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Capturing Your Dog's Attention

You might not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, as the cliché says, but you can teach almost any dog to obey basic commands, trainers and handlers agree.

It's best to begin training a dog at the puppy stage. Start when the puppy is about seven weeks old and keep the daily lessons simple and short, about five to 10 minutes long. Of course, there’s no reason to give up on an older dog, trainers say. Rarely is a dog too old to learn obedience.

The first, and perhaps most important step, is to capture the dog's attention.

“Dogs should first learn that paying attention to their owners is rewarding,” said Penny Leigh, who manages the GoodDog! Helpline at the American Kennel Club in Raleigh, N.C. The hotline is staffed seven days a week by dog trainers who provide advice and solutions to dog issues.

Leigh explained in a recent story in The News & Observer that a dog owner can make eye contact with their pet with a treat and praise. Once that’s achieved, teaching the dog a basic command, such as “sit,” can begin.

“For sit, I hold the treat about an inch or so above the dog’s nose and then slowly move my hand back over the dog’s head until he rocks into the sit position,” she said. “At that time, I mark it with a clicker or marker word — yes or good — and reward.”

To teach a dog to lie down, Leigh said she instructs the dog to “sit” and then holds a treat near his nose, moving it slowly down between the dog’s front legs, while voicing the “down” command.

Leigh said she uses a long line and toys or treats to teach a dog to “come.”

“I show the toy or treat and then I run backwards,” she said. “When the dog follows and reaches me, they get rewarded richly for doing so. When the dog is doing this consistently, I start using the command word.”

Training helps strengthen the bond between dog and owner. Additionally, such commands as “stay” and “come” could save a dog’s life in dangerous situations.

AKC Clubs offer a variety of training classes in many areas of the country. A listing can be found here.

To learn more about the importance of training and what it can do for you and your dog, visit the AKC site on “Getting Started in Obedience.”