Updated: May 27, 2020
You’ve finally brought your dog home....now what? For many, a new dog in the house (especially a puppy) means it’s time to get them on a training schedule. When it comes to training, every dog and pet parent is different. Some decide to take basic training at a local pet store, others decide to send their pup to doggy boot camp, and many decide to just give it the ol’ college try and do it themselves.
With the mass amount of information available at our fingertips now, it is definitely possible if you’re deciding to take the latter route. To help you out, here are our top 9 training tips.
1. Keep a variety of treats in the house
A necessity for training, especially when starting with food rewards, is having a range of “low value” and “high value” treats. For example, training in different, public settings as opposed to training at home or in another controlled, familiar environment, a high value treat may be needed to re-ignite your dog’s motivation. You may be able to use training treats or pieces of kibble at home with no debate from your dog, but when they become distracted with new smells, faces, sounds, and places, a higher value treat such as a piece of bacon or cheese will almost be sure to help them refocus.
2. Use food rewards as PRAISE...
NOT as a bribe.
It is VERY easy to become distracted by your pup’s cute face &
mannerisms. But, you need to make sure to stay disciplined with training, otherwise treats will end up becoming a method of bribery rather than a vessel for praise. To avoid this, keep the treats hidden (a pouch or your pockets will do just fine!) and only reveal the treat to them after they have completed the behavior you had previously requested.
To clear up any confusion: it is perfectly fine to lure them into completing a behavior. But, you must slowly ease out of the lure and remove the treat from the equation until after the fact.
3. Patience, young grasshopper!
Training a pup takes a great deal of patience. If you aren’t able to practice patience yourself, training will be a constant, uphill battle. The key to successfully training your dog is having patience throughout the entire process. Something absolutely vital to understand is that all dogs learn at different paces, so keeping your expectations realistic for your dog will help you stay patient. Rome was not built in a day, and as such, your dog will not be perfectly obedient the day after you start training him! Successful training is characterized by patience, consistency, and repetition. Staying calm, even when your dog is not listening to you, and remaining persistent with them will achieve the greatest success in training.
4. Be genuine!
With your praise, with your positive reinforcement, with everything. There’s not much more to say here -- dogs are smart! They know when you are being genuine with your praise or if you’re faking it with them. Zak George talks a lot about this in his puppy training series on YouTube, which can be found in the Resources section of this post.
5. Learn to read your dog
You are around your dog more than any other human is. Therefore, you should learn how to read them. Understanding how your dog is communicating with the world around them through their body language or facial expressions is an important aspect of training. For example -- let’s say you’ve decided to take your pup to the park for a training session today. The weather is nice out, and you’re itching to get out of the house. You get to the park, and there’s a baseball game going on nearby. All that can be heard are loud noises and an airhorn every few minutes. Your dog starts pacing nervously and their ears are pushed back. Knowing that your dog is scared and overwhelmed by the loud noises, you decide it’s best to head back home and get the training done there after all.
If you hadn’t known how to read your dog, you may have ended up staying there to attempt the training and becoming frustrated that your pup wasn’t listening.
6. Consistency is the key to success
As aforementioned, consistency is key in dog training. All-around consistency -- consistent routine, consistent cues, consistent practice. Learning is achieved through identifying patterns. If your dog training schedule is on Monday before lunch and on Thursday after the evening walk, how can you expect your dog to remember what was learned in the previous session? Training several times a week, around the same time of day will help develop a routine for your dog and help them learn quicker with training sessions that are closer together. Consistency is especially important for those living with others. Are you 1 in a family of 4 with a brand new pup? For your new addition to thrive in their training, it is imperative that all 4 family members are on the same page with cues and techniques. Let’s say you are training your dog to give you his paw. For the verbal cue, if you say “paw” and your younger brother says “give me your paw,” chances are, it’s going to take much longer for your dog to understand and learn.
Just like humans, dogs are social creatures. If not properly socialized from a young age, the result can be behavioral problems and unwanted behaviors. Dogs are pack animals, and for this reason, socialization oftentimes means understanding their role in the pack, whether that means they are more dominant or submissive. This is where they learn rules and behaviors.
Where we sometimes go wrong with our dogs is not socializing them from a young age and not correcting behaviors early on. If there are no boundaries or rules set for them to follow, how will they be successful in their training? Moral of the story: let your dog be a dog. Take them to the dog park to interact with other dogs, to Thanksgiving to play with younger family members, or to a dog-friendly brewery where they can meet beer-drinking strangers. Start early on, so that they can learn how to interact and respond to the world around them.
8. Positive Reinforcement
One of the best practices for dog training is using positive reinforcement with your dog rather than negative. We had previously talked about food rewards and the important role they play in beginning your training, but two other great practices to incorporate are affection and verbal praise.
It is believed by many dog trainers that one of the most important things in a dog’s life is having their owner’s approval. By showing your approval in other ways aside from food, try scratching behind their ears to show that you are happy with them! Verbal praise is another great way to express approval. Don’t be afraid to be a little over the top! Saying their name in a very cheery voice, good boy/good girl...you get the idea.
9. Short & sweet training sessions
Keeping your training sessions short, sweet, and to the point will make your dog love training and stay engaged, rather than dreading it and becoming uninterested. Long training sessions can become tiring for your dog and frustrating for you, especially when they stop completing the behaviors you are seeking. Some days, your dog is just on it, and sometimes, they are not. Don’t force a circle through a square -- take breaks, cut sessions short. Everyday will look different, and your willingness to be flexible and listen to your dog will result in success. We suggest training in time slots of about 10-15 minutes. Remember, dogs can have short attention spans and hour-long sessions in one sitting are not always realistic. Keep it fun for everyone!
Zak George’s Dog Training Revolution (Training Videos): https://www.youtube.com/user/zakgeorge21
Top 7 Dog Training Books of 2019: https://www.thesprucepets.com/best-dog-training-books-4164678