There is a lot of conflicting dog training advice out there and it can be overwhelming trying to figure out what training methods to use with your dog. Whatever you do though, make sure you remember these five essential tips:
1. Learn How to Speak Dog
No, don’t start barking. Knowing how to read your dog’s body language and his attempts to communicate with you is the so-called “secret” of dog training. Understanding and respecting body language increases trust and builds a solid relationship between you and your best friend. Panting, licking, positioning of the ears, eyes, tail, and body are all attempts to communicate. If you ignore these signs, your dog will learn that communication does not work, potentially resulting in unpredictable behavior. This is important for all dogs but especially those with existing fear or aggressive-based behavior problems.
2. Use Positive Reinforcement
Positive reinforcement means you’re adding something in order to increase occurrences of a behavior. For example, if your dog sits and you give him a delicious liver treat, he is more likely to sit again in the future. There are so many studies recognizing the benefits of positive reinforcement in dogs, birds, cats, and humans that it can’t be ignored. This type of training has been shown to build trust, confidence, independence, intelligence, and create a stronger, more reliable trained behavior.
Hitting, yelling, and punishing your dog can also work, but it has shown to overall result in weaker trained cues, along with increasing the risk of aggression, over-generalized fear, stress, and reducing problem solving skills. Punishment techniques may seem to work faster but many of them are short-term solutions to long-term problems. Positive reinforcement will set your dog up for long-term success.
3. Reward with the Right Treat
The right treat will motivate your canine to learn whatever you want to teach him. Usually this is in the form of his favorite food in the world, but, depending on the situation, he may prefer a toy or a pat even more. A food reward should be small so that it’s eaten quickly and to ensure he doesn’t fill up before the training session has finished. If you’re not sure what your dog’s favorite treat is, put out a plate with a variety of different dog treats and watch which one he goes for first!
4. Work at Your Dog’s Pace
Different dogs learn at different rates. Sometimes you may be getting somewhere with training a new skill but he doesn’t quite understand the next step. You may have to backtrack a little in order to move forward again. Working at your dog’s pace doesn’t mean sitting around for months or years, waiting for him to do the right thing. It means changing the environment as required in order to set him up for success (e.g. remove distractions, don’t give him access to things he’s not allowed to touch), and use “shaping” to guide him the way you want in order to train him in the quickest time that’s appropriate. What is shaping? I’m glad you asked…
5. Shape His Behavior
Shaping is a great way to teach your dog something that he finds difficult to understand. It simply means to break down what you want him to do into mini steps and then teach each bit at a time. For example, let’s say you want to teach your dog to sit and stay for a long period in a busy environment. Instead of trying to train that all at once, break it up. First, teach him to sit, then to stay for a short interval, then longer, then longer, then start adding distractions. This is also great for teaching him to ring a bell to go potty or to learn complicated tricks.
Training your pup can be difficult, but we're confident that incorporating these tips will ensure positive and lasting results. Let us know if you've come up with any of your own tips and tricks!