picture of a bernese mountain dog in nature and the text : bmdtutorials.com - bernese mountain dog tutorials by a dog parent, for dog parents

Chapter 8 - CIA (Canine In Action)

8 months old Bernese Mountain Dog Puppy
Bruno at 8 months old, always ready to help me with my work 😄

Each morning your body increases the cortisol11 level in your blood to wake you up. But cortisol is a stress hormone. So as soon as he's done its job, you want it back to its normal levels. How do you do that? For example, you walk, run, do fitness, dancing, yoga, biking, any moderate intensity aerobic exercise.

Your dog’s body works the same. When he wakes up in the morning cortisol inundates his system. You walk, play, run, the cortisol level drops and the odds are it stays down for the rest of the day. Less cortisol, less stress. Less stress, more fun.That's why it's a good idea to get your puppy to move his white fluff at the top of his tail.

But wait, there's more. Keep your smarty-pants glasses on your nose because we talk about some more sciency stuff. About BDNF for example, the brain-derived neurotrophic factor.

What’s BDNF? It’s a protein that stimulates neuron growth, and it strengthens and protects the neurons against the natural cellular death process. It's exactly what the brain needs to grow and modify it's cellular infrastructure, in order to allow the neurons to fire up more easily12.

In other words, more BDNF means more intelligence. And this is why we want more of it. How do we do that? Well, scientific studies13 show 40 minutes of rapid walking increase BDNF serum levels by 30% compared to the baseline.

And lack of exercise decreases BDNF serum levels by 13%. Say whaaat? I know, right? And that's the second reason to exercise your dog.

And we’re not done with science yet. Because the third reason is dopamine. Dopamine is the motivation hormone, and exercising increases the dopamine stock and the number of dopamine receptors in the pleasure and reward center of the brain. So if you want to have a motivated and focused dog, get him to exercise.

Get him to exercise also if you want him to be super sociable. Because exercise also increases serotonin14 levels, which is the happiness hormone and it encourages social interactions.

Alright, we're done with sciency stuff for the moment. It's a promise. The next reason is related to self-confidence and discovering his own physical capacities.

Now I have a challenge for you, so you can see exactly what I mean. Do you know that song, Walk Like an Egyptian? Well, try to position your arms and hands in the Egyptian dance pose, then look in the mirror while you're holding the position.

Where’s your arm, is it perpendicular to your body? How about your forearm? Is it perpendicular to your arm? And are your fingers straight, or did you make a cup with them?

You see, all this is part of body awareness and your dog needs it too. That doesn't mean I'm suggesting you teach him the Egyptian dance. It only means you now have one more reason to get him to exercise.

And if you need one more reason, here it is:

A tired dog is a good dog.

There's not a lot to explain here, exercise consumes excess energy. So he’s left with a healthy level of calm and constructive energy, enough to learn the house and general society rules, enough to learn new words, to watch together a movie or to read a book with you.

Okay, I'm sold on the importance of exercising. Now what? The best exercise is hiking or rapid walking. He may walk anywhere he wants after finishing his first set of vaccines, so around his third month, or when the vet says it’s okay.

In the meantime, besides walking in a stroller or buggy you can:

  • Play in your yard or in the house
  • Let him walk on the ground at friends’ houses if their dogs have completed their vaccines
  • Participate in puppy group classes, where dogs are allowed only if their vaccines are in order

Sit, Down, Stand

Now let's open The Sit Down Stand File and see:

  • Why and how to teach your dog the words Sit, Down, Stand
  • How NOT to have a kitchen dog

Maybe you’re wondering, Why should I teach my puppy these words? I don't want to order him around, he's my friend, not my slave. Well, the first reason is the most obvious: this vocabulary is useful.

Imagine you're on the couch and you're watching Ellen Show. Your puppy is now a big dog and he's sleeping next to the couch on the ground, because it's cooler there.

Then you want to go to the kitchen and get yourself a bowl of grated carrots. But hey, where are your slippers? Under your dog.

How do you retrieve them? Do you try to pull them from under the dog? Do you try to push the dog, all 100 pounds of it, or more? No. You just say, Stand!

Teaching words to your puppy is not only useful but also fun. As an adult, Bruno has earned free range of the house and yard. When it's cold outside he likes to chill in the garden. And when he's had enough he opens the door and comes in.

Nobody taught him to open the door, he just figured it out by himself ever since he was little. The problem was he knew how to open the door but not to close it. So recently I decided to teach him this trick. Now I tell him, Bruno, the door! and he paws at it until it’s closed.

Like many other exercises, it brought him so much joy he constantly asked to go outside only to be able to come in and close the door. When you see his ear to ear smile, his eagerness to spend time playing with you, the whole logic of ordering him around vanishes. Teaching him words means quality time with your dog and you'll both treasure each moment.

Now that the reason to do this is clear, why these words and not others? Why begin with Sit, Down, Stand and not, Bring me a lemon from the fridge?

First, because he doesn't like lemons. Ha-ha-ha! I know, such a lame joke!

Second, because it's not an action, it's a chain of actions: stand, go toward the fridge, open the fridge door with your paw, identify the lemon, take the lemon in your mouth, keep the lemon in your mouth without piercing it with your teeth, go toward your human, drop the lemon in your human’s hand.

So you’d need to teach him each action in the chain, then glue them together until you get the final behavior. Which happens to begin with Stand. See?

So let's get started. It's easiest to begin during the daily examination, that we talked about in Chapter 6: Operation Terra. So after he consumed excess energy with games and walks and now he's calm.

You taught him Sit using a clicker in Chapter 2: The Arsenal. Using the same principle, you can now teach him Down and Stand.

Down is the same as Sit, the only difference is: instead of waiting for him to put his buns down, you wait for him to put his belly down. So now we're only looking at Stand, because it's the opposite of Sit and Down.

Teach your puppy Stand

Let’s see how you teach him Stand using the clicker. If you don’t want to use a clicker, you can say, Yes! instead of the click.

Important: Please read all the instructions before trying it with your puppy.

Now. In order to get up, your puppy must be sitting or laying down. So you wait for the puppy to get up on his own. In that exact moment, you click, praise him and give him a Good-food.

Okay, now he's standing on all fours. What do you do next? How do you reset the position so you can repeat the exercise?

Well, he has to return to sitting or laying down in order to be able to get up. You wait for him to sit and then to get up, all on his own, and when you’re sure he’s gonna get up, you add the cue Stand.

So now you have the following process that you repeat: Stand, the puppy stands, click, praise and Good-food, and again you wait for him to sit and then to intend to get up.

For the rest you follow the same steps as for Sit: a few repetitions so he gets used to the word Stand, then you only click when it’s you who told him to stand.

And when he stands 80% of the time at your request, you can remove the clicker from the process and continue only with praise each time, and treats some of the times.

Now if you're saying, I don't think this method is practical! Who has the time and patience to wait for the puppy to lay down and stand on his own? I hear you. Let's see if we can improve the process. It's true you can immediately do a new repetition for Sit and Down. You only need to throw him the treat so he has to get up to get it, and voilà, he has a new opportunity to sit or lay down.

Combine the clicker with luring

You want something similar for Stand, so you can immediately do a new repetition. What tools do you have in your arsenal?

Well, for example, your dog already knows Sit and Down. So you can first ask him to sit or lay down to begin the training session.

And if you don't want to wait for him to get up on his own, you can tell him, Stand! then immediately lure him with a treat so he has to stand to get to it. Be ready and click precisely when he peels his belly off the floor. Then praise him and give him a Good-food.

Remove the bait

Awesome! Now you have a process you can repeat: Sit or Down, the puppy sits or lays down, Stand, lure, the puppy stands, click, praise, reward. And so on.

For how long? Quite short, a few repetitions, until your puppy stands before you show him the bait.

You may even want to go through an intermediate step, where you pretend to have the bait in your hand before you completely eliminate it.

It can look like this: Sit, the puppy sits, Stand, lure the dog to stand as if you had the bait in your hand, the puppy stands, click, praise, reward.

Remove the clicker

Next, when your puppy anticipates and doesn't wait to see the bait, the process can look like this: Sit, the puppy sits, Stand, the puppy stands, click, praise, reward. And you keep the clicker until your puppy stands 8 times out of 10.

Then the process becomes: Sit, the puppy sits, Stand, the puppy stands, praise and maybe a reward. As usual, the reward comes randomly and only for correct responses, and sometimes multiple times in a row.

Reward randomly

Why randomly? Let me explain. Imagine you tell your dog, Sit! and he sits, you praise him and give him a treat. Then you tell him, Sit! again, but this time you don't give him a treat. And again, Sit! and now you do give him a treat.

Soon enough your dog catches on and realizes it's a pattern: treat, no treat, treat, no treat.Wait a minute, last time I sat and I received a treat. It means this time I won't get a treat, so it doesn't make sense to sit.

You need to get him on a random reward schedule, to increase the chances that he listens to you each time. Then he'll be like, Maybe this time I'm getting something! I'm sure it's this time, I'm feeling lucky.

Teach him Stand means Stand no matter what

Okay, so coming back to Stand, what's left to do? Well, if you teach him Sit, Down, Stand or any other word when you're in the kitchen, you get a kitchen dog. Or if you're always teaching him in the kitchen next to the fridge, you get a fridge dog. Then when you tell him, Stand! in the living room, or in the yard, in puppy class, he’ll twist his fluffy head left and right, trying to understand, What do you mean Stand? We're not in the kitchen, how could I Stand?

So the next step is to teach him Stand in other places and situations, which is called generalization. You start over in each new place. Wait, what? Look, I know it seems the workload is the size of the Colosseum. But each time you start over in a new place, it takes you less time to teach him the word. Generalization happens faster than initial learning. And when you do it, you won't have a kitchen dog anymore, but a dog that really understands the word.

Important: I know I've said it before, but it's worth repeating: keep the training sessions short, take breaks often, reward progress not perfection, and end the session while the puppy’s still interested in the game. And if you ever hit a rough spot, temporarily come back to an easier step, then try again.