I’m very luck to have adopted a dog that has a very calm temperament and is good with pretty much everyone except for those naughty cats. However, I’ve definitely taught Starla a few tricks that help her keep calm in public situations.
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The best tricks I’ve taught my dog have been: leave it, go back, and wait. I know these are a bit uncommon, but other dog owners might use the same commands but in different words.
I think most people have heard of this. Leave it is as simple as “drop it” or to just ignore it. Honestly, this trick is pretty easy to learn but a lot harder to master for dogs. Check out this Victoria Stilwell video to show how to learn the trick. I think most positive reinforcement training teaches this trick this way. P.S. Victoria Stilwell is a great resource for all dog owners! This trick has been especially useful when walking Starla down busy city streets. It’s shocking how disgusting people can be. We have a wing restaurant at the end of our block and I’ve found half eaten wings littered all over the place! Gross. Starla always lunges towards them but if I give her a stern “leave it,” command, she usually drops it.
I started to teach this trick to Starla when she would rush the door to go out for her walks. It wasn’t so bad when I lived in a house but now that I’m in an apartment with a long hallway, if she rushes out the door there’s a pretty high chance that she’ll run into someone. I’ve taught her to back away from the door and wait for me to give her a release command before heading out the door. This is also useful when we’re walking outside and we need to stop at curbs for the light to change. She’s a puller and walks a bit ahead of me (I know! I should break this habit but this is the one thing that she’s been extra stubborn on). So when we get up to a curb we need to stop at, I can tell her to go back behind me when we wait for the lights to change.
Wait is just like stay. For whatever reason, I started saying wait and she picked up on it more than stay. Probably because I talk to Starla like a human and you’d never ask another human to “stay”. It is a great technique especially when you’re out in public with your dog. I’ve had to ask her to “wait” at curbs for lights, I’ve asked her to wait while I was paying for produce at my local farmer’s market, etc. It’s also helpful to start using a hand command. Starla responds more to vocal cues than visual cues but I’m training her to respond equally to them. Some trainers use the same hand cues for all dogs for consistency but again, I just decided to make up my own hand signal and it’s worked for us. We do a jedi-like hand wave for wait and she’s learning to pick up on that as “wait.”
I think one of the biggest tests of her temperament was when I took her to Barktoberfest this past year. Not only was it filled with tons of dogs, it was crowded with people (some sober, some very drunk), there were tons of food that was dropped on the ground, and spilled beer.
All of these tricks were definitely important to use while we were out because there were times that I had to hook her to my belt because I needed both hands and told her to wait so she wouldn’t rip my belt off chasing another dog. I had to tell her to go back on numerous instances when it was too crowded. I definitely had to use our leave it command for lots of dropped food or spilled beer. She performed amazingly well!
My last trick is less for dogs than it is for other humans. As owners we have to teach others the tricks for our dogs. My roommate and my boyfriend frequently watch my dog, and I’ve taught them all the commands that Starla knows so that they can can use them appropriately. Starla is also pretty sneaky and way too smart for her own good, so she’ll definitely try to get away with murder and play dumb when she knows I’m not around. All these tricks are very important when you have someone else watch your dog. Even if it’s as simple as getting a dog walker to help you our during the day while you’re at work.
What are the most useful tricks that you’ve taught your dog?
All opinions provided are strictly anecdotal. Just because they have worked for me does not mean that they will work for your dog. Please consult a veterinarian or your dog trainer for personalized results.