What is the single most important thing to teach your dog?



I get it, we’re all busy.  I’m busy too.  Believe it or not, I struggle to find time to train my dogs, probably similar to many of you with full-time jobs and active lives.  That got me started thinking about what is actually important.

If you could only teach your dog one thing really, really well, what would it be?

Michelle Yue

WARL’s Director of Behavior and Training Michelle Yue says teaching your dog “place training” is the key behavior for dogs to learn.

To me, it is place training.  Place training is teaching your dog to go to his place when you ask, and having him stay there until you release him with an “okay!”  The place can be a crate, blanket, dog bed, or mat.  It is hands down my favorite activity because it is truly a “cure all.”

Some ideas for when this might come in handy:

  • Dog too out of control when visitors come to the door
  • Dog barking out the window
  • Dog whining, pawing, or dropping a ball in your lap when you need some peace and quiet
  • Dog begging at the dinner table
  • Want to bring your dog to your friend’s house, but not sure he’ll behave
  • Getting your dog into the car
  • A picnic at the park with your dog
  • Eating at an outdoor restaurant where you can bring your dog or going to Starbucks
  • Getting your dog to go in the crate

To teach the “place” command, start with a plastic bag full of small, high-value treats cut into pea-sized pieces.  My favorite treats to use are dog food rolls, which look like a giant salami roll and can be cut into tiny cubes.  I love that it is dog food, so you don’t have to worry about your dog filling up on unhealthy treats.  You will also need something for your dog to go to, I really love a mat that you can fold up and bring anywhere.  Some of the crate mats work well for this.  And, lastly, your dog will also need to know sit for this exercise.

Once you have everything ready, walk with your dog over to where his mat is.  Have treats ready.  The second he steps one paw on the mat praise him heavily and drop treats one by one on the crate.  After you have praised and treated for 10 seconds, release your dog with an “okay!” and encourage him to walk off of the mat.  Repeat this step five times, on each repetition, encourage your dog to get more paws on the mat.  After these repetitions, take a break.

At your next session, review the first session exercise.  At this point, your dog should be happily going to his place and getting all four paws on the mat most of the time.  Now you can start adding the cue, “place” before you walk your dog over to his mat.

Over the course of several sessions, you should be able to begin extending the amount of time your dog will stay on his mat.  Once your dog is able to comfortably stay on his mat for up to a minute, start moving a small step back and return — praising and treating your dog for staying on his mat.

That’s it!  So simple….yet so effective in so many different situations.  Happy training!

Michelle Yue is the Washington Animal Rescue League’s Director of Behavior and Training.  She is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, and AKC Canine Good Citizen Evaluator, and has worked with hundreds of dogs in the Washington, DC area.

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