The world of dog training can be daunting to a new dog owner. However, learning how to train your dog will give you the tools to effectively communicate with your dog so that you may live harmoniously in your household. Here are a few tips to make the transition into dog training a bit easier.
1. Always mark your dog’s desired behavior.
It is much easier for your dog to pick up on what is expected of them, or to interpret your wants when you “mark” the desired behavior at the exact moment your dog offers it. This eliminates confusion between other possible “answers” and allows your dog to quickly associate a desired behavior with a cue. Using a word to mark a behavior, such as “Yes” or “Good job,” is the same concept behind clicker training, which uses a consistent signal- a click of a clicker- to mark the desired behavior and follows that signal with a motivating reward.
For example, when you lure your dog into a sit by moving your hand up from the top of their head, say, “Yes!” as your dog’s bottom hits the ground.
2. Only state a cue once.
Often, new dog owners fall into the trap of the repeated cue. Have you ever walked through the park, stopped by the pet store, or gone for a hike and witnessed a person shouting, “Sit, sit, sit, sit, sit,” while their dog continues to stand & stare at them in confusion? There are a few reasons this may occur: 1. The dog has learned the word isn’t very meaningful, 2. The dog hasn’t learned the meaning behind the cue, & 3. The dog is distracted by their environment & hasn’t generalized the behavior to other locations.
It is much easier for a dog to learn a behavior with a hand signal before associating the behavior with a verbal cue. Dogs do not understand English like humans do & they must learn to associate words with behaviors. Therefore, when adding a verbal cue to the desired behavior, it is best to give the dog time to problem solve what you are asking for.
If you repeat the cue numerous times, your dog may learn that “sit” only means to sit 1 out of every ten times. When asking a child to complete a simple math problem such as “2+2,” a teacher allows a child time to process the question, instead of shouting, “What’s 2+2? What’s 2+2? What’s 2+2?” The same should be allowed for your dog.
If you spend most of your time training your dog next to the treat container in the kitchen, your dog will most definitely complete those behaviors in your kitchen. However, dogs take time to generalize behaviors. To avoid this, it is best to train your dog to do the same commands in various locations.
3. Do several short training sessions vs. one long training session a day.
One of the best ways to keep your dog from getting distracted & to see quick results from training is to keep training sessions short yet frequent. For instance, training your dog for 10 minutes three times a day is often more manageable & more effective than training your dog for 30 minutes once a day. Short training sessions allow your dog to process what they are learning and avoid excessive distractions.
4. Use small treats.
Dog training begins with a high rate of reward, which generally means food rewards. To avoid overfeeding your dog, break treats into smaller pieces and reward with those smaller pieces. The smaller treats work just as well as the larger ones & you are more easily able to hide the treat in your hand so your dog does not become dependent on the visual of a treat in your hand to complete a behavior. If you are in an area with little distraction, you may be able to reward your dog with their feed. You can do this by placing your dog’s breakfast or dinner in a baggie and rewarding your dog from that baggie.
5. Go at your dog’s pace.
Every dog has their own unique set of challenges that should be addressed at their individual pace. This is especially important when adding distractions to behaviors dogs know well and handling dogs with fear aggression. For instance, when presented with a squeaking toy at a distance of 15 feet away, one dog may glance in the toy’s direction a single time & return to focus on their handler while another begins to jump with excitement, unable to revert focus back on their handler. The overexcited dog must work with the squeaking toy at a greater distance to build impulse control before the dog can maintain the same level of composure as the first dog at the same distance.