While we all love our dogs, we have to admit that life isn’t always about tail wags and belly rubs. There are days when you find pee puddles in the hallway and chew marks in your favorite shoes. Dogs can dig through the trash, dart out every open door, and the worst is when they pretend they’re deaf and completely ignore your voice. Getting a dog to listen is no easy feat. They have minds of their own, and dog training is something you can’t ignore or put off.
There are several different training methods you can try, but here are a few general tips from your fellow pet parents to help take the headache out of dog training.
1. Name your dog wisely.
Picking out a name is an exciting part of bringing home a new dog. Of course, you want to settle on a name that you love. But you should also think about how that name will affect your dog’s training.
During training, you’ll be saying your dog’s name A LOT. You want a name that is easy to say and easy for your dog to recognize. Think about two-syllable names that end in a strong consonant. Copper, Ginger, Jackson—you want a name that you can say in a rush and won’t be confused with other common words or names.
Avoid naming your dog something that sounds similar to another word or name you say frequently. If you have a cat named Jack, and you name your dog Mack, for example, your dog will spend a lot of time being confused and not knowing which pet you’re actually talking to. That confusion will cause a hitch in your training.
2. Find out what motivates them.
If you want your dog to listen and learn, you need to know what motivates them. My dog Bailey, for example, is highly food motivated. She’d do just about anything for a treat. I know that as soon as I bring out something food-related, I have her full attention.
Not every dog, however, is as food motivated as Bailey. Some dogs are only interested in certain kinds of food, and others don’t care about food at all. Some dogs are more motivated by a favorite toy or special playtime. I’ve also worked with dogs that respond best when they work for belly rubs, ear scratches, and verbal praise.
You have to figure out what your dog wants most, and use that as your training reward.
3. Create a tiered system for rewards.
While we’re talking about rewards, it’s important to point out that you can have different rewards for different actions. Some of the best dog-related advice I’ve ever received came from a dog trainer who was helping me teach Bailey to not pull on the leash. I’m paraphrasing, but she said something like,
“You can’t expect your dog to do high-quality work for minimum wage. You have to offer something truly valuable if you want their best work.”
It means that if you’re asking your dog to do something particularly challenging, you can’t expect them to work for scraps. For example, if I tell Bailey to sit, I’ll probably just say “good girl” and pet her head.
But if I’m trying to teach her something new and particularly difficult for her, I’ll make sure to offer her something she really wants—like a spoonful of peanut butter or a piece of whole chicken. The reward needs to be something that will hold her attention and motivate her to focus on what we’re doing.
4. Prioritize impulse control.
Impulse control is the foundation for every well-behaved dog. Without it, Bailey would jump on every visitor who walks through our door and pull my arm off during every walk. But with impulse control practice, she knows to stop and think before she does something she knows I won’t like.
There are several ways you can teach your dog impulse control. The “leave it” command is a great place to start. Place a treat in front of your dog and say “leave it.” Let them know that they’re not allowed to have the treat until you say it’s okay. This basic skill will help you as you move forward with training.
5. Don’t train your dog too often or for too long.
When it comes to training sessions, it’s best to keep it short and sweet. You can’t expect your dog, no matter their age, to stay focused on training for an extended amount of time. Training for too long will only make both you and your dog feel frustrated.
If you’re just starting out, try keeping your training sessions to no more than 10 minutes. As your dog gets used to the routine, you can gradually increase the time.
If your schedule allows, it’s also a good idea to plan short training sessions for multiple times throughout the day.
6. Keep your frustration in check.
No matter how many dog training videos you watch on YouTube, and even if you get help from a professional, training your dog will not always be smooth sailing. There will be days when your dog doesn’t want to cooperate, and letting your frustration show will be the worst thing you can do.
If you feel yourself getting frustrated, it’s time to take a break. Dogs are more perceptive than we think, and your pup will sense your feelings. You’ll pass your bad feelings on to your dog, and that will make training harder than it needs to be.
7. Know that every dog is different.
Dogs have different personalities, and they learn in different ways. What one dog learns in minutes, another might take days.
I taught my dog Copper to give me his paw in about three seconds. But for some unknown reason, it took Bailey weeks to learn that simple move. In the meantime, she learned to roll over, weave between my legs, and about five other tricks. What worked for Copper didn’t work for her, and I had to adjust what I was doing to help her understand.
8. No matter what, be consistent.
If you want to make training your dog easier, you need to be consistent. Be consistent with when you train, how often you train, and especially with the words you use.
You can’t expect your dog to know what you mean when one day you say “come” and the next day you say “come over here.” Your dog needs to know what’s expected of them, and consistency is how you do that.
When you make a rule, stick to it. Making unpredictable exceptions will only confuse your dog and make it harder for them to learn. So if you have a rule that your dog is not allowed to pull on the leash, you have to follow through on every single walk. Even if you’re in a rush and it’s easier to just let your dog drag you down the sidewalk, you have to stick to the rules if you want your training to work.
9. Take note of your training environment.
Training your dog in your living room is a lot easier than taking the session to a public park. Distractions will play a key role in your success. For most dogs, it’s best to start in a quiet, familiar place with no distractions. That’s where you’ll accomplish your baseline goals and give your dog a strong training foundation.
As they get better at a particular skill, you can branch out and try different, more challenging, environments. Once your dog masters the “stay” command inside the house, try it out in the yard. When they get really good, take the lesson to a more public area.
10. Always end on a positive note.
No matter how the training session goes, always end it with something positive. You want your dog to enjoy training with you and look forward to the next session. Load on the praise, give a grade-A belly rub, and offer a treat for good measure.
There’s also a study that shows playtime after training can improve a dog’s memory and help them retain what they just learned. When your dog knows training with you is going to be a fun experience, they’ll be more focused and willing the next time.
Do you have any training tips to add to the list? Let us know in the comments!
Do you know how dogs pick their favorite people? Find out here.