All dog owners want well behaved and obedient dogs. Whether they have a new pedigree puppy or an older rescue cross. Making this happen is often easier said than done. There’ s a wealth of information available, different sources may advise different methods. This will often confuse the situation. The good news is that there’s a few simple rules that can be used to teach a dog almost any desired behaviour you wish. It’s our belief that you can teach an old dog new tricks.
Dog Training Basics
Why Train Your Dog At All?
It may sound an obvious question. But there are three main reasons that proper training should be at the forefront of your mind as an owner. Dogs are bright and fun loving animals. They thrive on structure, security, familiarity and repetition. So they find the learning process both fun and rewarding. This is self-fulfilling so they want to do more of it. Next, training makes your relationship with them more rewarding and engaging. Finally, it makes your dog more sociable and safer to be around, towards other dogs and humans alike.
What Behaviour Do You Want?
Before you start on a training regime, consider the behaviours and skills you want your dog to have. It may be that you want to teach your dog some basic obedience commands, for example sit, lie down and stay. You may have a high energy dog that needs a lot of exercise. Walking him will burn off some of his gas, but introducing games is a great way to satisfy his energy demands. This will also save on your shoe leather. Due to work or other commitments, some dogs have to be left alone for long periods of time each day. That last thing you want is to return home to a chewed table leg or poop everywhere.
How To Encourage The Behaviour You Want
There are two key principles to encouraging the behaviour you want to see in your dog.
Rewarding The Behaviour You Want
Many methods encourage behaviour through punishment & while this may work in some instances. It’s far better to train your dog through reward. Rewards are dispensed in the form of treats or praise, although a mix of the two is usually better. Out of frustration, many owners resort to punishment in an attempt to get their dog to behave. From the dog’s perspective, they don’t know how we want them to behave. Naturally they are going to avoid things that have negative consequences for them. However, a stronger reinforcement comes from learning that certain behaviours bring positive outcomes. A treat, a bit of praise or time with their favourite toy is better reinforcement than punishment.
Rewards Must Be Immediate
Humans have the capacity to link rewards and punishments to events that happened a long time in the past. Unfortunately dogs are unable to do this . If you arrive home from work only to find your dog has pooped on the carpet, scolding them won’t stop them doing this. Moreover, it may have the opposite effect as they may link your arrival home with being scolded. It’s far superior to reward behaviour very soon after it has happened. If the gap in time between the behaviour and the reward is too long, the likelihood of reinforcement is slim.
Top Training Tips
Carry Out Lessons In A Quiet Room/Place That’s Free From Distractions
Early stages of dog training should be undertaken with little or no distractions around. This is not always possible but is the ideal. You want your dog focused and engaged on what you are trying to teach him. For certain skills, it may take a while for your dog to pick them up. If you are in a place where there are more interesting things going on, the training process can become prolonged. Any undue extension to the time it takes to train a dog a certain behaviour, can result in owners giving up. So bear this in mind when choosing the location of your training.
Sessions Should Be Short & Focused
The attention span of a dog can be quite limited, so you don’t want to overload them. It’s better to learn things in small & frequent chunks, rather than one or two overly long sessions. If you have more time, it can pay dividends to work on two different skills in a single session with a break in between. But again, these dual sessions should not be too long. Try and read your dog, if they are getting distracted or tired, it may be time to quit and come back to it another day. Patience is the watchword here.
Use Consistent Wording
As we said earlier dogs like consistency, in fact they need it. When attempting to establish a new skill or behaviour it’s paramount to avoid confusing your dog. When choosing behaviour related cue words, stick to one, or at most two words for the behaviour you are to teach. It’s no good saying “sit” one minute, then “down” or “on your bum” then next and expect confusion not to reign free. Decide on an appropriate word and stick to it. In addition, it’s better to use a single one syllable word than multiple longer words. “Sit” will be far better understood and grasped, than “please be seated”.
Easy Does It
Small progressive training increments are key. Recall when you learned to drive, the different pedals, sticks & the steering wheel. Not to mention having to look ahead, whilst also being aware of what’s going on behind using different mirrors. We learned to drive in small steps. Dogs learn the same way. Trying to get a dog to ‘stay’ for the first time, while you march off for 2 minutes across a field is unlikely to be a success. So, getting them to stay for a few seconds while you turn your back is a good place to start. On each occasion, increase the time that you get your dog to stay while you have your back to him. Combining this with incremental increases in the distance you walk away, will likely be more successful.
Finish On A High
Always strive to complete the session on a positive note. That is, your dog completing a training goal, followed by plenty of praise. They are far more likely to carry on behaving in the desired way and will be more enthusiastic to train again.
Dog Walking Tips
Benefits Of Walking Your Dog
Dog walking has many benefits for both you and your dog. Dogs need exercise, so will make unhealthy weight gains if they don’t get the required amount. They are instinctively designed to walk and run, so it’s unfair to deprive them of their exercise. Unless stimulated, dogs can get bored and restless. The outdoors provides them with a range of different stimuli that they don’t get if they are cooped up all day. Walking also provides an opportunity for your dog to socialise with other dogs, so making them less hostile. Walking is also a great way for you and your dog to bond and enjoy each-others company
Walking On A Loose Leash
Walking your dog should be an enjoyable experience for both of you. This can easily be ruined by a dog that continually pulls hard on the leash, or darts around in all directions. If you strive to walk with your dog without him pulling, then loose leash training may be a good fit for you. It’s not as strict as ‘heel’ walking but its purpose is to walk without pulling. Ideally you will need a leash of about 6 feet maximum and a flat collar. The Martingale or EzyDog collars are great as they add tension when your dog pulls, but ease off when they don’t. For this type of training never use a retractable leash.
How To Do It
- Hold the lead either in a ‘J’ position (the end in the hand on the opposite side to where your dog is walking, with the near side draped through the other hand), or in one hand but on a short leash.
- Start with a word or phrase that signals to your dog that it’s time to go, “lets go” or “ok” are fine but use them consistently. Then set off using that command.
- The idea is to correct the behaviour as soon as it deviates from what we want. The moment your dog starts to pull, stop immediately, get him to return to you and sit, then reward that. Set off again using the chosen command.
- When your dog is walking well beside you, give the walk a name, “with me” is a good option. Give your dog a treat at this point, but give it to them close to the side of your leg. They will come to know that walking close to you equals reward.
- Gradually reduce the treats as the behaviour becomes embedded.
Walking At Heel
Walking with your dog at ‘heel’ is a more stricter form of dog walking. It involves your dog walking very close by your side, or aligned with your leg. With ‘loose leash’ walking, your dog may be slightly ahead of you but not pulling. This is not case with ‘heel’ walking, your dog should be able to look up at you, without looking backwards (often seen in dog shows). Some dogs will look directly ahead, as in the case of working dogs. But in all cases, there should be no lagging behind you.
How To Do It
- You won’t need a leash to start with, and it’s best to do this somewhere where there are no distractions. Ideally if you can find somewhere with a long straight wall or hedge so that you keep your dog aligned next to you.
- Establish your dog next to you sitting in the heel position (aligned with your leg). He should be positioned between you and the wall/hedge, use a treat to bring your dog close to your side if need be.
- Begin walking with your dog and shortly after you set off give the cue ‘heel’.
- Start walking just a couple of steps then give your dog a treat. The treat should be given with your dogs head aligned with your leg. The aim is to get him to associate a treat with close quarters walking. After a short distance ask him to sit, then give another treat.
- Follow this pattern adding more steps each time and gradually phasing out the treats.
- Next progress with a collar and leash and repeat the process from the start again. Again do this in a quiet place.
- Once your dog is walking with you at heel for 5-10 minutes, progress to somewhere where there are distractions. If need be, start the process off again for short distances with more treats, phase out the treats and add more distance.
- If possible increase the level of distractions, go somewhere where there are more people or other dogs. Go on the street or in the park, walk through gates and over different terrain. Ultimately, your dog should get used to walking at heel wherever you are.
One last point about dog walking, always pick up his poop 😉
Basic Obedience Commands
Obedience training is more than just teaching your dog a fancy new skill or trick. Basic obedience commands are essential to having a better relationship with your dog. Who wants their dog to barge through a door before them, tug relentlessly on a leash or leap up around them when they stop and speak to a friend in the street? Obedience is also fundamental to safety. Training your dog to return on command and not wander into the road when you’re trying to cross can avoid dangerous situations from arising. General obedience training will feed into other aspects of dog training also. It’s conflicting behaviour to have a dog walk obediently on a leash outside but then have no boundaries around the house.
The following is a short guide to teaching your dog some of the best known and commonly used obedience commands.
- Choose a quiet area free from distractions, you’ll also need some small treats to hand.
- The idea is to have your dog with it’s behind firmly seated on the ground & not hovering. Start with your dog in the standing position and show them the treat. Hold the treat close to the nose and from there slowly move the treat towards the back of the head between the ears. Your dog may naturally start to turn their head, but you should see him start to lower his backside to the floor. The instant it touches the floor, give him the treat, say “yes’ and give him praise with him still sitting on the floor.
- Practice this a few times until your dog does it at the sight of the treat. This is best across a number of short sessions.
- Then add in the word “sit” as he starts the movement to sit, again reward with the treat with praise and petting. Repeat this a number of times, across short sessions.
- Finally, use the cue word at the start. Show the treat, use the cue word “sit” treat and praise on completion of the behaviour. If this step is proving difficult, revert back and repeat a couple of steps until he is sitting on command.
- Teaching your dog to lie down is a natural progression from sitting, so don’t move onto this until sitting on command is well embedded. Start with your dog in the sitting position and with treats at hand.
- Introduce the treat close to your dogs nose and slowly bring the treat down to the floor. Once he is fully down on the floor, reward with the treat and give lots of praise. Repeat this a number of times across short sessions.
- Once this behaviour is fluid and appears well understood, introduce the cue word “down” or “lie down”. Ideally a single word is better and usually quicker for a dog to grasp.
- Follow this with showing your dog the treat, issuing the cue word then reward and praise when the behaviour is carried out.
- Once this is mastered, use a release cue word (”ok” is fine) to inform that the training is finished. Increase the period of time he is lying down before getting back up. Smaller increments are better.
- Progress training to a different location, somewhere with more distractions to further embed the use of the command.
- Once your dog is sitting or lying down, you don’t always want them immediately to get back up the moment you move off. Teaching a dog to stay is a progression from sitting or lying down, so start with him in one of those positions.
- With your dog looking at you, show him the palm of your hand and in a stern voice say “stay”.
- Take a few easy steps back and then tell them “ok” or “come”. Reward with a treat and lots of praise.
- Over a few short sessions, increase the time before releasing them. Gradually increase the distance between you and your dog.
- When he stays for around 30 seconds, start turning your back after a few steps and walk with your back to him. Then turn towards your dog, say nothing and after a few seconds tell him “ok” or “come”. Again, repeat this over a handful of short sessions.
- Once you can walk away for about 30 seconds, move somewhere with more distractions to ingrain the behaviour further.
- Teaching your dog to come on command is also a crucial tool to avert dangerous situations. Often involving other dogs or busy roads. As the cue word “come” may be used as a release word, some other word is best used to differentiate the meaning. The simple word “here” is a good option.
- Start at home or in a distraction free setting with your dog playing or walking around freely.
- Call him with the chosen cue word, then reward with a treat & praise. This should not be followed by putting your dog on the leash. Instead allow him to go back to what he was doing before or give him his favourite toy to play with. The key is to differentiate this with the cue words “come” or “ok”. The point is that they come to you without hesitation. This is not a cue that fun is over, that way they are more likely to respond to the command.
- As before, repeat this over a number of small sessions and always give plenty of praise. Introduce special treats to differentiate the meaning of this command from the “come” command.
- Transfer the training to different settings to embed it further. Repeat the training at set periods following the initial sessions. This command may not be often used, so you want you dog to still keep it’s meaning fresh.
- This command is an emergency command so should not be used for other purposes. The last thing you want is confusion over this command and your usual “come” command.
Look At Me
- Getting your dog to look at you or give you their attention is an important and often overlooked command. It’s extremely useful when your dog is faced with lots of distractions. Again, have treats at hand for this training.
- Hold the treat close to your dogs nose and gradually bring it up to your eyes. Once he has held eye contact, reward with the treat and praise.
- Repeat a few times over short sessions.
- Move onto issuing the cue command “look at me” once you begin to move your hand upwards. Reward after a few seconds eye contact. It’s important that you don’t attempt long periods of eye contact or staring. Dogs can find this threatening and this is not the point of the training in any case.
- Move onto issuing the keyword and then rewarding once the behaviour has been carried out.
Dog training is no mysterious secret. Generally, it involves following some simple and well found practices and principles. Consistency, repetition and reward are key to a better behaved dog and a richer relationship for you both. Good luck!