Sit, down, stand, spin, other (other direction spin), bow, relax (lay on hip), here!, shake, touch, pretty, get-that, roll over, scoot, weave, backwards weaves, go to your mark, take off my socks, but said socks in the laundry basket, open your crate, go in your crate, close your crate, go to bed, out, take it, leave it, stay, wait, heel, walk-easy, name recognition, default focus, tug-it, front, over, through, back up, kitchen (get out of), hop in, hop on, off, circle, around, hold it, bring it, blow bubbles, hoop, etc. These are just some of the cues/behaviors that Shayne knows. Most people don’t need or want to teach all of these behaviors. I do it largely to keep Shayne busy and thus me happy!
If Shayne were like an old Commodore 64 computer and had very limited memory capabilities, I’d have to trim down the list of behaviors I teach her. What this would allow me to do is teach fewer cues but they would be extremely well known and proofed in a variety of circumstances. So since I’m only focusing on 4 behaviors, each one receives more of my time and attention to make sure the cue is proofed extensively.
If an owner was only capable of teaching (or willing to), say, 4 cues to a dog what would I suggest they teach? I’m going to say that these behaviors/habits are very important but aren’t on my list crate training, housebreaking, and name recognition. I figure these are like the most basic programming on the motherboard of the C64. These are day-to-day habits that are very important to have but they are almost more of habits than actual cued behaviors–with the exception of name recognition but I feel like most lay-people don’t see this as a trained behavior so I’m going to cheat and not include it.
I would absolutely teach a hand target as one of the four behaviors. If your dog can respond nearly 100% of the time to the cue “touch” in almost any situation that allows you to recall your dog, get their attention, turn their head away from something, get off the couch, get on the bed, get out of the car, loose leash walk, any number of behaviors can be achieved by using a hand target. It’s become one of my favorite behaviors because it is so useful in so many aspects and can be used as a management tool—“Don’t pick up that stick, touch my hand instead,” “Please don’t jump on me (or the visitor) instead touch my hand that is down by my knee.”
Most people are not going to want to walk a dog who is pulling like a tank all the time so loose leash walking is definitely on my list. If walking the dog isn’t a pleasant experience, it isn’t going to get done. If it doesn’t get done there will likely be other behavioral problems to follow–chewing, destruction, hyperactivity, reactivity, nipping/mouthing, etc. Since getting our dogs out for walks is important for socializing, mental stimulation, and physical exercise I cannot not but this on my list. The potential repercussions for not getting dogs out for a walk can be huge and ultimately lead to a dog being dumped at a shelter.
Whereas I would normally teach a default impulse control at barriers/doors/gates, etc, for a dog who is only learning a limited number of cues, I think a wait/stay cue is more utilitarian. Oh please don’t topple me as I walk down the stairs, wait at the top. I’d really like you to get out of the kitchen… walk out of the kitchen, ask for a “touch” then cue the “wait.” Don’t bolt out the door, stay here while I move around, wait for your dinner to be put on the ground, while on an off-leash hike please don’t go any further. It’s just another tool to be able to control space and control access without having to physically manipulate the dog.
Now most people would put recall on this list and i think that would be an excellent option, however, I would ideally have recall covered with a very solid ‘touch’. If my “touch” cue wasn’t solid enough, I would absolutely include a recall in this list … without a recall there is little chance of getting a dog back who may slip a collar or sneak out a door.
Lastly would be either a leave-it or an out depending on the dog’s inclinations. Is this a dog who steals food, lunges after bicyclists, or pesters resident cats? Then I’d probably work on a very solid leave-it. If the dog has poor impulse control about mouthing or nipping, leave-it can be a useful tool. If the dog has a tendency to steal items and not give them back, or a dog who may be a resource guarder, and out will be a crucial cue to preventing problems and preventing an escalation in behavior.
Although I think sit and down can be helpful to get a dog into a specific position, I didn’t include them on the list for a few reasons. I think sit is a behavior that almost every dog knows to some extent … families almost always take the time to at least teach this behavior (as represented by the number of ‘strays’ that end up in the shelter who know nothing more than how to sit). Secondly, I think the purpose of sit/down (stationary behavior) can be replaced and replicated using a hand target and wait cue if necessary.
I think the list would change based on the challenges of a specific dog but these are definitely what I would call foundational behaviors. That would be the focus area for dogs and their handlers.
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