Leave it! Gimme that! No! “Oh You…!” Get down!
Supposing I were to tell you that the simple task of training your puppy to do all of the above could be accomplished by training him to understand that the word ’off’ means all of those things? Would that save you frustration and stop your yelling at the small creature who doesn’t speak English?
OK, then. Let’s train your puppy to leave it whenever he hears his name and the word, ‘off’.
- Get down at pup’s level.
- Put a treat in your hand and close it to a fist.
- Hold your hand in front of pup’s nose.
- Say nothing.
- The instant he removes all his body parts from your fist (nose, paw, mouth),
- Open your fist
- Say, “Take it.” “Good boy”
- Repeat 3 more times. Watch pup closely. Timing here is everything.
9. On the 4th repetition, before you put your closed fist with treat to his nose, say, “Pup (his name), ‘off’.”
10 As soon as he removes his nose, paw or mouth from your fist,
11. Open your fist and say “Take it”
12.Repeat two or three more times.
That’s enough for session 1.
Repeat Steps 9 through 12 several times a day.
As pup gets to understand what ‘off’ means, delay giving the ‘Take it’ command by a few seconds, gradually building up to, say, 30 seconds (longer, if you like).
By the end of the week, you can offer the treat in an open palm. Be mindful though this is new to pup and he has to learn that the ‘Take it ‘ signal is what permits him the treat; so be ready to close your hand if he’s too eager. Spend this next week with several repetitions a day offering the treat from an open palm. As pup gets better at waiting for ‘Take it’, continue to increase his waiting time.
Phase 3 (to be practiced together with Phase 2)
While you continue to practice with the treat in hand, start using the word ‘off’ whenever pup is grabbing or mouthing something he shouldn’t, like your pant leg, long hair, or sleeve. When he takes a slipper, sock or glove, tell him ‘off’ and when you begin to expand this use of the word ‘off’, it’s a good idea to have something in your pocket to trade…treats or a small squeaky toy.
When he jumps on people, usually small ones, again use the word ‘off’ and as he removes himself from the person, distract him with another command, such as ‘come’, or a toy, or in the early days, a treat. Do remember to keep your voice just as calm in this scenario as when you are working with treat in hand.
- Put the treat or toy on a low surface such as the floor or a coffee table.
- Say, “Pup (his name), ‘off’”
- Be ready to cover the object with your hand, if necessary.
- This time do not say, ‘take it’.
- After a second or two, give him a treat from your other hand and tell him, “Good boy!”
- Increase the waiting time gradually just as you did in the earlier exercises.
- If you started on the floor, next use a low table and repeat the exercise.
Dogs don’t generalize as we humans do; all training needs to be repeated in many locations.
By all means, use a firm tone when you say, ‘off’, but there really is no need to yell or keep repeating yourself. Indeed, do not repeat commands over and over. They will soon become “blah, blah, blah” to your pup if you do.
As soon as you think your pup is beginning to grasp the concept of ‘off’, ask for what you want once. Allow a few seconds for pup to process the request. If he does not comply at that point, take another action such as moving to another spot, move closer to him, or use a lure (treat or toy). Raising your voice and repeating the command will not accomplish what you want… that I can promise you. He’s just learning.
Oh yes, he’ll comply when you yell but he may also become fearful or anxious. Surely you’d rather train your pup with patience, love and respect, wouldn’t you?
The magic word ‘off’. There you have it and as you can see, it really is the universal command for ‘leave whatever it is’. Next to training your pup to ‘sit’, training him to respond to ‘off’ is probably the most useful tool you can have.
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