A Well-behaved dog is a pleasure to be around. But what many new dog owners don’t realize is that training their dog can take time, consistency, and most importantly, lots of patience.
“ Even the simplest of manners—not barking, not jumping, not nipping, not stealing food, and walking nicely on leash—can make the difference between a dog that people like to be around and a dog that people want to avoid,” explains Jean Owen, certified dog trainer and founder of Fix My Dog, LLC in New Jersey. “Many people believe that a puppy will grow out of bad behaviors, but unfortunately they usually grow into those bad behaviors if they’re not addressed.”
Here are some tips from dog trainers on what to do—and what not to do—when it comes to training your dog.
Know What to Teach
For starters, Owen advises knowing the difference between life skills and learned commands. For example, if you don’t want your dog to jump on you, that’s a life skill, and you’ll need to focus on teaching the dog to understand what “jump” means and that you don’t want them to do it. “Asking a dog to sit as they are jumping on you doesn’t actually resolve the problem, because once that sit is done, what will they do when you release them from that sit? Jump again,” she explains.
When teaching commands, dog owners should consider the most important and meaningful commands for their families; for most dogs, commands like “come” and “stay” are invaluable because they can be used in situations where your dog could potentially be in danger. “The most important command is to come when you are called. This takes a while to teach, but it’s worth every second of that training,” Owen confirms.
Another important skill is to teach your dog how to behave appropriately, both around people as well as other dogs, which will mean practicing their commands in lots of different environments and keeping the expectations for your dog consistent no matter where you are. “It’s wonderful that your dog behaves well in your kitchen with a cookie in hand, but can they behave that same way out in public?” she adds.
Make it Fun
Possibly the most important method of getting your dog to respond to your training is to give them a reason to do so. “Dogs won’t do things that aren’t in some way rewarding to them—so you have to make training fun,” advises Scott R. Sheaffer, a certified canine behavior consultant and owner of USA Dog Behavior, LLC in Texas. That means giving your dog plenty of positive praise in the form of affection, treats, toys, and playtime.
You’ll also want to keep training sessions short and to the point, and follow your dog’s lead; if things aren’t going well, it’s time to stop and pick up the training again later. “Your dog won’t respond if they’re miserable, so be sure to keep things fun and upbeat for them, and stop when they’ve had enough,” Sheaffer adds.
Take Your Time
A common mistake dog owners make is expecting too much of their dog—and too quickly. Owen points out that dog training takes consistency, effort, and repetition, and it’s not something that can happen in a day. “It’s important to be patient and give your dog a few seconds to comply with your commands or cues,” Sheaffer agrees.
Build a Relationship
According to Guillermo (Memo) Roa, certified dog trainer and founder of GRrrrPet Services in New York, your dog is much more likely to want to cooperate if you’ve already built a solid relationship. “One of the first questions people ask me is how do I get started with training my dog, and my response is always to make sure you’ve taken the time to bond with your dog and are familiar with their unique personality…because once the relationship is there, it’s much more likely that he or she will want to learn and respond to training because your dog will want to please you,” he adds.
Roa also notes that it’s important to make sure you’re meeting your dog’s basic needs before you attempt to undergo any sort of training regimen, like ensuring that he is getting ample exercise and time spent outdoors. “If your dog is happy, he’ll be happy to work with you,” he adds.
Keep it Simple
When you’re working on teaching your dog new commands, try to keep it as straightforward as possible. “No matter what you’re trying to teach your dog, it’s really a matter of three steps: give the cue, reinforce your dog’s action with verbal praise, and then give them their reward in the form of a treat or toy,” Roa says.
A dog will be easily confused if they’re trained not to beg at the dinner table, but then your children sneak him food during dinner. “You can’t keep changing the rules on your dog; if you’re training something, you need to be consistent with it…and so does everyone else in house,” Sheaffer says. “It’s unfair to your dog to keep changing your expectations.”
Pet owners should also be aware that their dog will not only learn behaviors during those 10- or 15-minute training sessions. It’s all too easy to unconsciously reward negative behaviors; if you pet your dog when he jumps on you, you’ve just rewarded your dog for the behavior of jumping…and then your dog will be confused when you attempt to train him not to jump on people.“Dogs are always learning…and not just during official training time,” Sheaffer concludes. “Just like children, they’re always observing you and picking things up, so you have to be consistent and be aware that everything you're doing is training your dog—whether it’s good or bad.”