Pet training doesn’t have to be hard. Just follow these 11 steps to make your dog sit, come, heel and much more!
Do you have a dog that needs to learn some manners or a new pup you’d like to show a few tricks? Dogs of any age can learn, and you can train them if you use patience and rewards. Make pet training fun for you and your dog.
Pet training in 11 easy steps
These eleven steps will help your dog learn your commands in no time.
- Train everyday, two to three times per day, five to ten minutes each session.Break up your training sessions—conduct them in approximately four-hour intervals to maximize efficiency for learning.
- First, train the commands come, sit, stay, down, and heel. Once your dog becomes efficient with a command, be progressively more demanding, for instance the length of time he sits or adding the next command or changing up the environment. If the dog fails at any level, stop. Don’t reward the dog. Start again where your dog was last successful. After your dog does that command correctly, progress forward with his training. You may find that your dog’s motivation to perform decreases as the complexity of the task increases. When that occurs, start again where your dog was last successful.
- Use one-word commands. It is easy to talk too much to your dog. If you do, the command you are trying to teach gets lost in all the verbiage and makes it difficult for your dog to know what you want. Only use your dog’s name to get its attention. Do not combine the dog’s name with the command, as it increases confusion.
- There are two methods to teach your dog a behavior, food lure and shaping. An example of a food lure is holding a food treat at the tip of your dog’s nose and slowly raising the treat over his head. As the treat lures the dog’s nose up, his rear will fall to the ground in a sit position. At this point, you give him the treat as a reward. With shaping, you wait for a behavior to happen and reward it as it happens. This technique is frequently used in clicker training, where the trainer indicates target behaviors for the dog with an immediate click on a clicker and a subsequent reward—the dog learns to associate the clicker sound with desired behaviors.Regardless of the method you use, once your dog is reliably performing the behavior, add the command. Initially, say the command as the dog is performing the behavior so that he associates the behavior with the word. Once you teach a command, never repeat the command more than twice; doing so will teach your dog that the command is “Sit, Sit, Sit, Sit”, not “Sit!” If you ask your dog to “sit,” and he doesn’t respond the first time, use a food prompt/lure to get the behavior to happen and then reward him. Never give a command unless you know you can make it happen!
- When teaching a new behavior, train your dog in a quiet environment with few distractions. Once your dog learns the behavior in that situation, start training in progressively more stimulating environments. In each new environment, you will want to train your dog as if he has never heard the command before. But the more you do this, the quicker the dog will catch on and soon, he will be able to do it anywhere.
- Appropriate responses should be rewarded within ½ second of the behavior.
- Your dog will learn more rapidly if you reward every desired response as he is learning. Once your dog has learned the behavior, reward intermittently. Intermittent reinforcement makes a learned behavior more permanent and less likely to be forgotten.
- Use very small pieces of food, no bigger than ½ the size of your fingernail, to reward desired responses. As the training progresses, mix up the type of rewards given. Reserve the most valued rewards, i.e., food, for the most difficult tasks. When your dog does really well, give him a “jackpot” – a handful of treats!
- Once your dog has learned the command from one person, have other members of the family train him to respond to them. If your dog knows the commands well, this should not take long.
- The longer your dog has had an unwanted behavior, the longer it takes to recondition it.
- I do not recommend the use of punishment when teaching new behaviors. Punishment is actually used to stop a behavior from occurring. Usually, it is very difficult to administer punishment correctly. In order for punishment to work, it must be administered within ½ second of the unwanted behavior, every single time the behavior occurs, and with the proper intensity to stop the behavior. This must be done without inducing fear or fear aggression. If not used correctly, punishment may potentially increase anxiety, induce fear and induce or worsen aggression. If you totally ignore unwanted behavior and the dog gets no inherent reward in performing it, it will eventually stop! So, if your dog is doing unwanted behavior that can be ignored, ignore it! If you cannot ignore the behavior, interrupt the behavior by clapping your hands or whistling or making a loud noise, to get your dog’s attention. Once you have the dog’s attention, give him a command, such as come and then sit, make sure he performs the command by using a food lure and then reward him for the appropriate behavior.
- Have fun. Training should be fun for both you and your dog. Your goal should be to always practice success.
Pet training can make your relationship stronger
To that end, always start from the place of last accomplishment and reinforce your dog’s behavior with positive incentives and rewards, but most importantly enjoy the journey and the relationship you are creating with you dog—investing the time and effort to train your dog properly is worth it.
– Juli Potter, DVM