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How to Train Your Dog. And Keep Your Cool!

How to Train Your Dog. And Keep Your Cool! 

The first step in basic dog training is deciding what you want your canine companion to do. If you are not sure, then you may have a hard time getting started. You can start by reading the following article and watching videos on how to train your dog

Keep in mind that your patience may be tested at times, so keeping your cool is an important aspect to consider. If you're not patient and consistent, you may send mixed signals to your dog and prolong the training process. 

Dog Training: How to Get Started

There are many different training methods, but the key to making any training stick is consistent repetition. There are two common forms of repetition: positive reinforcement (rewarding good behaviour) and negative reinforcement (punishing bad behaviour).

The great thing about positive reinforcement that I really like, is that it keeps the vibe lighter. Rather than running around scolding your dog, you invest your training time in making positive associations with good behaviour. So, we’ll be focusing on positive reinforcement and reward-based training in this article. 

Getting started with the training of commands is simple. You’ll need to find a suitable safe space without distractions, some treats, and just 5-10 minutes of time. Sometimes dogs are not treat or food motivated; you’ll have to find what reward (toys, praise, attention) best suits your dog. Make sure your pup is not overly excited or tired and is in the mood to focus. Naturally, this will be harder with some dogs depending on their personalities. 

 How Should You Train Your Dog?

The question of how to train or adjust the behaviour of your dog is one that comes up frequently in the dog training community. In fact, it’s a topic I get asked about more than any other. So let me start by saying this: it's all about consistency. 

Being consistent in your tone, praise, rewards and expectations goes a long way in helping your dog understand what you're asking of them. From being consistent you’ll both have an understanding of what’s expected.  

You'll have to define to your dog what are good behaviours and bad behaviours.  It also depends entirely on your personality, your goals, and your dog's characteristics. The process also takes patience, love and time, no matter the method you choose. We're focusing on positive motivational training methods using affection and treats/rewards, but not clicker training- although that is an option. 

Positive Reinforcement

When using positive reinforcement, you need to make sure that you reward your dog for every single task that they do correctly. Positive reinforcement methods often mean overlooking the negative behaviours and only rewarding positive behaviours. However, if you ask your puppy to sit, you should give your pup just one treat and plenty of praise. The reason for this is because you want to reinforce the singular behaviour that you want to see repeated over and over again.

How to Reward Good Behaviour

You should always reward your dog for good behaviour. A simple pat on the head or a few treats are all that you need. Make sure that you praise your dog often so that they know that they did a great job. Overexaggerating your praise helps reinforce good behavious, and high value treats can be used to help focus your pup. When rewarding your dog for a job well done, do it within 30 seconds of them displaying the desired behaviour. Otherwise dogs will forget why they are being rewarded. 

Know When to Stop for a Break

Dogs, like humans, can only take in so much information at a time. That's why I recommend training sessions of 5-10 minutes at a time. Overtraining can cause your dog (especially as a puppy) to lose interest, make mistakes and can lead to frustration. Remember to not overdo it and make time for other activities you can share together- perhaps some dog yoga!

Understand How Your Dog Learns

The most important thing to remember when training your dog is that they learn by doing. This means that you must provide them with opportunities for learning and practice. If you don’t, then they will not learn anything new. 

Introducing Commands

Teaching commands is another way for your dog to learn. You can do this by simply asking your pup to perform a specific action. For example, if your dog wants to go outside, you would say “go outside” to associate the command and the action. Once they have learned what you mean, you can start teaching more complex commands such as “stay” or “come”.

Basic commands include sit, stay, come, heel, and down/off. Once you have mastered these easy commands, and your dog is behaving well, you can move onto other commands and tricks. 

Some people also include hand signals with their voice commands so their dogs have an additional way of learning the commands. 

How to start teaching your dog commands

Start where your dog needs the most help. If they like to jump on new humans or have boundary issues, starting with the sit command may make the most sense. That said, if your issue is leash manners, consider starting with the heel command. Once you have one or two common sense commands down pat, you'll have a framework for more advanced training and basic tricks.  

Common Simple Commands

How to teach your dog to sit

Teaching a dog to sit is one of the most important things you can do for your four-legged friend. This basic command is not only an essential skill, but it also helps with house training and socialization. If you want your dog to be able to live happily in your home, you need to learn how to teach them to sit.

Black dog sitting waiting for a treat outdoors in a lane.

Train your dog to sit in 4 steps:

Step 1: Start out slowly. Don't expect your dog to sit immediately after being taught. They'll take a few days to understand what's going on. Begin by standing in front of your dog holding a treat. When they naturally sit, give them the treat. Move around so your dog is standing and repeat the process. Have lots healthy snacks on hand! 

Training Hack: if your pup is too excited to sit this way, try backing the treat over their head until they sit. 

Step 2: Once you get the hang of it, start saying sit when they naturally sit. Say "Sit" when you mean "sit” and be consistent in your tone- as if you were training a smart speaker! With enough repetition, your pup will begin to sit on command.

Step 3: Test new skills. Try training in different locations or under different circumstances. This will show your dog that commands are still applicable to all situations.  

Step 4: Continue to practise! Depending on your dog, it may take a handful of sessions for them to learn the sit command.

 How to teach your dog to come when called

Dachshund running on grass while smiling

Teaching a dog to come when called (recall training) is one of the most important skills you can teach them. Taught correctly and understood by your dog, this command is vital for safety and your mental health- especially for folks with dogs that are 'runners'. It’s also a skill that requires patience and persistence, as well as some training techniques.

When teaching this skill, remember that your goal isn’t just to get your dog to come; it’s to teach them to come on command. That way, you won’t have to keep calling your dog all the time.

Teach your dog the come command in 8 steps:

Step 1: Choose a location that is free of distractions but comfortable for your dog. 

Step 2: Give your dog the command. Say “come” and wait patiently.

Step 3: As soon as your dog starts walking toward you, give your pup another command. For example, say “sit”.

Step 4: Wait for your dog to stop moving. Then, give them another command to come.

Step 5: Once your dog makes their way to you, give them a major praise and a treat. 

Step 6: Do it again! You may have to repeat Steps 1 through 6 several times before your dog will understand what you’re even asking.

Step 7: Practice. Every day, practice giving your dog commands at different locations and in different situations. This step is called proofing. Remember to praise them when they come.

Step 8: Take it slow. The first couple of times you practice, your dog might be confused by all the commands you’re using. That’s okay, just remain patient and consistent. 


How to teach your dog to heel

The first time I saw a dog walking in harmony with its owner, it was the most amazing sight. The owner had their dog in perfect control and they were both moving at a leisurely pace. It’s like watching two people walk side-by-side. 

The key to teaching your dog to heel and leash manners is consistency. The ideal heel command will place your dog on your left side, about 6" from you, with their head lined up with your left leg. If you tell your dog to heel, but only half heartedly, they'll never learn how to obey. To teach a dog to heel, you need to put more effort into it than you would if you were teaching other basic obedience skills.

Black dog on blue leash held by person, on a road outside.

How to teach a dog to heel in 6 steps:

Step 1: Start small. Teach your dog to heel in an area where there’s no traffic. Perhaps start in your house where there are no distractions. Don’t try to teach your dog to follow you around the block. 

Step 2: Make it fun. Use treats to encourage your dog to walk with you at your side. Be firm with the leash, but not restrictive. Once they start to get the right positioning, reward them with a treat.

Step 3: Keep it simple. Teach your dog to stay close to you by holding onto the leash. Have your dog stand next to you and move forward slowly. Hold the leash tight enough so that your dog doesn't wander off. When your pup moves forward, praise them and give them a treat. Repeat until they get the idea.

Step 4: Be consistent. Your dog needs to see you consistently beside them. Ideally your dog should be looking up at you for it's cues. If you're not consistent, they may think you're not serious about teaching them to heel. 

Step 5: Reward good behaviour. Praise your dog when they heel correctly. This helps reinforce the fact that staying close to you is a good thing.

Step 6: Get help from a professional trainer. Hiring a professional trainer can make a huge difference in your dog's ability to follow you. They can also help you figure out which exercises are working and which ones aren't.

How to Avoid Over-Training and Frustration

Over-training occurs when you spend too much time reinforcing certain behaviours. While this may seem like a good idea, it actually causes your dog to associate the behaviour with being rewarded and may be hard to replicate without a treat. It’s tricky to correct the problem later on.

As mentioned earlier, limit training to about 5-10 minutes per session. This will keep the activity fun for you both and keep any frustrations you may have to a minimum. 

How to Correct Bad Behaviours

Correcting bad actions through positive reinforcement, continues the focus on good behaviours. Start by praising your dog for the right behaviour, then gradually decrease the amount of praise. Then, when they start performing the bad behaviour again, repeat the process of praising good behaviour. If you're feeling frustrated at your pup's bad actions, simply stand-up, turn away from them and ignore them. It’s way less stressful on you versus getting mad at them! 


What to do if your pup requires advanced specialist training

If your pup is prone to high energy with low levels of concentration or has any common dog behaviour problems, you may need professional dog training. It does not mean that there is anything wrong with your dog, but that they could use some extra support from basic obedience training. 

There are a wide range of dog training classes available. From online classes, or in-person private training sessions, you should be able to find the right fit for your needs and budget. You'll need to do your own research to determine what type of training is best suited for both you and your dog. When speaking with a trainer be blunt and honest about your progress so far, and what goals you have in mind for training. 

Golden retriever giving woman high-five outdoors
Golden retriever giving woman high-five outdoors

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February 20, 2024
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