Any friendship benefits from mutual respect. Most dog owners who have problems with their dogs have not earned their dog’s respect. Respect doesn’t come from domination or fear; it comes from good leadership. To be a good leader, you need to communicate with your dog.
Teaching your dog basic commands, such as sit and down are the first steps toward communicating with your dog effectively. When you teach any command, the key is to use the same word every single time to mean the same thing. Don’t let the dog get away with only sometimes obeying a command. Like little kids, dogs will constantly test you to see if you really “mean” a command. Don’t even utter a command if you aren’t in a position to follow through with it. That just teaches your dog to ignore what you say.
As I’ve written before, teaching your dog to sit to gain a reward, such as dinner or affection is a great way to establish your leadership. Another leadership tactic is to have the dog lie down for an extended period of time until you say she can get up. This “long down” is extremely useful, especially when you are cooking or eating dinner when you want the dog out of the way. At our house, all four dogs have to lie down while we eat dinner, which makes for a much more relaxing meal.
We actually use two different “down” commands. When we say just “down,” the dog has to lie down right where he is ASAP. This command is normally for short periods of time. In contrast, when we have the dog do a “long down” we generally use the “go lie down” command, which means essentially, “go find a spot you are happy with and lie down because you’re going to be there for a while.”
To teach the long down, the dog needs to know the “down” command to begin with. So tell the dog to lie down near you and set a timer for 10 minutes to start (eventually work up to 30 minutes). When the dog is down, praise her verbally, but don’t let her leap back up. If she does get up, put her back in the down position. Stay nearby or even sit on the floor with the dog if you have to, if that’s what it takes to keep her in the down position. Don’t touch her, except to put her back into the down position. (You might want to watch TV or something to keep yourself amused.)
After the dog has been down for the amount of time you have decided, praise her and say, “Okay” in a happy voice. “Okay” is the release word, which means, “you can do what you want now.” (Some people use “free” instead of “okay” which is helpful if you tend to say “okay” a lot in conversation.)
While the dog is in the extended down, she doesn’t need to remain perfectly still. Dogs tend to wiggle around and switch flanks to get more comfortable. Crawling across the floor is not acceptable, however. (One of our dogs can crawl across a room in minutes.) The dog should remain in more or less the same spot.
As with any other training exercise, you should always attempt to be patient and fair with your dog. If the dog can’t do 10 minutes, start with 5. Now that our dogs are older, they tend to fall asleep during a long down, proving that respecting the humans isn’t really such a hardship after all.