How the big four commands save lives
According to the National Health Service and media reports, over 4,500 incidents a year in the U.K. involve dogs and people, with children being the biggest victim group.. You are more likely to be bitten by a dog than win the lottery!
One incident is an unwelcome statistic but until you accept that your pet dog runs away because you let it these incidents are going to continue to occur. There are 5 basic steps, 4 big commands and 3 essential pieces of equipment which you need to learn how to use effectively to gain control and to build discipline into your dog. This guide explains how to do this and how to stop your dog running away. A collar and lead are working instruments of control, just the same as holding your child’s hand. Mobile phones are another safety device we use with our children to maintain contact and for a much safer and secure environment. Our dogs are no less important and are at a higher statistical risk than our children. Your voice alone is not going to be enough. Whistling is hard work and it assumes your dog finds the whistle more compelling than what is at the end of its nose. You must start to appreciate that stopping your pet running away is a skill to be learned and developed on an on going basis, and like people, the input of patience and unconditional love, will very likely be paid back. The probability is that if your children are model children then your dog probably will be too, but that doesn’t mean it is going to be easy to train, it just means you probably have the mindset and determination to keep your dog safe and disciplined. I admit this article may be a bit controversial but the techniques work and will not harm or hurt your dog. Neglect and ignorance is a much bigger killer. If you want to stop your dog running away there are 3 things your must achieve:
- Instant response
- Your dog’s whole and undivided attention
- Complete obedience
You need to understand that there are 3 reasons why your dog will run away:-
- Owner mismanagement
All three of the reasons as stated above can get your dog killed or seriously injured. If you then overlay lack of success with the 3 disciplinary aspects you have serious issues to deal with and you need to correct this quickly or risk your dog causing death or serious injury. The end result will be the loss of your pet by lethal injection, gunshot or fatal injuries. If minors are involved and they are your own family it will destroy not only your life but that of your entire family. This is how I see it anyway and it is this that motivates me to get it right. Your pet running off is not to be taken lightly. I propose to examine a few simple helpful hints that might make your life more bearable and improve your relationship with the animal at a level you can both appreciate and work on to good effect. I am going to ignore the first two reasons that cause running away. If you need guidance to deal with them please give your dog to a loving home, this article is not for you. Your dog is born with senses which once engaged are so compelling that you pale into insignificance the minute they are engaged. You don’t need to be a dog whisperer to understand this, but you can see it for yourself the minute you call your dog back. It is not a great moment when your dog embarrasses you for your inability to handle it. I think one year in a dog’s life is about 6.5 of our years, so by the end of year one your dog should be starting to make out sounds, short sentence structures and words. The four most important commands in order are:
Dogs are quick learners. Not only do they know your mood, they take everything right to the edge all the time and they are also very persistent. The sooner you start teaching them the better, try to make it fun without finishing up with a fat dog. Remember your children should not be force fed a big McDonalds every time they get their table manners right and The National Hedgehog Road Skills award has never been won by a hedgehog. A lead is the equivalent of your child’s hand. You communicate through it just the same way. You would not let your child pull you off your feet, especially on a main road, so use the same discipline with your dog.
Step 1. It is always your fault
I really don’t think that Springer Spaniels with their long floppy ears can hear you properly over 30 metres away unless you really shout which makes you look in control doesn’t it. When I was younger I had a liver and white springer ‘Bramble’. He never knew to this day what hit him when he was busy rounding up sheep. I would have been able to play for the British Lions with a rugby tackle like that, the dog went flying, not in the least bit hurt, just caught in the act. He yelped just with fright, but never chased sheep again and after this incident if he could hear me he responded instantly to all the big 4 commands.
Step 2. How to stop your dog pulling you off your feet.
A sharp and very hard tug on the lead pulling your dog back behind you will do the trick. After the second or third time they will desist. This is obviously easier to do when your St. Bernard is a puppy, which is why i say start straight away. Bad habits are developed by the owners not the dogs. Never allow your dog to pull. Start by holding your dog’s hand (the lead) and work firmly in a disciplined and in a fair way, and reward good performance and discipline and work on behaviour that falls short. Little and often is good and a routine is helpful. The thing that really gets results is patience. You would not take your child out into a distracting environment to teach them so don’t do it to your dog either. Get the dog’s attention and eye contact and progress will improve. If you are having trouble getting the dog’s attention increase the treat value e.g. fillet steak. This is about hearts and minds and developing absolute trust. The time to use treats is at the outset of teaching the command. Once the dog understands what is required of it, a pat on the head and some encouraging words is sufficient.
Step 3. How to slow your dog down to your speed
How many of you would not hold on to your 6 year old child’s hand in the city centre? Would you expect your six year old to speak fluent Russian? No, so don’t expect your dog to understand what sounds the same to them. Use the lead to build confidence and lots of patience. By the time your dog is six months old they will be getting more biddable, more curious and more determined but up to the first year you can never be certain. However you are desperate to give your dog the freedom of that run about. A game keeper taught me a very good tactic called hobbling. Your dog’s collar should always allow you to get three fingers under it, if you can’t it is too tight. Simply stick your dog’s front paw through the collar, it looks cruel, its not and you can catch a dog on three legs, it puts the odds in your favour, so you now have the opportunity to train your dog to stay close to you, or get it back safely. Don’t use a retractable lead it encourages your dog to pull. Dogs on retractable leads are not properly trained (such a statement could be highly controversial but I would presume that those owners won’t be reading this type of article so there won’t be anyone to offend!)
Step 4. Timing – how long does it take to train my dog? I think 300 hours gets a basic job done before your dog will specialise into say rescue, field sports, or social human tasks like police or military work. It takes a good year to settle and train a dog. If you get the big 4 commands in quickly and early the dog will start to perform well but it will take at least a year so be patient and persist. Practice all the time – practice makes perfect. ( it also helps you lose weight!). I now have a black and white Springer Spaniel and she was terrible for running off. This was my fault. On dark evenings I only needed to get distracted for a second and the dog was gone. There I am in the dark and pouring rain, shouting my head off and the dog is in the next county. Twenty anxious minutes later I get a ball of mud back! Never be cross with a returning dog, it is after the fact and they may misinterpret you, causing trauma and confusion. Simply make a note to self to set up a training session in a controlled environment to fix the problem whilst kicking your own bottom and not the dogs!
Step 5. How to stop your dog running away
You spend hours and hours working with them, you teach the big 4 commands and when they are over six months old and really understand the commands then you have to bring discipline to bear or face the possibility of an unthinkable incident. I have tried whistles, chasing after her and just leaving her, none of which are satisfactory and just exposes the dog to danger. If I can’t control the dog at both short and long range she is useless in the field other than as a pet. So how do I stop my pet from running away. A game keeper suggested an electric collar. I dismissed it out of hand as being cruel, but it is not as cruel as watching your dog in agony pinned down under a car wheel. I decided to try an electric collar but resolved to be kind and fair. It has transformed the dog without any cruelty at all and this is how it works: First and only after 6 months minimally, and only when the big 4 commands are in place can you use one. My collar has an audible alarm which the dog can hear even when she can’t hear or see me. She quickly learned to respond to this bleep, it means only one thing ‘Heal’. Since wild life has hearing and great vision too, we get to see lots of it when we are out now because we are quiet, the dog is under control at all times and above all is safe. Your dog and especially Springer Spaniels will want to do as you ask. You must be there at the time of any incident which demands attention or arresting and a bleeper really is on the spot and instant. If the dog doesn’t respond there are 8 settings to ‘tweak your dog’s ear’, building up to a shock. All of these are much gentler than rough handling or hitting the dog. All of them hurt a lot less than impact with an HGV. I must stress that if you don’t have the big four commands in place and a confident dog you should not deploy such a device, just keep your dog on a lead. The collar is only for the dog’s protection and control and the charge, which is about the same as a static shock from a door handle, does not cause the dog much discomfort, but it lets her know I want her attention when all else fails which is pretty rare these days. I don’t know how the shepherds do it but they have my admiration. I don’t need my little dog to achieve those levels. We have lots of fun together and she adores my two girls, mind you she adores everyone including the postman! I think that patience is the secret and then it’s a matter of time.. She also has a special settee in our garden room (but never assumes this right in the house), and a dog house made out of straw bales which she loves as it is very warm. She also knows where the edge is, and pushes it like crazy, but she is safe and well behaved and under control at all times because she can hear me and every day that goes by her knowledge of language and disciplined procedure improves. I think I will always use an electric collar now, it is a safety device which makes me much less apprehensive about the dog’s behaviour because I can focus on expanding the dog’s comprehension of commands, so her behaviour continues to improve and she plays an even bigger and much more enjoyable part in day to day activities. If you don’t want your pet to run off get to grips with the collar, lead, teaching, rewarding and discipline and be heard – the best way to do that quietly is with a bleeping collar – really it works. I think these new devices are the dog equivalent of a 2 way radio. No soldier goes into combat without one. I think they are here to stay and used responsibly will transform your life and make teaching your dog a real joy and with much less stress. Remember it is your finger on the button and you decide whether you are a dog trainer or a dog breaker – I know which I am.
How long does it take to teach your dog the big 4 Commands?
It takes about 20 minutes armed with some really ‘must have’ treats, and then repeat the training a day or so later for a few minutes until you see it work immediately. I use mackerel fillets but anything other than chocolate will do the trick. For every minute of training you need an hour of practice to get the command working consistently and then three or four times longer to get them all working together. You will pay for gaps in your routine and you will be able to notice when others have handled your dog. Dogs will always push to the limit to see what they can get away with so you have to be that limit and you can’t always do that by being nice and feeding the dog treats. Never break your dog by cruelty and bullying to get the obedience you want, a broken dog does not work properly and anyone who has trained a dog will spot a broken dog a mile off, you can’t hide it and you can’t repair the damage.
A command should be instant, it is useless if it is not and may get you, your children, the dog or some poor unsuspecting motorist into an unthinkable situation, it is worth the effort.
Should you let the dog on the sofa – Training Versus Behaviour?
Oh boy is this a hot potato! Firstly your dog knows the difference between the scruffy couch in the playroom and the one in the living room but you may have to work more on the training. You can let your dog do anything you like provided you put the effort in with the ground rules, but here is a simple guide.
Your dog has two basic barks, one to warn and the other is more playful. Learn what they are and what they mean. If you don’t want a yappy dog you will get the opportunity at about 10 months to sort it out.
Don’t allow your dog to behave in a way that would be offensive to others, I am sure you don’t need a list from me.
You can use a smack, a firm push or voice commands so long as it is immediate. If your dog is beyond reach you will need to either be very quick (voice and run) or use an electric collar. A sharp shock beats a fight or injury. If this is administered at the start of the action the dog is unlikely to repeat the offence. You won’t break the dog doing this. Prolonged aggression or fierce punishment fills your dog with terror. I have heard them start to yelp before a blow is struck because they know what is coming. Could you do your job knowing someone is about to give you a good kicking? Neither can the dog. I have never seen a broken dog that didn’t bring a lump to my throat and have me biting my lip to hold back the tears. Like the dog I suffer quietly in silence unable to speak.
Being a good dog owner and handler
Bad behaviour develops as a result of lack of effort or selfishness by the owner. Like your children the more patience and time you spend with them and effort you put into your dog, the more reward you can expect with a strong measure of devotion paid back. Like children they will pick up trauma between adults and they don’t like it. Neglect will result in the dog making up its own rules and then you will need a dog psychologist to intervene. Unless the dog is ill and requiring 24 hour supervision, I would advocate they should have their own special place. A kennel is usually the best so they can have peace and quite to relax and dry/chill out and be themselves. You wouldn’t normally have your children in bed with you, so I think it is a bit odd to have your pets there too. Lack of common sense is what develops poor animal behaviour. Plenty of exercise, good diet, discipline, routine, care and attention will work for your dog.
In summary, the three essential pieces of equipment required are a lead, a collar and an audible device that can be heard anywhere instantly by your dog which upon being heard recalls your dog to your side.. If a measure of force is required then this device should have the ability to administer it or be backed up by it.
How to Make a cosy dog bed for free – well almost
I think a great bed makes a very happy dog, especially if they have a full tummy
As an engineer, specialising in materials handling and storage, when it comes to a bed for the dog I wanted to create a cosy place for her to sleep. For several months I persevered with pet cushions etc but they just get filthy and are not very easy to clean or warm to sleep on outdoors. In winter this year we had two feet of snow, which the dog loved but it was cold for her and I wanted something better.
Pallets are often equipment you can pick up for free. Two or three of them are very simple to convert into a bed. 1000mm x 1200mm is a perfect size. If you have an outhouse, garage or shed they will fit easily inside. It doesn’t matter if the dog chews them, the wood can be recycled or used for fire wood and if you use straw, the straw can be composted or burned. Now this solution is not for everyone but the dog will love it and you may grow to love it and here is why:
- The straw helps clean the dog
- The dog can scrape and arrange the straw as it wants it
- The pallet and a few straw bales make a very cosy den
- Filled with straw your dog can live comfortably outside in all weathers
- Living outside is better for the dog
- Dogs will grow their natural seasonal coats in line with the climate. Inside they go into a state of permanent moulting, outside unheated they can live more naturally.
- The straw is cosy and warm the year round especially with the added protection of 380mm to 450mm of insulation on 6 sides
- The pallet keeps your dog off the cold floor – essential.
- Straw bales range from £1.75 to £3.50
Before you go into blind panic about scabies or mange, I have never had any trouble. However if you are worried ask your vet, I think you will find that the modern treatments keep them at bay anyway. Do watch out for nails and cardboard (stapled on). Plywood makes good tops if the wood is spaced or a bit rough and then the deep straw does the rest.
My dog really loves her straw bed and is quite happy to get into it and I rarely see her little black nose come round the edge of the bale until I call for her.
There is an awful lot of nonsense talked about training and not much help with the real control commands when they don’t work. Much of the time it is just not possible to intercept mistakes and behavioural dysfunction in time to correct it in a way the dog can quickly grasp the requirement. This just makes it tougher on both you and the dog
I am a materials handling engineer by profession, and a keen motorcyclist which I use for work most of the year round. The BMW GS 1200 Adventure is a challenging and awesome machine, so if you are in commerce or industry and want to build or equip a new warehouse or production unit, please go and visit my website.
I have had spaniels most of my life, having grown up with them. I have always found it hard to get help with the really tricky bits of training. I prefer to train the basics and build my own relationship with my dog and I like to see her working in the field doing what she does best and then getting her to come back to me in an orderly way and not via the adjoining county. I usually send the dog for a season with a keeper to specialise, it’s a bit like doing a ski season for the dog.
For more details on how to build such a cosy dog den visit