The Big Three

Are you overwhelmed with too many skills? Just work on The Big Three.

Pick up any dog training manual and it will be filled with many different exercises you should teach your dog. From what I see with many of my clients, is that they simply do not have the time, or inclination, to train their dogs as much as these manuals require. Yes, I always advocate people need to realise owning a dog successfully takes a big time commitment but if you are pressed for time there a just a few skills you can teach your dog that will make life with your dog much easier.

I call these skills The Big Three- recall, focus and heel. If you only train these three skills I can assure you that you will be able to address most problems you and your dog may be having.


The first skill, the recall, is probably the most important skill you will ever teach your dog. If your dog has a good recall they will not jump on people at the park, will not steal other dogs’ balls, will stay away from strange dogs and a good recall may even save your dogs’ life. A few years ago I called my dog away from a reared up Tiger snake, if Lloyd had not come to me (even after seeing the snake) it would have been a sure death.

The key to a fast recall is name recognition, running towards you, and remaining with you until you release your dog. The quickest way to teach name recognition is to say your dogs’ name, then feed them for looking at you. This should be the very first skill you start your new dog on. Your dog must stop what they are doing and look at you when they hear their name. For this to happen, their name must have meaning. Pair it with food.

Running towards you also needs to be conditioned so that after you have said your dogs’ name and they look at you, you can then give them a visual and verbal cue to ‘come’. The best way to start this is to set up a recall by having someone hold your dog and you run away from them, then turn and call them to ‘come’. This method conditions a fast recall because your dog wants to come to you. If you do not have anyone to hold your dog when you are out walking off lead, always move away from your dog and wait for them to start running towards you- there’s your set up recall.

To keep your dog with you after the recall, simply keep feeding your dog varying bits of food, then give them an ‘all done’ signal. If you only feed one piece of food all the time, your dog will develop a bad habit of coming to you, taking the food, and running off. Always feed more than once piece so your dog waits for more.


The second skill of The Big Three is a sit and focus skill. This is a great skill if you have a reactive (noisy) dog, or you have a dog that likes to lunge out or chase people or objects. It is the perfect skill when something is moving past you, and you will not have to use any physical restraint on your dog.

Most dogs can sit, so it is simply a matter of teaching your dog to sit and focus on you while distractions are around. Start with something easy like a lone pedestrian walking past at a distance, reinforce your dog when your dog looks at you. Try not to block your dog from seeing the distraction. You want your dog to see something coming and realise they should ‘leave it’. Work up to other dogs and more difficult distractions over time.


The final skill of The Big Three is ‘heel’. The reason I have included this one is because sometimes it is necessary for you to move through, or past distractions, where you will need your dog close to you and focused on you. This skill is fantastic for greeting another dog calmly. If you have a dog that rushes up to other dogs, or pulls you madly on the lead to greet other dogs, you will want to learn ‘heel’. Some dogs will be better at heeling than sit and focus, particularly dogs that are more excitable, as heeling is a movement skill.

The correct heeling position is your dog’s right shoulder next to your left leg, with your dog looking up at you. There are many different ways to teach heeling, the easiest is where you simply walk with some food in your hand, close in to your chest (so your dog is not jumping), and feed your dog when they are walking on your left looking at you. This is called ‘find the heel game’. Try it in your hallway. Once your dog ‘gets it’ start adding a visual and verbal cue for heel, then add some distractions. Find a trainer to help you with this skill if you are struggling. The best trainers will always teach this skill off lead first, then on lead.

Each of The Big Three does not have to be executed perfectly all the time by your dog, in fact, a skill is deemed successful if it is occurring 85-90+% of the time. There are times where our dogs’ are unable to listen, or simply have not heard the instructions we are giving. Try not to expect perfection, otherwise you will be disappointed. If you are having trouble in one scenario you have probably pushed your dog too far too soon. Go back to something easier.

Spend some time working on The Big Three at home, then each time you go out for a walk all you need to do is a few skills on each walk as distractions arise and the skill has been practiced for the day. Obviously the more you practice the better you and your dog will become at each skill.

If you are limited in time and do not want an obedience champion then The Big Three- recall, focus and heeling, are the prefect skills for you. Only three skills, but they will make all the difference in your dogs’ behaviour.


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