Almost all commands taught to Guide Dog puppies are just as useful for training and socialising other dogs – except, perhaps, for busy-busy adopted as their instruction to spend or defecate which draws sniggers from the public.
No! – is one essential weapon, given the raw curiosity of very young animals. Another is the pup’s own name. If spoken immediately before a command it gives more emphasis and brings the pup’s attention to the speaker. Continuous repetition of a command which is ignored must be stopped or the pup will think he can do what he likes. If the pup does not respond to a couple of tellings then it is much better to stop the lesson and try again later.
If a pup misbehaves, either remove the pup or the cause of the behaviour, or guide him physically to obey and praise and reward him when he succeeds. Punishing does not work. His thought processes cannot link the punishment with what he has been doing. To him it is fortuitous violence, his confidence will be undermined and his eagerness to please blunted.
Using the Guide Dogs Method
Guide Dogs use single word commands, and each word means just one thing. All members of the household should know these commands and what they mean, and everybody must use them consistently, firmly and clearly. The tone of voice may vary, which can tell puppies more than the word itself. GD puppies are on a fast learning track, and their training can be hindered by inconsistency,which leads to confusion. It sounds a demanding regime but, as with children, the puppy will thrive within a clearly structured life in which certain behaviour is expected and is rewarded when it is achieved. The commands quickly become second nature for the humans involved.
- Sit – is the most useful command. It immediately establishes control over the pup’s behaviour. He can learn to sit within days of arrival if a whistle is blown just before he is fed and he is guided to sit before the dish is put down for him to eat. As soon as he understands what is wanted, especially if he likes his food, his rump will be glued to the floor as soon as mealtimes arrive, often ahead of time in blithe expectation. He will also come like a rocket when the whistle is blown – which pays off later when he begins to free run. The lesson is reinforced if he is asked to sit on occasions when he threatens to become over-excited, and a titbit or petting as a reward will confirm the lesson even more. He should also sit for his lead to be attached. During free running, the sit command, uttered sharply, helps to gain time during a rumpus with other dogs or if he is approaching children; his instinctive reaction will be to obey and sit, which gives his walker a few seconds to catch him and calm him down
- Wait – means that he should expect another command to follow very shortly. Initially, almost always it will follow the sit command.
- Down – means flat on his tummy. This is more difficult for the pup to learn, but many dogs will automatically flop when asked to hang around in the street or supermarket. – never tell a pup to ‘sit down’; that is asking him to do two different things at the the same time and he won’t know which you want, leaving him uncertain.
- Stay – means remain there until given permission to move, hard for a small puppy to do. At first he will last just a few seconds, but eventually he will allow the walker to go round a corner out of sight before breaking and following. By four or five months he may already be able to remain reasonably quiet during meetings, concerts or in the cinema or theatre. He will probably go to sleep with boredom, and to encourage this a healthy workout and proper spending routine beforehand makes good sense.
- Stand – not used so much, but this is handy when grooming or for when the ground is dirty. He also needs to stand still when being weighed on the vet’s scales. He must also stand to have his blue training jacket put on.
- Off – This is really a behaviour-controlling command but it is included here so that it is distinguished from Down. Off! said sharply, tells him to get off the chair or bed, or off the visitor he is jumping upon. GD pups are not ever allowed to climb on to furniture. – Avoid using Down here; its use, as shown above, is for something quite different.
On this early framework of commands the puppy will quickly become confident and responsive, enabling the next stage of training to continue.