To make the most of your dog training, you should always keep effectiveness in mind. You want the tools that really work because: (1) you don’t want to train your puppy the wrong way and then have to retrain him the right way and (2) you don’t want to waste your time. Here are the top 10 tips to remember for effectively training your dog:
1. Positivity is key. Yelling, demanding, berating, or raising your voice all have absolutely no place in training. Period. Consider that you have only a limited time to make your training sessions work, so you must use the best tools possible. By far, one of the most useful tools will be positive encouragement. The most important thing to remember is that when you’re training your dog, your puppy wants to please you. It is an innate trait that dogs have; they want to please their pack leaders—in this case, you! Your dog will do what pays off. If he picks up his leash and you say “Good boy!”, guess what? Once he puts together that this is how he’ll get in your good graces (and possibly a treat), he’ll do it again and again. Use this! One of the things you’ll learn while training is that it’s easier to go with what your dog is already inclined to do (as long as it is desirable) than to go against your dog’s natural traits. Positivity when a pup is very young will be more effective if you use treats. It is the easiest way to get your puppy to understand that when he does something right, a reward is the result. As your puppy grows, you can pull back on the frequency of treats. The goal is to get your dog to understand that pleasing you is “right.” Once your pup gets that, you will get the same reaction from your dog when you give him a treat as when you give him a “good boy.” Also, when it comes to positive reinforcement, be sure to use the “good boy” and “good girl” once. You want to keep it “special” so that your puppy knows what it means and that he should repeat the action.
2. Focus on the good and not the bad. Your puppy will make mistakes. You’ll see a wet spot on your favorite (and, likely, most expensive) throw rug. The best thing you can do is quickly try to learn your pup’s routine. Usually a puppy will need to go outside 20 minutes to a half hour after being fed. Your pup may be different, though. Watch your puppy to find the “tells.” A puppy may start to sniff around the kitchen before he urinates, or he may turn in circles. These are small signs that he is ready to go outside. As you spend time with your puppy, you’ll get to know the signs and be able to work with them. When your puppy has a mistake, though, you’ll want to take the puppy outside to their spot to urinate. Stand the puppy there for a few minutes and then bring him inside. Remove the puppy from the soiled area and clean it up quietly. Absolutely no putting your dog’s nose in it. Absolutely no yelling. Absolutely no hitting. These are NOT effective and will only confuse your pup. If you encounter repeated mistakes, like your puppy soils the same area of the kitchen over and over again, when you see your pup heading over to that area, pick up the pup and get him outside to the right spot. Offer lots of praise when your dog urinates in the right place and bring him inside. Exaggerate the praise when your puppy does something right, especially if it is something he usually does “wrong.” Here’s a rule of thumb: you should use three times the energy to praise your puppy for doing something good than you use to correct something bad. Be sparse with the negatives and abundant with the positives! Not only will it serve your pup’s training well, it will keep your mindset positive, which is always a good thing!
3. Pay attention to what works for YOUR pup and not what is suggested for all pups. As you work with your pup, you will likely search for insider tricks and tips. There are a lot of resources out there, so be sure to always recognize your pet’s uniqueness. What works for “all” dogs may need to be amended for your life and your dog. For example, if you live in a small apartment, it isn’t going to be easy to listen to experts telling you to create a “special space” in which your puppy can play. Or, if you work long hours you won’t be able to offer a midday training session. Never feel that you aren’t enough. The good news is that even if you don’t have a lot of time or space, you can make your training sessions and companionship times special with care and concern. Your dog will recognize you as the leader and be able to focus on training with you. When training a dog, the most important things to remember are consistency, calmness and positivity. These are the keys. In fact, if you search for additional training resources, be sure that they are based on these three things. If they are contradictory, question the quality of the information. You want consistency because it will reinforce what you want from your dog. It takes time to get your message through to your pet. You also want to remain calm. Yelling never does any good—not in life and not with your dog. It can cause your dog to fear you and that is not part of building a trusting relationship. Finally, always be positive. Your dog knows when you’re nervous or down. If you need a minute to calm yourself down before your training session, by all means do so. You want to be positive so that your dog knows he has your 100-percent approval as he moves through your training.
4. Build training into the daily routine. One of the most effective things to do is to use training throughout all daily activities. Yes, you can set aside specific training times, but working it into normal rituals and activities is very useful, too. For example, when you take your pup out for a morning walk, make your pup heel so that you can put on his leash. Focus on the proper heel and the right form. Of course, for a very young pup this may involve simply telling him to “sit” and then praising the dog when he does so. As the pup ages, though, you can start to work more on the right form, which for a “heel” is parallel to your left leg. Also, when you feed your pup, you can say something like “food time” so the dog knows that now is the time to go to the area of your home where the bowls are set up. Don’t immediately set down the dog’s food. Ask your pup to sit. When your pup sits, put the food bowl down and then make him wait for you to say “release” before the dog can rush to the bowl. Again, do this according to your pup’s age. Young puppies may not be ready for “release,” but they can get to the “sit” portion of this training. If you’re particularly crunched for time, this is a great way to get in extra training during the daily routine. Plus, it helps you create the behavior you want in your adult dog. When you train, repetition and consistency are key, and working training into the normal routine plays perfectly to these. It also makes your daily routine easier. Rather than your dog jumping around with no boundaries and direction, he will know exactly what to expect next in the activity.
5. Use treats. Treats are godsends when it comes to training a puppy or dog. If you’re training a puppy, remember that he just started eating solid foods a short while ago, so a nice treat will mean the world to him. You want the treat to be something your pet finds decadent. Most experts suggest soft treats or something vastly different from the dog’s everyday foods. Whatever you choose should be nutritious and low-calorie as well as delicious. Some good ideas are tiny bits of boiled chicken or boiled liver, or pieces of a hot dog. It may take some taste-testing to find out what your puppy responds to, but usually pups aren’t picky. If it’s delicious, they’ll love it and rush to do what it takes to get the “yummy” again. You should also be prepared to pull back on the treats as your pup ages. A treat is the easiest way to get your puppy’s attention, but as your pup grows, you can start to use praise. Again, a “good boy” or “good girl” will substitute for that treat. Of course, you want to still give your dog a treat here and there, but you can cut back. For example, with a young pup you may want to use pieces of hot dog every time the puppy sits properly on command. As your puppy grows, you may want to give your pup a treat when his 15-minute training period is over, but sprinkle tons of “good puppy” statements between the training sessions. If you continue with your positive reinforcement, your dog will understand that whatever behavior he exhibits is acceptable and desired. Using both the treat and the positive praise at the beginning will make your dog understand that treats and praise are one and the same.
6. Make training a group activity. If you’re a single person living alone, this may be a section you can skip. However, if you’re in a family setting or have more than yourself in the household, you want to get everyone onboard. Basically, anyone who will have consistent contact with your puppy should know the rules. Yes, you must train your family and friends while you train your puppy. The good news is that you speak the same language right off the bat! Your pup will respond to consistency. Remember that the pup has a very short attention span, particularly when you first bring him home. Puppies are developing their retention skills, which take a few months to really kick in. This is why you need everyone on board with training, especially children. They must understand that the pup is adorable but that doesn’t mean he can be left to roam around the house unattended or fed special treats over and over for no reason. You need to sort out issues like this before your puppy comes home. Be sure to set the expectation with your housemates so that they know what you expect and what your puppy needs. Interestingly, kids are usually used to following rules, so when you tell them what you want, they are more accommodating than adults are. It is the adults with whom you will want to sit down and explain why you are asking for their support in training. It may also work for you to take what you teach your pup and show your housemates the same. If you ask your pup to sit before you put down his food, ask your housemates to do the same thing you did if they must step in and substitute. Keeping all training consistent is the best way to avoid confusing your puppy and to get the behavior you want.
7. Your dog doesn’t understand English as a pup. I recall watching a seven- or eight-year-old boy “train” his puppy by literally screaming “sit” in his dog’s face over and over. When the puppy didn’t respond, the boy yelled louder. There are a lot of problems with this scenario. First, the boy was about seven or eight years old. That is much too young to take the reins of training a puppy without being trained himself on how to do it. Second, screaming confuses the pup and likely makes him afraid of the child (and, in turn, people). Third, yelling negates any real training; the puppy never got time to bond with the boy, so why should the puppy listen to him? You must think of your puppy as a baby because that’s what your puppy is. Your dog is new to the world and to your world. Your dog is new to your language, too. Here is where spending time with your pup will help you understand your dog AND help your dog understand you. You’re watching your puppy, but your puppy is watching you, too. He or she is learning about your schedule, your desires, your language, your direction and your personality all along the way. This learning is the foundation of the bond you’ll share. Here’s the interesting thing about human language and dogs: by adulthood, the average dog that has been worked with consistently understands the same number of words that a two-year-old child does. That’s amazing! It’s proof that if you create an effective training plan using the right commands and reinforcement, with time your dog will understand you. As he understands you more, you will offer more praise. As he gets more praise, your dog will want to do the right thing more and more. It is a beautiful cycle that will create a lifelong relationship.
8. Keep training short and to the point, especially with younger puppies. You want to always pay attention to your puppy’s age when creating a training plan. A very young puppy needs short training sessions spaced throughout the day. This is when your puppy is still getting acclimated to the world. There will be a lot of outside stimulation that may get in the way of formal training. This is why you must keep training short. The priorities for training at the very-young-pup level should be: first, crate train your pup, second, housebreak your pup and third, ensure your pup accepts human handling. There are separate sections on this later in this guide. The introduction, though, is to use a crate to give your pup his own space. The crate is your pup’s cave, where he can go for complete safety if things in the house get too hectic or chaotic. It is also a great place to keep your puppy safe. Nothing is worse than a puppy left unattended roaming around a house. Just think of a toddler doing the same. There are electric cords, outlets, clothing, furniture…all types of things that can hurt or even kill your pup. Think of the crate as the ultimate safeguard when you aren’t there to protect your dog. Second, housebreaking is always a priority for people. No one wants a pup that soils the home time and time again. Learning your puppy’s “tells” will go a long way in the housebreaking department. Finally, you want to focus on getting your puppy used to human touch. This isn’t merely for the sake of bonding. It is also necessary for general care. Your puppy will have his teeth brushed, coat brushed; he will have bath time and go to the veterinarian for general exams, etc. You want your puppy to allow people to do these things without getting frightened or recoiling.
9. Pay attention to the environment when training. Here’s an example: Carla came home to see her favorite shoes chewed. She got mad at the puppy and punished him. Here’s why this is wrong. First, she had no idea when the puppy did the chewing. Puppies have super tiny memories, so likely all the puppy registered was a loud owner holding a fun chew toy and screaming at him. He never made the connection that she was upset about the chewing. Second, the puppy had no clue why he was being yelled at—for all he knew, it may have been for something he just did. And that’s only IF he had already been worked with enough to understand the connection between owner reaction and his behavior. If not, this was completely wasted energy by the owner and detrimental to the pup. Third, yelling may have scared the puppy. Your goal at the beginning of your relationship with your pup is to bond with him and to help your pup understand that you’re the reliable, trustworthy and consistent pack leader. Fear is not a part of that. Think of a time when you had to follow a leader. Think of how you would have felt if that person had screamed at you in a foreign language and you had no idea why. Not the best way to bond, right? Finally, I maintain that the example above was completely the owner’s fault. She didn’t puppy-proof the home and she left the puppy to roam around unattended: two BIG no-no’s with a puppy! You want to always pay attention to the general environment for training as your dog matures. At the beginning, training will likely take place in your home where you can control the environment. This is helpful because your dog hasn’t yet learned to focus on you alone. After the bond is developed, though, you can move your regular training sessions to the yard, the park and even the dog park. This is a great way to escalate your training and let your dog know that his job is to pay attention to you regardless of the situation.
10. Know when to reach out for more help. Even busy people can come up with great training schedules that are effective for their dogs. It may be a little more difficult, but it is a necessity if you want a new pet. There are times, however, when problems become too large and you’ll need the help of a professional. Here are some of the most common situations:
a. Barking. If you have a dog that barks constantly, it may be difficult to know how to train him to quiet down. This is a particular concern for people who live in apartments or close-knit condo units. It is also a problem if your pup or dog barks all day while you’re at work. This is a time when you may want to reach out for professional help.
b. Aggression. Aggression is never something to take on by yourself, even if you are available for training. You should discuss your pet’s aggression with a trained professional who can work with you. Likely, your pet is feeling threatened in some way. This is a fear that you must work with because it can be dangerous for people—in particular small children—if unattended.
c. Jumping. No one wants a dog, especially a large one, that jumps at them. It is relatively common among dogs that are overly excited about meeting someone new. This can also be dangerous. A professional can help you address the issue and give you safe tools to use when trying to ease the jumping. This is something you should be aware of from the time your dog is a puppy, as it is much easier to train your puppy to do the right thing than to train your adult dog to stop exhibiting incorrect behavior.
d. Ignoring you. A dog that ignores you is never a good thing. It may mean your dog doesn’t trust you because of previous bad training. It could also mean that your dog is deaf. Be sure to get an assessment for your pet so you understand his needs and address them accordingly.
e. Straining on the leash even after intense training. This is another issue that is difficult to train out of a dog. Like with jumping, the dog may be overly excited. Her or she may also be territorial or fearful. It may also simply be that the dog has more energy than he can proactively deplete. A professional can let you know what to do and how to help create a training program that fits your dog’s needs.
f. Tail chasing. This can be a problem. A puppy will one day “discover” his tail, and it is normal for the dog to bite it. It is also normal for the dog to chase it a few times when they are very young. If it is chronic, however, this behavior can be a problem. It may mean that your pup has worms. It may also mean that your pup is bored and needs more activities. A professional and a veterinarian can help you make the right diagnosis and act accordingly.
Each of these tips is important to your training and its efficiency. Pay attention to them throughout training and revisit them as your dog matures.