Poodles are such "people dogs" that they can get absolutely frantic trying to understand what you want them to do so they can do it and make you happy. It's up to you to make sure they understand clearly any command you want them to obey.
All Wound Up
Poodles are considered emotional and excitable dogs, though the standard poodle tends to be less so than the miniature and toy. Poodles are also smart as a whip, second only to the border collie, and poodles are more anxious to please, while the collie may argue with you because he's sure he knows better. Teach your poodle his commands when he's relaxed -- after a long walk is a good time. He’ll be able to concentrate better.
Humpty Dumpty told Alice, "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less." A command is any sound that has meaning to your poodle, but he doesn't necessarily speak English. It could be the sound of a can opener -- if that means "Dinner is served," he'll come a-running. If you say "blert" and offer a treat while pushing down on his rump, he'll learn to park his butt whenever you say it. The five basic obedience commands in English are come, sit, stay, down and heel. Notice that all are short, simple words. The same commands in German are hier, sitz, bleib, platz, fuss. These have the same qualities, and they mean the same thing. However, commands could just as easily be nonsense syllables or in Martian and they would still work, as long as both you and the dog understand what's expected.
It's not so much what you say as how you say it. You don't have to sound like a sergeant barking orders at his squad, but you do need to speak firmly and clearly. Take a deep breath, firm up your diaphragm. Lower your voice in volume (dogs have very good hearing) and in tone (high-pitched squeaks excite dogs). Say his name to get his attention, give the command and, if necessary, use a training aid. A training aid is a physical signal that suggests the response you want. With a horse, it's a squeeze of your legs or a shift of your weight in the saddle; with a dog, it can be a twitch of the leash or a touch of the hand. As soon as he does what he's supposed to, reward him with a click, a treat or an "attaboy." If he doesn't get it, remain calm and show him how again until he does.
While you're teaching your poodle spoken commands, you might as well teach him hand signals to go with them. To teach "sit," stand in front of your dog with a treat in your flat palm about level with your belly button. When you have the dog's undivided attention, say "sit" and raise your hand to your chest. His nose should follow the treat, and when the head goes up, the rear will usually go down. "Look" (a very useful preliminary command to be sure he's properly focused) is bringing the treat all the way up to your mouth to get him to look at your face. A hand signal for "stop," "down" or "come" can save your dog's life if he is in danger but too far away to hear a verbal command, and if your dog has the misfortune to go deaf, the two of you can still communicate.
- Black Standard Poodle Head image by OneToRemember from Fotolia.com