Dog Training

Guidelines for dog training

No matter what you’re trying to teach your dog, from housetraining to “heel,” there are a few basic guidelines that will make the process easier:

1. Be consistent.

Use the same cue for the same command, every time. If you use “come” one week, “come here” the next, and “come here, boy” the following, you’ll confuse your dog. If your dog is allowed to pull on the leash sometimes but is jerked by the collar when he pulls at other times, you’ll confuse him. Make sure everyone who’s around your dog follows the same rules and uses the same cues.

2. Use praise and rewards.

Almost all modern dog trainers believe that dogs learn better and faster when we praise and reward them for getting it right, rather than punishing them for getting it wrong.

The best motivator is usually a combination of a small food treat–especially if you train before mealtime–and enthusiastic praise. Don’t worry that you’ll wind up with a dog who’ll only work for food. Once your dog gets the idea of what you’re asking him to do, you’ll begin rewarding him sporadically, and eventually you can phase out the treats entirely.

If your dog isn’t that interested in food, try offering praise without the treat, or a favorite toy, or a physical reward such as a good behind-the-ears scratch or tummy rub.

3. Time the rewards right.

The praise and reward need to come immediately after your dog does what you want if he’s going to make the connection–“Hey, whenever I pee outside, I get a treat. I’m going to do this more often!”

4. Keep it short and sweet.

Training works best if it’s fun and you stop before either of you gets bored or frustrated. Keep the mood upbeat, not drill-sergeant serious, and make the sessions short. Five to ten minutes is plenty to start with, or you can do many mini-training sessions throughout the day, especially if you have a puppy–like kids, they have shorter attention spans.

5. Make it easy for your dog to get it right.

When you let a dog who hasn’t pooped all day have free, unsupervised run of the house, you’re asking for a mistake that can turn into a bad habit. When you start practicing the “come” command in a dog park, where there are a million distractions, you’re asking for a mistake that can turn into a bad habit.

Train slowly, starting in a quiet, familiar place with no distractions, and gradually make it more challenging for your dog. Don’t progress to the next step until your dog has mastered the current one.

6. Keep your cool.

Yelling, hitting, and jerking your dog around by a leash won’t teach him how to sit on request, pee outside, or do anything else you want him to learn. It will teach him that you’re scary and unpredictable. Fair, calm, consistent training is the best way to get your dog to obey and respect you.

7. Go to school.

In-person guidance from an expert trainer is the best way to get a well-trained dog. Obedience classes are relatively cheap, a great way to learn how to train, and they get your pooch used to being around lots of other dogs and people–good for all dogs, but especially important for raising safe, friendly puppies. To find local dog trainers and classes check out DogTime’s Local Listings.

If going to classes or hiring a a dog trainer isn’t in your budget, check out our Dunbar Training Center which is loaded with great puppy training videos. You can also find great training information in our Expert Center Q&A section. Learn what you need to know from dozens of dog trainers and behaviorists.

8. Keep practicing!

Don’t expect that once your dog has learned something, he’s learned it for life. Your dog can lose his new skills without regular practice.

Tailor your training to your dog

Every dog is different and will respond better to slightly different training styles. Some dogs are so sensitive that a sharp tone of voice or even animated praise can rattle them; they need calm, quiet guidance. Others are thicker-skinned and need lots of repetition to learn all the rules. And some smart pups will try to feel out what, exactly, your rules mean: Is it only in this house that I can’t sleep on the couch, or in all houses? There are also those dogs who occasionally push back when you push them, rather than give in to what you’re asking for.

Your dog’s behavior, not breed, is the best indicator of his personality. Remember that although different dogs thrive on different training approaches, they all need a benevolent leader. Yelling, hitting, and other techniques that inflict pain or fear are never the solution for any dog–they can create a behavior problem or make an existing problem worse.

Bottom line

Training is the best investment you can make in your relationship with your dog. You’ll need to do your homework first, though, to learn how to communicate what you want in a way that your dog will understand. Stay consistent and patient, reward your dog for getting it right and remember: you can train a dog of any age.