Work on only one part of a skill at a time Many of the skills we want our dogs to learn are complex. For instance, if you want to train a solid sit-stay, you’ll need to work on teaching your dog that she should stay in a sitting position until you release her (duration), she should stay while you move away from her (distance), and she should stay while distracting things are going on around her (distraction). You’ll probably both get frustrated if you try to teach her all of these things at the same time. Instead, start with just one part of the skill and, when your dog has mastered that, add another part. For example, you can work on duration first. When your dog can sit-stay for a few minutes in a quiet place with no distractions while you stand right next to her, start training her to stay while you move away from her. While you focus on that new part of the skill, go back to asking your dog to stay for just a few seconds again. When your dog can stay while you move around the room, slowly build up the duration of the stay again. Then you can add the next part-training in a more distracting environment. Again, when you make the skill harder by adding distraction, make the other parts-duration and distance-easier for a little while. If you work on all the parts of a complex skill separately before putting them together, you’ll set your dog up to succeed.
To communicate clearly and consistently with your dog, you need to understand how she learns. Dogs learn through the immediate consequences of their behavior. The nature of those consequences determines how they’ll behave in the future. Dogs, like other animals (people included), work to get good things and avoid bad things in life. If a behavior results in something rewarding-like food, a good belly rub, playtime with dog buddies or a game of fetch with her pet parent-your dog will do that behavior more often. On the other hand, if a behavior results in an unpleasant consequence-like being ignored or losing things she finds rewarding-she’ll do that behavior less often. Are dog training classes worth it?