-of–control-behavior by hyper dogs, to establish control over the dominant dog, to teach confidence to the timid or submissive dog and to teach manipulative, pushy dogs to wait for you to make the decisions. This training will help you maintain order and reduce conflict by establishing your position at the top of the dominance hierarchy. You can help your slightly older children (8 and up) establish themselves in this hierarchy by encouraging them to practice “Work For Rewards” with your supervision.


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Last revised: January 06, 2006