Have you been struggling to get your new dog housebroken? Does your puppy just not seem to comprehend the meaning of stay? Are you not sure where to begin with dog training at all? You’re in the right place. With some patience and the right tips, just about anyone can train a dog. We’ve rounded up 10 tips from professional dog trainers that can help you improve your dog’s behavior.
1. Always make training fun by keeping it short and sweet.
This tip comes from Jacquelyn England, who suggests that dog training should never last longer than about 15 minutes each session. Three or four short sessions a day are much more likely to be fun for your dog rather than an extended period. Dogs are similar to toddlers in attention span and focus level. They need the training session to be fun to get interested at all, and they won’t be able to focus on it for too long before it becomes not so fun.
2. Create a tiered system of treats that correspond with trick difficulty.
This tip is from Patricia Bentz, who says that training treats should be organized into a hierarchy of low-value and high-value. Low-value treats are things like a piece of their regular kibble. This can be given out when a dog does something fairly simple that he has already mastered, like sitting down. High-value treats are things like bits of cooked meat, a piece of raw apple, or a quality dog treat, which should be given out for a command that is more difficult or is brand new.
3. Be consistent with commands and rewards.
One of the most important things that the pros will tell you is to always be consistent when you train your dog. If you use a specific phrase for a command, don’t change it later. If you reward your dog for the right behavior once, be sure you are consistently offering some reward (even if it’s just praise) each time you see your dog doing that behavior. Consistency is key with teaching dogs how to behave.
4. Don’t use negative reinforcement to get positive behaviors.
Canine behavioral specialists agree that using negative reinforcement, like rubbing a puppy’s nose in their accident, doesn’t actually teach them what you want. It only creates a stress reaction to that specific behavior. Positive reinforcement for the behavior you want them to perform is much more likely to work. The big problem is that with negative reinforcement, the dog doesn’t understand what you want – only what you don’t want. Many dogs aren’t smart enough to make the logical leap between a behavior you don’t want, and what you want instead.
5. Train your dog before they eat, not after they eat.
There are several reasons why dog training professionals like Marc Elias say to work with your dog on new commands before they eat. First, a hungry dog is more likely to be cooperative, because he wants the food you’re offering as a reward. Second, it’s always important to keep in mind that training treats add to your dog’s daily calorie count. Your dog could easily be eating a lot more calories than they need through training treats. If you train before their meal, you can simply use part of their kibble for that meal as their training treat.
6. Don’t allow any person to break your dog’s “rules”.
This is something that I’ve talked about on my own blog. If someone doesn’t mind that your dog jumps on them, but you’ve determined to train your dog out of this behavior, don’t let this person be the exception to the rule. Dogs don’t understand exceptions. If they know they can jump on this person, they will think they can jump on anyone. Consistency is key, once again.
7. Try ignoring instead of negative reinforcement.
If your dog is doing something that you’d rather they didn’t, such as barking when you don’t want them to, or trying to push you off the couch to get comfortable, don’t react negatively. Once again, remember that dogs don’t understand what it is you want – they just know what you don’t want in that moment. Instead, consider ignoring the behavior. Dogs often do these things for attention, and they’ll soon learn that this tactic doesn’t work and move on. This also applies to walking your dog when they are pulling on the leash. Stop and don’t move again until your dog stops pulling.
8. Offer distraction to alleviate bad behaviors instantly.
If your dog is doing something that you want them to stop right away, one thing you can do instead of negative reinforcement is to offer a distraction. For example, if a dog is nipping while playing with you, the best thing you can do is offer them a toy to bite on instead of your hands. Distract your dog from destroying your furniture by giving him a toy to chew on instead. These things can help you and your dog have a much better time without having to resort to scolding your dog.
9. Pay attention to your own body language and energy.
Dogs are very sensitive to your body language and tone of voice when you are focused on them. If you don’t seem into the training session, or if your energy is low, then theirs will be as well. And if you seem unhappy or annoyed to be there, your dog will pick up on that as well. Even if you have to fake it, be happy to be training your dog.
10. Don’t get too hung up on using a specific training method.
There are many types of training methods out there, and some of them work well for some dogs. Other dogs may respond better to other methods. And still other dogs may respond best to a hodgepodge of training methods. Don’t commit yourself to one training method only – just be consistent with training in general.
Ash Babariya is the co-creator of Simply for Dogs and a life-long dog lover. Ash’s many adventures at the local dog park with her Boxers, Janice and Leroy, have turned her into the local “crazy dog lady”. She shares those adventures, as well as her research into the world of dogs, around the web to promote well-informed pet owning. Ash, Janice, and Leroy share a home in the Midwest with a brood of hens, all sorts of wild critters, and the occasional litter of puppies.