Our canine pals are experts at showing us how much they love us, and are naturally eager to learn a new skill or behavior, especially when we reward them with treats. Training your dog is more than teaching them to sit on command, or fetch the morning paper. Every interaction with your dog is an opportunity to improve their manners, which will help them thrive and keep them safe. Well-behaved dogs are less likely to charge the door when you return home, or injure your hand by dragging you down the street. Teaching your dog basic home skills will also help prevent accidents and the stress of a missing pet. Follow these eight tips from our Caldwell Animal Hospital team to help ensure you and your canine friend have a pawsitive and successful training experience.
#1 Learn your dog’s body language
Dogs have unique ways of communicating with each other and their owners. They have adapted to living in social groups and interacting with other dogs through body postures, facial expressions, tail and ear movement, and vocalizations, such as barking or growling, and will use similar methods to communicate with you. For example, if your dog is waiting at the door wagging their tail when you come home, they are saying they are excited to see you. Learning your dog’s communication methods is key to ensuring a successful training program. Additionally, training will ensure a common language between you and your dog, and will ultimately strengthen your bond.
#2: Use positive reinforcement when training your dog
Positive reinforcement training is the most effective, humane training method. Almost anything your dog loves can be used as a reward, although their favorite food or treats work the best. Ensure that your dog can quickly eat food rewards, such as freeze-dried liver, skinless boneless chicken, semi-moist dogs treats, or cheese, with minimal chewing. Also ensure that treats are low-calorie to avoid weight gain during training. Additional guidelines for positive reinforcement include:
- Use tiny food pieces so that your dog doesn’t get full too quickly and lose motivation to learn.
- Rewards for small dogs should be the size of a lentil.
- Rewards for larger dogs should be no bigger than a Cheerio.
- Use a training clicker and verbal cues along with food rewards.
- When your dog is first learning a new behavior, ensure they receive a treat every time they behave correctly.
- Reinforce your dog’s behavior immediately so that they understand what they did correctly.
- Remove the reward during undesired behavior, and never use physical punishment.
#3: Be consistent with cues and rewards for your dog
Consistency is key when training your dog. Use the same verbal cues, hand signals, and body language when teaching your dog a new behavior, and help them interpret what you are asking them to do—for example, standing tall while teaching them to sit will only confuse them. Keep training sessions short, and schedule multiple sessions daily so your dog has several chances to learn.
#4: Use higher value treats when teaching your dog difficult behaviors
Higher value treats, such as hot dog or steak pieces, are great motivators when training your dog difficult or more challenging behaviors such as not jumping on visitors or staying out of the kitchen during meal times. Use high value treats sparingly so that your dog understands the importance of the behavior. You can also use a favorite toy as a high value reward and training motivator.
#5: Set realistic dog training goals
Most dogs aren’t able to quickly learn complicated behaviors, such as an entire agility obstacle course. Set small, achievable goals when training your dog. For example, teach your dog to sit properly before expecting them to stay seated for extended periods of time. Over time, you can add variability and teach your dog to perform a series of behaviors during each training session. Short, realistic goals will ensure you and your dog do not become frustrated with the training process.
#6: Ensure that training sessions are fun for your dog
Training should be an enjoyable experience for you and your dog. Your four-legged companion will often react to your mood and energy level, so choose training times when you are in a good mood. Also, dogs learning a new behavior may be easily distracted, so choose a quiet location that is free of distractions, such as nosy squirrels by the window, or their favorite stuffed toy across the room. Always end each session on a positive note to ensure you pup stays motivated to continue learning.
#7: Crate train your dog
A crate is a useful training tool, especially for potty training or times when your dog is unsupervised. Crate training can take up to six months, so patience is key to a successful outcome. Ensure your dog’s crate is safe and comfortable, with a soft blanket or bed, and their favorite toy or treat, to encourage rest and relaxation while they are in their crate. Never use their crate as punishment.
#8: Consider hiring a professional dog trainer
Training can be challenging and requires ample patience and time. Consider hiring a professional trainer if you are becoming frustrated, your dog behaves aggressively, or you want to learn new training techniques. Professional trainers are a great way for your dog to learn skills that will help improve their mental health.
Training your dog is a lifelong endeavor, and Caldwell Animal Hospital is here to help. Call our office if you have any questions about your dog’s training, or you need help choosing a professional dog trainer.