Training Basics

Now that you’ve got your new dog home and you’ve established the rules, it’s time to work on training your dog!

While some of you might be groaning right now in anticipation of how hard this is going to be, let me reassure you that it doesn’t have to be a stressful thing! Training can actually be fun and exciting for you and your dog and can work to strengthen the bond between the two of you. So let’s talk about some training basics. . .

What Not To Do

Training your dog takes a lot of time and effort. Avoid pulling, pushing, and shoving your dog during training. Anytime you force your dog to do something in such a physical way, you are putting your dog at risk to get hurt and maybe damaging your relationship with them. If you are getting frustrated, take a break.

AVERSIVE TRAINING

Does My Tone Affect Training?

Dogs learn through association. Because of this, you want to limit your movement to the hand prompt in order to avoid your dog picking up on different movements.

Your tone of voice can also influence what your dog learns. You can teach him that a calm tone can mean casual, while an urgent voice means drop everything and do what I tell you now. If using a frustrated tone while training, your dog may learn to listen to commands when said in that tone only.

When training, once your dog learns the basic command, try to generalize your tone to help your dog listen to you no matter what tone you use.

How To Motivate Your Dog

Dogs are motivated by different things. Some are very food motivated, others are motivated by toys or affection. During training, I use treats as a lure, but you can use whatever object your dog is focused on.

Once your dog follows the lure 6-12 times, remove the lure, and start motivating your dog through other things. The motivation can also be to play, allow him or her time on the sofa, or a chance to go sniff and explore. The motivation is now a reward.

You can use anything as a reward for your dog. Reward often. Don’t stop rewarding, even if your dog knows the command. Studies have shown that without rewards dogs and humans alike, will stop participating in the unrewarding behavior.

LURES, REWARDS AND BRIBES

How to Keep my Dog Focused on Training?

When you are teaching commands or basic obedience to your dog, always start training in a low distraction area. You cannot expect your dog to perform when there are a lot of things going on around him. There is no way that he can focus on you luring him to sit while another dog is trying to play with him. He cannot come to you with a child running around screaming.

The dog is not being disobedient; he is simply more motivated by what is going on around him rather than focusing on you.

You need to start in small steps. When first introducing the command, begin in a spot where there are zero distractions. Once your dog is proficient there, then you can start teaching in other areas. You cannot expect your dog to learn a command while at the dog park playing! Start in your home, then your yard, then the street, and so on.

Do Dogs Generalize?

Before you start training, you have to keep in mind that dogs do not generalize, this means that just because your dog knew his commands in puppy class does not mean he will perform at home the same way. Some dogs are better than others with generalizing, but most dogs see the new environment as a completely different set of rules. It is your job to make sure that your dog knows that “Sit” means put your butt down everywhere: in the house, on walks, in puppy class, at the dog park, and off or on the leash.

The more you practice in different situations, the more proficient your dog will be. For example, your dog might think that outside and inside rules are different, or rules are different during different times of the day, or when the owner’s mood is different.

How Long Will it Take my Dog to Learn?

Every dog is different and should never be compared to any other dog inside or outside their breed. Keep in mind that your dog is unique and may generalize better or worse than other dogs. He may require more patience. They are individuals just like us and require a different amount of work or have different motivations.

How Do I Pace my Dog Training to be More Effective?

Always start dog training at the level your dog knows and move at your dog’s pace to the next step. It is like learning math. There are many steps between learning to count and solving algebraic equations. You might be able to skip some steps in between, but ultimately you have to go through each lesson. You cannot expect your dog to learn how to sit in a puppy class and then be able to perform it at the dog park on the first try. Set your dog up to succeed by being patient, consistent, and understanding. 

How quickly you move through each step depends on the dog, not the owner. Some dogs can learn faster and some learn slower. Each dog is an individual with different learning skills.  Take your time and be patient.

Are Dogs Really That Different?

Not only do dogs’ temperament and personality differ greatly from breed to breed, but within the breeds as well. In fact according to this article, what makes up the breed is less than .25% of their genetic makeup. So dogs of the same breed only share that much DNA, the rest is unique. It would be incorrect to assume their behaviors and personalities just based on breed. Mixed breeds are even less alike, even if they are from the same litter.

Because your dog is unique, don’t compare him to other dogs. He may generalize better or worse than other dogs. He may require more patience. They are individuals just like us and require different amounts of work or have different motivations. However, that does not make one dog less intelligent than another.

Why is Off-Leash Training Important?

It is best to train off-leash as much as possible if it’s safe. Because your dog does not generalize, commands that are learned while on a leash may not be understood while off-leash. When we really need the dog to do something, he is usually off-leash. Such as when playing at the dog park, at home, or chasing a squirrel into traffic.

Read up on local ordinances and leash laws to make sure you know where your dog is allowed off-leash. Always begin training in a low distraction environment to help your dog succeed.

Final Thoughts

These are just a few of the basics to keep in mind as you’re beginning to train your dog. Just like you learn differently (think hands-on versus being shown examples or watching videos of someone else performing the task) your dog may learn differently than other dogs you’ve worked with or been around in the past.

Just as you’d like your trainer or teacher to be patient with you, you need to be patient with your dog. If you’re finding that the technique or method you’re using doesn’t seem to be working, do a bit more research and see if you can’t figure out what is holding you both back.

It may be a small adjustment that needs to be made in the motivation or reward category, or simply that you’re in an area that is far too distracting for your dog to concentrate. Remember just how much you’re asking of your dog. They’re adjusting to your way of life and you need to help them succeed in that endeavor by stacking the odds in their favor.

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Aly DelaCoeur, UW-AAB
Aly DelaCoeur, UW-AAB is one of the founders of Wag Enabled (originally Why Does My Dog). Aly has a certificate in applied animal behavior through the University of Washington and is a certified veterinary assistant and AKC Evaluator. She aims to provide an unbiased perspective on dog training by providing practical, intelligent, and caring advice for people to impart on their canine companions