Words to Save Your Dog’s Life

By Dixie Laite of Body+Soul Magazine; April 2010

My dogs are such good listeners, letting me prattle on about my weight, the deficit, Hugh Laurie. But as important as those topics are, the words I really want them to pay attention to are two life-saving commands.

“DOWN!” Returning from a romp in New York City’s Central Park, my friend Alice stopped to reattach her dog Jet’s leash when the tennis ball he’d been chasing rolled into a busy street. Jet thought, Don’t worry, I’ve got this one, as he bolted into traffic to rescue it.

Alice bellowed, “Down!” and Jet immediately dropped into position while cars pummeled his ball into oblivion.

“I believe the most important thing we can teach our dog is ‘Down’,” says Kevin Behan, author of Natural Dog Training. It’s one of the first commands he teaches. “Most people yell a dog’s name in a crisis, which is often a mistake,” Behan says. That just makes him excited but gives no direction. “There’s no instinct in a dog to come when called if something thrilling beckons on the horizon,” Behan explains. But the “Down” command aligns with a dog’s “natural response to lie down as a means of coping with danger,” he says.

“LEAVE IT!” This is the other command you need in your lexicon, according to certified trainer Sherry Woodward from Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kenab, Utah. It’s critical, she says, in case Sparky “picks up something dangerous, starts to drink from a toxic puddle, or even gets in a squabble.” Woodard promises teaching the command isn’t hard: -Prepare a pouch with treats. -Place a boring, unfamiliar item (like an unopened can of human food) on the floor. -As your dog starts to sniff it, say “Leave it” happily while popping a treat into his mouth. -Change the item to something else he won’t want, and repeat. Each time have the dog move farther to reach the treat.

After using five different items at ever-growing distances, you can start putting down more exciting things. (Don’t use ordinary stuff your dog would likely find on a walk, like a tissue. The goal is that eventually your dog will turn to you every single time he hears “Leave it!”) You can change the reward to a toy, but always praise lavishly.

Keep the lessons short, and stop if your dog seems overwhelmed. Training will help your dog gain confidence, Woodard says, as well as stay safe and live longer.

Hear that, Lulu and Dr. Waffles? Think of all the fascinating conversations – and House marathons – we have ahead of us.

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Published April 15, 2010 by Kevin Behan

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Books about Natural Dog Training by Kevin Behan

In Your Dog Is Your Mirror, dog trainer Kevin Behan proposes a radical new model for understanding canine behavior: a dog’s behavior and emotion, indeed its very cognition, are driven by our emotion. The dog doesn’t respond to what the owner thinks, says, or does; it responds to what the owner feels. And in this way, dogs can actually put people back in touch with their own emotions. Behan demonstrates that dogs and humans are connected more profoundly than has ever been imagined — by heart — and that this approach to dog cognition can help us understand many of dogs’ most inscrutable behaviors. This groundbreaking, provocative book opens the door to a whole new understanding between species, and perhaps a whole new understanding of ourselves.
  Natural Dog Training is about how dogs see the world and what this means in regards to training. The first part of this book presents a new theory for the social behavior of canines, featuring the drive to hunt, not the pack instincts, as seminal to canine behavior. The second part reinterprets how dogs actually learn. The third section presents exercises and handling techniques to put this theory into practice with a puppy. The final section sets forth a training program with a special emphasis on coming when called.
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