Many people can’t imagine life without dogs. We admire and adore them for their loyalty, unconditional affection, playful exuberance and zest for life. Nevertheless, dogs and people are very different animals. Although officially “man’s best friend,” dogs have some innocent but irksome tendencies-like jumping up to greet, barking, digging and chewing-that can make it downright difficult to live with them! To make the most of your relationship with your dog, you need to teach her some important skills that will help her live harmoniously in a human household.
This article was co-authored by David Levin. David Levin is the Owner of Citizen Hound, a professional dog walking business based in the San Francisco Bay Area. With over 9 years of professional dog walking and training experience, David's business has been voted the "Best Dog Walker SF" by Beast of the Bay for 2019, 2018, and 2017. Citizen Hound has also been ranked #1 Dog Walker by the SF Examiner and A-List in 2017, 2016, 2015. Citizen Hound prides themselves on their customer service, care, skill, and reputation.
Before you begin dog obedience training, choose the best method for you and your dog. Training styles vary, but most trainers agree that dogs respond best to positive reinforcement, such as praise or treats. One common training variation, known as clicker training, includes the use of conditioned reinforcer. There are plenty of dog training books and websites where you can learn about training techniques and determine which best suits you and your dog. When planning out your training methods, don't forget about socialization.
When teaching new skills, keep training sessions short and sweet Like kids, dogs don’t have long attention spans. There’s no hard-and-fast rule, but an ideal average training session should last 15 minutes or less. Within that session, you can work on one skill or switch between a few different skills. To keep things interesting, try doing 5 to 15 repetitions of one behavior and then doing 5 to 15 repetitions of another behavior. You can also practice new skills and keep old ones polished by doing single repetitions at convenient times throughout the day. For example, before giving your dog a tasty new chew bone, ask her to sit or lie down to earn it.
Hands up is a fantastic trick that looks great. The dog is taught to sit back and hold both front paws up simultaneously. Easy to reinforce by offering the word hands up and a treat each time the dog manages to get both front paws off the ground. The pure position of this trick makes it look like it was really difficult to teach but if you reward with good timing early on then the dog will perfect his position with little effort from you.
Letting your pup outside every hour or two gets old, but it’s the simplest way to prevent accidents from happening. If you’ve ever wondered why some people choose to get new puppies during the summer or when they’re on vacation it probably has to do with potty training. If you’ve house training a dog before you know how much time & commitment it takes.
Consequences must be immediate Dogs live in the present. Unlike us, they can’t make connections between events and experiences that are separated in time. For your dog to connect something she does with the consequences of that behavior, the consequences must be immediate. If you want to discourage your dog from doing something, you have to catch her with her paw in the proverbial cookie jar. For example, if your dog gets too rough during play and mouths your arm, try saying “OUCH!” right at the moment you feel her teeth touch your skin. Then abruptly end playtime. The message is immediate and clear: Mouthing on people results in no more fun. Rewards for good behavior must come right after that behavior has happened, too. Say a child in a classroom answers a teacher’s question correctly, gets up from his desk, sharpens his pencil and then punches another kid in the arm on the way back to his seat. Then the teacher says, “Good job, Billy!” and offers him a piece of candy. What did Billy get the candy for? Timing is crucial. So be prepared to reward your dog with treats, praise, petting and play the instant she does something you like.
Some training methods use punishment, like leash corrections and scolding, to discourage dogs from doing everything except what you want them to do. Other methods cut right to the chase and focus on teaching dogs what you do want them to do. While both tactics can work, the latter is usually the more effective approach, and it’s also much more enjoyable for you and your dog. For example, you can easily use treats, games and praise to teach your dog to sit when people approach during walks in the neighborhood. If your dog is sitting, she won’t be dragging you toward the people, jumping up when they get close enough, mouthing on their arms and legs, and so on. That’s pretty efficient training-no pain or intimidation needed. Alternatively, you could grab your dog’s leash and jerk her to the ground every time she jumps up to greet people, and you’d most likely get the same effect in the end-no more jumping up. But consider the possible fallout: How do I establish dominance over my dog?
If you run into trouble, go back a few steps If you’re training your dog to do something new and you stop making progress, you may have increased the difficulty of the skill too quickly. Similarly, if you’re practicing a behavior your dog hasn’t performed in a while and she seems a little rusty, she may need some help remembering what you want her to do. If you run into training challenges like these, just refresh your dog’s memory by making the skill a little easier for a few repetitions. Go back to a step that you know your dog can successfully perform, and practice that for a while before trying to increase difficulty again.
Use real rewards Be sure to reward your dog with things she truly finds rewarding. Some dogs will happily work for dry kibble when training in your living room but ignore it if you’re training in the park. Because the park’s a more distracting environment, paying attention there is a harder job for your dog. Pay her accordingly by using a reward worth working for, like small pieces of chicken or cheese, or a chance to run off-leash at the dog park with her buddies. Also keep in mind that what your dog considers rewarding at any given time may change. If she’s just eaten a big meal, a scratch behind the ears or a game of tug might be most rewarding. If she hasn’t eaten in a while, she’ll probably work enthusiastically for tasty treats.
Step 1: Give the command to sit. After waiting five to eight seconds, go ahead and use the vocal command with a hand motion of your choice to tell your dog to be released from his sitting position. If you act excited while doing this, your dog should naturally release. When he does so, click and treat. Repeat this step until your dog is consistently releasing.
If you’d like to learn how to train your dog or if your dog has a behavior problem you’d like to resolve, don’t hesitate get help from a qualified professional trainer or behaviorist. To learn more about locating the right expert for you and your dog, please see our article, Finding Professional Help. Many Certified Pet Dog Trainers (CPDTs) and Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (CAABs or ACAABs) offer telephone consultations, in-home private consultations and training sessions, and group classes.
If you watch two dogs playing together, you will frequently see them bow. Trainers refer to this behavior as a play bow, and it is a dog's way of asking another dog to come and play. You can easily use your dog's natural playfulness to train it to take a bow. And it's a great way to end a demonstration of all the cool new dog tricks your dog has learned!
Crate training is a great way to start your puppy off on the right paw. Dogs have a natural instinct to keep their den clean, so a properly sized crate, introduced gradually, will create a home base for your puppy and will keep him from having accidents when you can’t watch him. Use the crate when you’re unable to give your puppy your full attention during the day, as well as at nap time and bedtime. Selecting the right size crate is critical, and it should be big enough so that your puppy can comfortably stand up, turn around and lie down but not much bigger. If you opt for a crate that’s too large, your puppy will be able to potty in one corner and sleep comfortably in the other, defeating the purpose of crate training. Can a reactive dog be trained?