If you give commands, but don’t enforce them, your dog will learn that there is no reason to listen to you. Pay attention to these tips if you want your training to have the effect you expect.
General dog training tips
Focus on what your dog is doing right. Professional dog trainers recommend that you reward your pet when he does something well. This method of “positive training” contrasts with training that focuses on punishment. Trainers encourage owners to praise and reward their dogs with treats and affection for good behavior rather than simply scolding them for bad behavior.
2. Be proactive and stop your dog from misbehaving. One of the most important pieces of advice a professional dog trainer will tell you is that good behavior is not just the dog’s responsibility. The owner should do everything possible to avoid giving the dog the opportunity to engage in bad behavior while he is still learning. For example, if you notice that your dog likes to chew, it is important to make sure that everyone in the house puts their shoes behind closed cabinet doors to avoid temptation.
3. Stop saying NO! One of the biggest mistakes people make when training their dogs is saying NO without giving the dog an explanation. Dogs, just like children, will be confused by a simple NO command! Here’s what you should do instead. If your dog is stealing the cat’s food, tell him NO and then gently guide him to his own food dish. Or, if your dog is chewing on a table leg, tell him NO and give him rawhide or another toy he can chew on. Once your dog starts using the new behavior, reward him with treats, toys and praise.
4. Learn the difference between boredom and separation anxiety. It is important to determine whether your dog is misbehaving when he leaves the house because he is bored or because he is experiencing a case of separation anxiety. Figuring out why your dog is misbehaving is usually the quickest way to combat the problem. If boredom seems to be the problem, you can probably keep your dog from destroying your house for some alone time by providing him with a treat-filled toy or something else that will help him exercise his mind a bit. If separation anxiety is the problem, you’ll need to learn ways to desensitize your dog not only during your absence, but also during your “getting ready to go” routine.
5. Consider trying clicker training. Clicker training is a relatively new technique in the dog training world and involves the owner using a specific sound to signal your dog that a particular behavior is acceptable or desired. The owner will repeat the “click” and then reward their dog for good behavior. Positive comments will encourage the dog to repeat the good behavior.
6. Be patient, persistent and consistent. These three behaviors on the part of the owner will develop similar behaviors in a dog. Patience means that you understand that learning new behaviors can take some time and a lot of practice and repetition. Persistence means that you, as the owner, don’t give up when training doesn’t seem to be going well. Consistent means that your dog knows what to expect from you. For example, if you always say NO when your dog is misbehaving, he learns to recognize NO as a sign of disapproval. Conversely, if you only give treats for good behavior, your dog will learn to recognize those positive comments.
7. Start early. As soon as you get a dog, you should start training in some way. If you’ve started late, it may take a while to catch up. The key to remember is that training is often nothing more than reversing bad habits and behaviors. If your dog is young, he hasn’t had the opportunity to develop a significant number of these bad behaviors and training will be simple. With an older dog, you really have to teach everything the dog knows about the behavior and start teaching behaviors that you deem acceptable.
8. Be kind and gentle for better results. An owner who constantly punishes his dog for bad behaviors will have much less success than an owner who is gentle and kind, rewarding his dog for acceptable behaviors. Consider praising your dog and being gentle when redirecting your attention from a bad behavior to one that is more acceptable to you.
9. Have reasonable expectations. For example, if your dog misbehaves at home, it is wise to expect him to misbehave at the dog park or in the yard. Therefore, if your dog has trouble paying attention to his commands, you’ll want to make sure you keep him on a leash when he’s outside. If your dog jumps up on people in the house, expect him to be rough with other dogs. You can reverse these behaviors through positive training, but realize that bad behaviors will likely continue regardless of the circumstances until your dog has unlearned them.
10. Always enforce your commands. If you give commands, but don’t enforce them, your dog will learn that there is no reason to listen to you. On the other hand, if you back up your commands with reinforcement, he will quickly learn that you mean business. For example, if you tell your dog to sit and he ignores it, gently push him into the desired position and congratulate him. Always praise good behavior as a means of enforcing your commands.
11. Use the ONE command rule. Only give your dog each command once. If you want your dog to sit, tell him to SIT! If your dog chooses to ignore the command the first time, gently place him in the sit position and then congratulate him. Do this with every command, so your dog doesn’t think your commands are optional. Stick to the ONE command rule, and your dog will quickly learn to take your commands seriously.
12. Clearly define your commands. If you expect your dog to follow commands, then it is important that you understand what you want him to do. For example, if you are trying to teach him to sit, it will only confuse him if one time he uses the command SIT and the next time SIT. If he is confused, he will most likely ignore you. And this can lead to a vicious cycle. So pay attention to the commands you are teaching and don’t confuse your dog by being inconsistent.
13. Teach your dog to read your tone. Tone is as important as the actual command you are giving. Therefore, always try to use a consistent tone when issuing a command. Shouting a command will be less effective than using a firm, authoritative tone. Pick a tone and stick with it. Your dog will begin to recognize that tone and will respond to what you are saying more effectively.
14. Analyze stubbornness. If you find that your dog is stubborn and won’t listen to your commands, there may be a simple explanation. Look for signs to see if you are giving commands that your dog understands, if your dog knows what to do when he hears a certain command, and if the command is creating an uncomfortable feeling in your dog. Most likely, you simply need to repeat the training for a specific command and make the dog more comfortable through rewards and praise.
15. Never use your dog’s name in anger. You should try to reprimand your dog without using his name so that there is no negative association with the name itself. When you praise your dog, call him by name so that the dog will respond happily when called by name. You may find that simply using the dog’s name will make him eagerly approach you in just a short period of time.
16. Earn your dog’s respect. If you hit or yell at him he will quickly lose respect for you. And instead of becoming a loving companion, he will become reserved and distrustful. So be sure to avoid training when you are in a bad mood and avoid negative reinforcement whenever possible. Staying upbeat will make your dog more willing to do whatever it is you expect of him and help the two of you form a good relationship.
17. Never use a training technique that is not natural and comfortable for you. If you are using a technique that is not natural, your dog will sense your hesitation just as quickly as he will sense fear or anxiety. This can cause your dog to ignore any given command and cause frustration for both of you. Therefore, work to find techniques that you understand and are comfortable with before you begin training your dog.
18. Consider an obedience training class. There is no shame in asking for help in training your dog. Some people are simply not equipped to train their dog on their own, either due to lack of patience, inexperience or lack of knowledge. Research different obedience training classes in your area and attend a few to determine whether or not they may or may not work for you.
19. Consider a training club. Some kennel associations offer training clubs to their members and the general public. These groups will often allow members access to professional trainers and the knowledge of other members. Some breeds are more difficult to train than others, and having this type of resource available can be an excellent asset to your own training program.
20. Learn about your dog’s breed. Different breeds of dogs may respond better to different training methods. Dogs of different sizes may also require different types of training. For example, if you have a small terrier that likes to jump, it’s less dangerous for everyone involved than if you have a St. Bernard that weighs 150 pounds and likes to jump! You will have to focus on different areas with different breeds and sizes of dogs, and knowing what to expect is half the battle.
21. See yourself as the team leader during training. You are not solely responsible for successful training sessions. If you see yourself and your dog as a team in training, you will be much more successful than if you assume the burden of all responsibility. You must be aware of everything that happens during training, because you are the leader. However, keep in mind that your dog must be a willing participant in training to be successful.
22. Stay calm and relaxed. Your dog will feel fear, anger and anxiety. Therefore, to be effective you must remain calm. Issue commands in an authoritative voice and be firm and consistent to keep the dog’s attention. Any behavior on his part that is out of the ordinary will prevent him from staying focused and reduce the effectiveness of your training efforts.
23. Be consistent. If you are not serious about wanting your dog to perform or stop a specific action, then don’t issue the command. Otherwise, you will teach your dog that you only mean what you say a few times. This will generate confusion on your dog’s part and frustration on your part. It is much easier to issue only commands than it is to apply them.
Recognize and respect your dog’s needs. Just like people, you will find that when a dog’s basic needs are not met, he will behave more often. Be sure to provide quality food, plenty of water, constructive socialization with people and other pets, adequate shelter and security, and plenty of exercise. When these needs are met, teaching your dog the basics will be much easier.
25. Practice, practice, practice. Practice makes perfect, isn’t that what your mother always said? Well, dog training is no exception. If you’re going to work on training your dog, be sure to practice consistently for several 5-10 minute intervals throughout the day. Focus on practicing one skill at a time until the dog masters it and then move on to something new. However, be sure to regularly review learned tricks and behaviors so they are not forgotten.
26. Expose your dog, slowly over time, to different situations. It is critical to emphasize to your dog that you expect him to behave consistently regardless of his environment. One of the best ways to do this is to socialize with your dog. Introduce him to new people and other animals (dogs, cats, etc.) so he learns to be social. Take him to unfamiliar surroundings whenever possible so he learns that no matter where he is, you are still in charge. This will allow him to have more effective control and alleviate anxiety caused by unfamiliar people and environments that may lead to future misbehavior.
27. Find out what works. Not all children learn the same way, and not all dogs learn the same way. Therefore, you should try using different training techniques until you find one that you are comfortable with and that works for your particular dog. The general rule to remember is that if one technique doesn’t work after a week, you should try something else.
28. Remember that training should not be hard. Harsh training will make your dog mean and fearful. You definitely don’t want either of these situations, so try to always focus on the positive and reward good work with treats and praise. If you punish your dog for a bad behavior, he will stop temporarily. But, if you replace bad behavior with rewarding behavior, there is a greater chance that he will end up with a well-behaved dog.
29. Use a short leash for training purposes. Leashes come in different lengths, some as long as 100 feet or more. However, when you are training your dog, you should always use a leash that is about 6 feet long and comes with a loop that you can slip your hand through, wrapping it around your fingers to make sure the dog doesn’t wander away from you. When your dog is on the left side, hold the leash in front of you with the loop around your right hand. This will help you keep the leash short and maintain control.
30. Start early and keep going. The most effective time to train any dog is when it is a young puppy. However, if you are training an adult dog, it is best to start as early as possible to teach the dog to obey you. In addition, it is important to keep up your training efforts until the dog has mastered all the commands he can issue. Training is a commitment that must be taken seriously, otherwise you may find yourself right back where you started.
31. Get acquainted with your dog’s parents. If possible, try to spend time with your dog’s parents. Sometimes this is not possible, but when it is an option there is much to learn. By observing the parents’ behavior, you will be able to spot similarities and potential issues that need to be addressed before they become a problem. A good example of what could be a potential problem is aggression. If you notice that your dog comes from two aggressive parents, you should be aware that there is probably a genetic predisposition to aggression and you should consider professional obedience training in this situation.
32. Hire a professional. Sometimes people have the best intentions when they get a new dog, however, time and other responsibilities can make it impossible to properly train a new dog in even the basics of good behavior. Consider a professional dog trainer in your area if you don’t have the time or experience to train your dog properly.
33. Don’t leave your dog alone for long periods. When your dog is training, it is important to never leave him alone for long periods of time. Otherwise, you will not be able to provide the necessary reinforcement for good behaviors and divert the dog’s attention from negative behaviors. This can also lead to boredom or anxiety, which will definitely lead to destructive behaviors. Therefore, if you are leaving your dog alone, place him in an appropriately sized crate to maintain momentum with training and protect his home while he is away.
34. Teach him that nothing in life is free. This interesting training program is best used after he has learned basic commands such as sit, down and leave it. The goal is to prevent your dog from being disobedient by reinforcing who is in charge. For example, if your dog senses you have a treat, have him sit before you give it to him. And, if he gets excited when it’s time to walk, have him lie down until you put the leash on him. Never give up: if your dog doesn’t do what you command him to do, you shouldn’t give him the reward he’s looking for. By using this technique, you will reinforce basic obedience commands and show who’s boss at the same time.
35. Find out what makes your dog tick. One of the best ways to start training your dog is to find out what motivates him. Some dogs are more motivated by treats, while others prefer extra lap time. When you know what makes your dog happy, you can use it as motivation for good behavior and also as a reward for a successful training session. This is a practice commonly used by professional dog trainers, and while it may take some time to understand what makes your dog tick, it is definitely the path to successful training.
36. Establish pack structure from the beginning. The sooner your dog realizes that you, not he, are leading your pack, the better off you will be. Establish boundaries for your dog early on by placing him in a crate during initial training and always using a leash when outside. Let him know that you will give commands and he will obey them. You must establish trust between you and your dog so that he understands from the beginning that you will not hurt him and that he does not need to fear you.
37. Use an invisible fence. An invisible fence can be used to mark the edge of your yard or to delimit the area where your dog is allowed inside the yard. An invisible fence is an excellent way to train your dog to stay on your property when he is outside, because it will deter him every time he approaches the boundary. The problem is that if your dog goes outside, he will also be prevented from re-entering. If you use an invisible fence, remember that other animals and people will not be able to sense the presence of the invisible fence. Therefore, be sure to clearly mark your yard to prevent people from crossing the fence until you are sure that your dog will not attack anyone he sees as an invader.
38. Determine the ground rules before you start training. One of the common problems people experience with dog training is not deciding in advance what behaviors they will and will not tolerate. For example, some people let their new puppy nap on the couch, but then decide they don’t want dog hair on the furniture. Then they have to retrain their dog so that getting on the couch is not allowed. Make a list of the behaviors you don’t want to see and you will have a better idea of where to start. It’s always okay to reverse a behavior, but it’s easier on you and your dog if you set the rules at the beginning and don’t change them in the middle of the game.
39. Train your dog to be less sensitive. Dogs can have many of the same fears as humans, and part of your training efforts should focus on teaching your dog to handle fear and anxiety. A good example is thunder. Many dogs are afraid of loud noise for which they cannot locate a source. If you can, buy a CD of thunder noises and play it while you are in the house with your dog. When the dog starts to get anxious, tell him NO and redirect his attention. Until you are sure you have desensitized your dog, be sure to place him in a crate so he is contained when there are loud noises.
40. Stick to small time intervals when training. Dogs do not have long attention spans and tire quickly from the same activities. Therefore, for effective training, you should break their sessions into 5-10 minute intervals throughout the day. You can work on a command for a few minutes and then play with your dog for a while. After a water break and a quick nap, you can start again with a second command or maybe even work on leash training. Don’t expect to train your dog in a weekend, or you’ll just end up frustrated with a completely confused dog!
41. Keep in mind the importance of time. Dogs are not like children. If you punish a dog only minutes after a bad behavior, you will probably never make a connection between the punishment and that behavior. You must catch your dog in the act of unacceptable behavior if you want to correct what he did wrong.
42. Define training for yourself first. If you are going to be a successful trainer for your dog, you must know beforehand what training means to you. What are your goals? Do you want a perfectly behaved show dog, or would you be satisfied if your dog knew to come when you called him? There is no definitive answer as to what training means: it’s a matter of preference that only you can define. But, make the decision before you start so you know what your own expectations are.
43. Know the nonverbal commands you are giving as well as the verbal ones. When you train your dog, he will pick up on more than just the commands you issue verbally. Some astute dogs will learn that a hand to the left means: go left. Others may assume that because you are grumpy when you tell them to sit, they will be the object of your anger if they listen to you. Training is about action and reward. If you give your dog non-verbal cues and commands, he is likely to develop a response. Therefore, pay attention to your posture, tone of voice and attitude during training sessions.
44. Feed your dog only at scheduled times. Housebreaking is dependent on a schedule. It is imperative that a young dog be fed three times a day at the same time, and that the food be left available for only 10-20 minutes or so. When the time is up, remove the food and take your dog outside. Between feedings can lead to accidents, and free feeding will definitely lead to accidents. Therefore, increase your chances of successful housebreaking and keep your dog healthier by feeding only at scheduled times.
45. Remember that the key to a well-behaved dog is to give him plenty of exercise. If you don’t make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise, you are letting him down and possibly setting the stage for aggression and bad behavior due to boredom. When you give your dog plenty of exercise, he will be tired and spend time resting. If your dog is not tired, he will be bored and will have to find ways to entertain himself. Unfortunately, that could mean chewing, chasing other animals or barking and howling.