It's a scenario that all dog-owners want to avoid: the dog sprinting away from its owner, running fast towards a road/another dog/a group of young children - and the owner fighting to catch their breath, shouting the dog's name until their throat is hoarse, and running after the dog as fast as they possibly can. We probably all recognise that scene - who hasn't seen a dog running wild as soon as it's let off the lead - but I can guarantee that not one of us would ever want to be the owner in that situation. So, think for a second about how useful it would be to train your dog to respond to something louder and more effective than just your voice. This can be done with two different training methods: 1) a dog whistle, and 2) a method called click training. Read on to discover just how useful they might be. As the above scenario points out, it's crucial to be able to control your dog. In fact, it's against the law to allow your dog to become out of control - and if you like to exercise your dog in an open area such as the beach or a field, your voice might not carry far enough to do remain in control. A dog whistle, in this situation, is a very good option, providing you've the patience to learn how to use it yourself - and then teach your dog!
When working with a dog whistle, there are two main commands that you need your dog to respond to - 'sit', and 'come'. 'Sit' is useful mainly because it gives you instant control of a situation - once your dog is sitting, they are liable to have been taken out of the dangerous situation, or no longer a danger to anyone else. The 'sit' command is usually communicated by one long blast on the whistle, although many dog owners also combine this audible signal with a hand signal too - in this case, with their hand raised in the air. If you wish to train your dog to respond to the whistle, start off by teaching your dog to sit using just your voice. Once your dog has mastered this, introduce the hand signal. When they've cracked this, replace your voice with the whistle - but keep the hand signal. It is crucial when teaching the 'sit' command to ensure that your dog never comes to you after they have sat down - you should always go to them. This is because you don't want them to associate the sit command with a following 'come' command. The 'come' command is often easier to teach to a puppy - if this is possible, make sure that you start this training early in your dog's life. The first step is to make your dog associate 'come' with fun - returning to you should always be a pleasure for your dog, never a punishment. Start by rewarding your dog for returning to you - with a game, perhaps, or a stroke, or even a treat. Then start calling your dog from short distances, then larger ones - and you can even start ordering your dog from when you are out of sight! For both of these commands, if your dog can do it without you being visible, you'll know you've really cracked it.
Like with a dog whistle, click training gives your dog consistency, regardless of which member of your family is issuing the commands. This eliminates the confusion that different words or voices might give to your dog, making him more secure and confident when following orders. A secure, confident dog is a safe dog - clicker training is therefore ideal for dogs that associate with young children/vulnerable adults on a regular basis. Clicker training uses positive reinforcement as a basis - i.e it is based on rewards. Your dog must believe that the clicker sound means something positive - for most dogs, this reward is some kind of food or treat. To start clicker training with your dog, you should click the clicker and immediately give your dog your chosen reward. Continue doing this until your dog associates the sound of the clicker with the reward; some dogs will take longer to make this association than others, but, providing you are consistent in the sound-reward process, all dogs should learn to make this association. Once your dog associates the click with the reward, you can begin to train them to do certain behaviours - for example, sitting on demand. Watch your dog closely - and the moment they show the desired behaviour (e.g they sit), you should click the clicker - and then reward them in your usual way. Timing is important here - you must ensure that you click the clicker at the exact moment that they show the desired behaviour, so that the dog associates the action with the sound. Continue doing this until your dog has formed the association in its mind - and then you can try making the noise, to see if the dog will sit . As soon as he does, you can be confident that your dog will soon be clicker-trained. Both of these techniques require your dog to associate the sound with an action - either the whistle or the sound of the clicking. So why, you might ask, can you not just use your voice? Well, your dog will hear voices every day, and will come to ignore much of what it hears. There is also too much variation in your voice -it will change depending on your mood, for example. In contrast, both the whistle and the clicker will not change in tone - and, as such, it will be easier for your dog to recognise and follow your commands. Using a training method such as these requires persistence on your part - as with any type of training, you will need to persevere until you see results - but the benefits will more than compensate for the work that you put in.