Michael Peer, Professional Dog Trainer, Oakton, VA: Posted on Tuesday, October 30, 2012 5:11 AM
So you just got home with your beloved puppy looking so innocent and adorable? Not very long after you come to realize this bundle of joy is starting to annoy you with newfound behaviors! Every dog owner quickly starts "teaching" their puppy "NO!" or Sit. Unfortunately, especially when we get frustrated, our "NO" seems useless because our pup is ignoring it and continuing to jump up on people and things, picking up countless items and not dropping them, and getting its nose into everything! While reinforcing Sit right in front of us teaches your dog to beg for your attention. Therefore, we need to teach our dogs 3 commands from the get-go: OFF, DROP & LEAVE IT. Learning the OFF command requires us to reward our dog for keeping "four on the floor"-all four paws need to get back to the ground. So when your pup places his front paws up on the sofa, command "OFF!" and assist your dog in getting his paws off of the couch by quickly pushing them off as you say the command. The key here is to always remember to verbally praise him immediately with a "happy"- "Good Boy!". This helps your dog to learn that his action of getting off pleases you and that getting up on things (including people) without request is an unacceptable behavior. Likewise, you need to request your pup to get on things such as the couch and immediately praise him for responding. Of course when we encourage our dogs to jump up it's fun for them and makes it harder to then remove them. Herein lies the art of finesse, timing, anticipation, and PATIENCE. You'll need to enforce your OFF command even more but with repetition and persistence your dog's conditioning process will be jump started. As for teaching the DROP command, reward him by immediately giving your dog back the very item he dropped. After all, what's a greater reward then the article he's after? Don't forget to say "Good Boy!" and maybe add a quick pat (NO OVERPRAISE) too. Or you could use a delectable treat as your lure and reward. Be consistent!
Lastly, LEAVE IT or LEAVE entails a slightly forceful voiced command that gets your dog's attention and breaks his focus. It needs to be called early to beat his joyous capture of the article. And we must give our dogs a reason that usurps the reward of ownership, for example; another article that they're interested in (exchange) and that are acceptable (toys, rawhides, ropes, etc.) can work. Don't forget that LEAVE can be used with anything that you know your dog is focused on, including people, cars, squirrels, etc. Consistency, reward and ENFORCEMENT is paramount and goes a long way in teaching dogs these vital commands.