Following are the top ten training tips for your dog. Understand that these are tips to be used in training and not necessarily a thorough training guide.
Dogs are amazingly adaptable creatures, much smarter than we typically give them credit for. They are sensitive, intuitive, and loving. They are also brave and honest. We love them for all of these qualities, and they love us back beyond measure. We bring them into our lives because they are so incredible, then we start changing them through a process we call “training.”
There are many approaches to the training of dogs, and dogs are so smart that, surprisingly, most methods work fairly well. Some people use treats as rewards, while others say treats are just cheap bribes. One person might use a choke collar while the next person considers it nothing short of a torture device. One popular school of thought is that training must take place in a structured manner with few distractions, but a lot of people find that spontaneous training sessions in the middle of everyday life are more realistic. Some training is based on the science of learning, but most of it is just people doing what works for them and their dogs.
While there may be no universal truths in dog training, there are some tips that will enhance your relationship with your dog, no matter your training philosophy. Let’s take a look at the top ten training tips for your dog or puppy.
Training tip #1
Please don’t use your dog’s name to reprimand him. A dog’s life is tough enough. He has to learn a foreign language and adapt to rules that probably make no sense to him at all. Don’t make it worse by using his name as punishment. Remember back when you were a child and your mother called you by your first and middle name in a harsh voice. You knew you were in trouble. Hopefully, this did not happen often, but you could only cringe and wait for the punishment to begin when it did happen. Your dog feels that same sinking emotion when you use his name in anger. If your dog is doing something that you don’t want him to do, a simple “NO!” will suffice. If you put his name in front of it, say his name kindly and use the reprimand word sternly. Your dog loves the name you have given him, so use it with care.
Training tip #2
Every interaction is a training session. While a lot of training takes place in a structured setting with very specific goals, your dog is learning from you constantly, every day, throughout his entire life. Each interaction tells him something, even if it’s simply that there’s nothing new to learn at that moment. Don’t waste those opportunities. If you want your dog to sit calmly when you open the door for visitors, have him practice sitting calmly when you open the door to get the mail. Have him sit calmly when you open the door to take out the trash. Have him sit calmly when you open the door just to let him practice sitting calmly. Teach him that no matter what is on the other side of the door, he must sit calmly before you open it. You can only achieve this goal if you use everyday opportunities when nothing especially exciting is happening. Apply this thinking to every behavior you want your dog to execute for you. Practice every chance you get and reward his successes.
Training tip #8
Be specific. Dogs are brilliant at deciphering our babbling, but sometimes we make our requests so obscure that there is no chance for the dog to understand. He’ll do his best, but he still might get it wrong. Also, some dogs like to play with you, and they will cheat you if you let them just because they can. Cutting corners is not just a human trait. For example, if you tell your dog to lie down and he merely crouches, you can either accept this or be more specific and make him lie all of the ways down. Know what you want when you ask for a behavior. Your dog really can read your mind, and if you haven’t made it up yet, his actions will reflect that.
Training tip #7
Dogs are not generalists. It seems odd to us, but just because your dog knows what you mean when you say “Sit!” at home, he will not recognize that word in a new setting. Really, he will not. He has to learn to sit on cue all over again at the park, in the vet’s office, at your Mom’s house. You’ll be sputtering in embarrassment, thinking he is just disobedient if you don’t know about his inability to generalize lessons.
Dogs who have a great deal of training do eventually catch on to the idea that “Sit!” means the same thing no matter the circumstances, but this is not a natural part of their wiring. Do your dog and yourself a favor and practice his lessons in as many different settings as possible. If you don’t, you cannot expect him to understand, and it is cruel to get frustrated with him for something that he cannot change without your help.
Training tip #6
Learning is stressful. Learning new things, even fun, positive things, takes a mental and emotional toll. This is true for our dogs and for us. The advantage that we have over dogs is that we can anticipate our tests and study for them. I have yet to see a dog studying an obedience pattern, sitting straight at every cone and walking at just the right speed around the course, all on his own. For dogs, the lesson and the test often come at the same time. While this opens doors to great achievement and celebratory dances when things go well, it also puts a lot of pressure on dogs to get things right at test time. Don’t make every training session a pop quiz. Relieve the stress by rewarding small successes and ignoring failures. If your dog is afraid to try new things because you react badly when he gets it wrong, he will stop trying altogether. Help him succeed by taking the pressure off and making learning fun.
Training tip #5
Practice your timing. In dog training, timing really is everything. Your dog has no way of knowing whether he has pleased or displeased you unless you tell him immediately after his action. Don’t tell your dog to sit, then wait to praise him until he is already beginning to stand back up. He’ll think standing up was the behavior you were going for, and he’ll be proud of himself for doing it. If you tell him to sit, praise him the instant his butt touches the floor, not before he is completely sitting, and not when he is getting up again. If you have trouble with your timing, practice getting it right by tossing a tennis ball into the air and saying “YES!” the instant it falls back into your hand. That is how precise you must be for your dog to learn which behavior you are rewarding.
Training tip #4
Don’t be a boring teacher. If you get bored during a training exercise, you can bet that your dog beat you there for several minutes. No one likes that boring instructor who makes even the fun subjects dull and tedious. Find ways to mix things up a little. If your dog likes playing ball, practice having him sit or lie down before each toss. When he realizes that the ball won’t be thrown until he does what you are asking him to do, his interest will increase, and his response time will improve. Also, don’t drill the same behaviors over and over, trying to make him get better. Instead, practice a few times, then do something else for a while. Working on the same thing until there is no joy left in the world won’t get you a faster sit.
Training tip #3
Fetch the remote. Teach your dog at least one fun trick that will amaze your friends. We all cheered the dog in the commercial that fetched a beer from the refrigerator during the ball game. Let your dog be that hero. If you commonly misplace your television remote control, teach your dog to find it for you. The steps are simple. Show him the remote and give him a treat. Set the remote down, tell him to find it, and if he even looks at the remote, give him a treat. Enthusiastically encourage him until he is actually picking it up. Reward him for every try. When he will fetch the remote on cue every time, hide it. Just hide it a little at first, then do the full-blown hide like what happens when you fall asleep on the couch, and it shrinks beneath the cushions. Your dog’s amazing nose and psychic abilities will lead him to the remote every time, much to the amazement of your friends. Dogs are born entertainers, so this will likely become his favorite game in no time.
If you don’t have trouble locating your remote control, teach him to find something else that is useful, such as your keys or wallet. On those late mornings when you don’t have a moment to spare, and the keys are nowhere to be found, you’ll be glad you played that finding game when your best friend meets you at the door with your keys and a smile.
Training tip #2
Give him space. Dogs are not robots. They are not toys with a switch to turn them on and off. Dogs live a life inside their own minds that we can barely tap. Let your dog be himself. Don’t make him worship you every minute of the day. When you take him for a walk, give him some downtime to sniff without you pulling on the leash. If you live near a dog park or some other safe, open area, let him go and give him time to satisfy his needs. Sniffing, rolling, tasting, lounging, whatever it is he wants to do, let him have time to relax and experience being a dog. If he has dog friends, let him play with them without getting all squeamish when he sniffs butts or licks certain areas. That is what dogs do. Let him be a dog from time to time. He can be your robot again when you go home.
Training tip #1
“Play is the highest form of research.” This famous quote by Albert Einstein applies to people and dogs alike. It probably applies to pretty much every species, but it certainly applies to dogs. If you pay attention to your dog when he is playing, you will learn everything you need to know about how to communicate with him. Some dogs are boisterous and rowdy. Others are funny and act like clowns. I owned a dog once that would sacrifice his body to catch a ball and another who wouldn’t lift a paw for a ball but loved splashing in the water. Playing may not seem like training until you understand its importance.
Human children play with great gusto. During playtime, they try new things without fear of failure, they engage with others to test their reactions to various activities, and they store away knowledge of successful ways to relate to those around them. Your dog is doing the same things. He is enjoying himself without the pressure of getting things right. Play means not judging. If your dog doesn’t want to play ball, don’t make him. If he loves taking walks but hates swimming, take more walks and avoid the lake. Understand that for most of his life, you are your dog’s entire world. He doesn’t have much of a life outside of you. Indulge him in positive ways. Learn from him during play. Training is not a one-way street. Your dog can teach you how to be his best friend in exchange for all of the love and joy he gives you. Don’t let him down. Play, play, play, and forget your problems and worries while you embrace the moment. You can learn this from your dog.
Maybe the most important thing to remember about dog training is that it is never finished. For example, once your puppy has learned to sit on cue, you can take him for car rides and have him sit in the seat next to you so that he isn’t blocking your mirror or nudging the gear shift accidentally. He can sit while you attach his leash to his collar or harness before leaping out of the car in a new place. His safety might depend on that basic exercise of learning to sit. Building on simple lessons makes for a complex and rewarding relationship.