10 Dog Training Tips

Whether you are bringing home a dog from the shelter today, or you have been living with Fido for years, dog training can be fun. It can become a great part of your daily routine, and is a fantastic way to bond with your dog and sneak in a little exercise. Training a dog is more than the basics of sit, down, and stay. The goal should be to create a way for your dog to be successful and thrive in your home, to keep him safe, and to keep him stimulated. The time spent training should be fun and rewarding for both you and your dog. Here are a few ways to keep training fun and successful on your way to raising a well behaved best friend.

Make Sure Your Pet Is Healthy

  • Whether you are training a pet you have had for awhile, or a new furry friend you just adopted from the shelter, make sure they are healthy and feeling well. If your pet has a behavior issue (like urinating in the house) that stems from some type of health condition, no amount of training will be able to fix it. Regular vet visits, exercise, and a good diet go a long way to keeping your pet healthy and excited to work with you.

Will Work For Food

  • Your dog needs to eat everyday. One of the things we do when training is portion off part of our dog's meals and use that for training rewards. As an example, if your dog eats 3 cups of food a day, take a third or half of that each day to use as training rewards, and make them earn it throughout the day. This is especially helpful with a new puppy or recently rescued dog that is learning all kinds of things constantly. I carry around part of my dog's daily allotment of food in a pouch on my belt (seen above, next to the bowl of kibble). If I ask the dog (or Rover offers on his own) to sit, down, stay, or we are house training, or any number of other behaviors, I use the food on my belt to reward the dog for good behaviors (like going potty in the yard). This also helps if you need to watch the weight of your dog. You have pre-measured the amount of "treats" your dog will get, and it is part of his daily allotment of food. This method is also great for the next tip.

Reward What You Like

  • Rewarding behaviors you like is really easy when you have treats clipped to your belt. And with rewards, timing is everything. Rewarding what you like is simple. Did your come to you and sit when called? Treat it! If you sit down to watch TV and your dog lays at your feet, give him a treat. If a friend comes over and your pup waits patiently to say hi without jumping up, reward it! Did your dog stay quiet while the mailman approached the door? Treat him. When you let your dog outside and he goes potty, mark that behavior with a reward! Dogs are very smart and will begin to offer those behaviors more often. Timing is the key, which means you have to have access to the treats at the time of the behavior. If there is a bag of treats clipped to your belt, this is really easy to mark a good behavior with a treat and an enthusiastic "Good Boy!"In the beginning, food rewards work best, but over time can be used with less frequency and replaced with affection, a tug on his favorite toy, or a game of fetch.

Set Them Up For Success

  • It is easier to train your dog to do things you like, and prevent the things you don't, versus trying to break bad habits later. For example, if you don't want your dog to steal trash out of the trash can, get a trash can with a lid on it. If you don't want your dog to counter surf in the kitchen, don't leave unattended food out. 
  • If your dog is doing something you don't like, set up their environment to prevent that as much as possible. Do you have a dog that looks out a window and barks at people walking down the street? Keep the drapes drawn on that window, or prevent access to it. 
  • Does your dog struggle with focus or have too much energy before a training session? Take them for a walk or play fetch for a couple of minutes to get the "zoomies" out.

Start In A Distraction Free Environment

    "Leave it"
  • When beginning to train something new, always start off in a quiet, distraction free place, like the family room. No tv, no other animals, no distractions. Once they have learned to do a behavior in a quiet, distraction free place, you can gradually move to places with more distractions, like your back yard, the sidewalk, or a park. 

  • Understand that in each new environment, the dog perceives it as a new, different situation, and he needs to learn to do it all over again in this new scenario. We call this "proofing the behavior". If the dog can do a behavior 5 times in 5 different situations, they have a good understanding of the behavior. Whenever we go into a new scenario, we train it again. For example, we only have hardwood floors in our house. Everything we teach the dogs at home is learned on those floors. When we go someplace that has carpet or some other type of flooring, even grass or a dirt road, we train it again. Eventually the dog learns that no matter where they are or what surface they are on, "sit means sit". 

Use High Value Treats

    Zukes Training Treats and Happy Howie's food roll
    Some dogs prefer toys over treats
  • When teaching a new member of the household, like a puppy, the rewards need to come fast and often. That's why using their kibble makes so much sense. It is less expensive than specialty treats, you can measure it out, and you can make your dog work for their meal. Some things will be harder for your pup to learn than others. They may get bored or frustrated, which isn't very conducive to learning. Or you may be working in a high distraction area, like a park with screaming kids or near a pool. They might rather go investigate those things. At that point, it is time to ramp up the rewards. They may prefer to chase a squirrel rather than take the everyday kibble you have been using. Find out what truly motivates your dog. What does he value more than anything? Once you know what that is, training gets easier because you can get his focus and attention. Does your pup like meat or cheese? Do they love a game of tug? Do they love to fetch? It may be time to bust out the string cheese, chopped up meat roll (we use Happy Howie's), or a ball on a string.  As they learn the new behavior and can do it with distractions around, you can start to vary the frequency and value of the treat.

Keep It Fun And Short

  • The key to training is to keep it fun for your dog. The best sessions are short and multiple times throughout the day, versus an hour long daily session after dinner. Working training sessions into everyday life can be a great way to keep it fresh and fun. Work on something in the kitchen for a couple of minutes while you are waiting for water to boil. Have them practice down stay while you brush your teeth. When going for your evening walk, work on heel, and stop every so often to do a sit/down/walk around your dog. Every time you are with your pet is a great time to ask for a behavior or work on something new. The dog will look forward to being with you, and it is a great time to bond with your pet. Every scenario that comes up is a training opportunity. If you are using food as a reward, try to do short training sessions before feeding time. You will find that to be more successful because the dog is hungry, instead of training right after dinner when the dog is full and may not be willing to work. Work mini sessions often throughout the day, every day and before you know it, Fido will be amazing!
Sit pretty

Be Consistent, Not Confusing

  • If you insist on a particular behavior in one scenario but not another, this may confuse your dog. For example, if you don't want your dog to beg at the dinner table, don't offer him food while you are watching tv. They don't notice the difference in location, they just know you occasionally give them food off your plate. If you don't want your dog to jump on people, make sure no one in the house allows them to jump on them, or make it a trick, with a verbal cue and only allow it with the cue. 
  • If you have multiple members in your household, make sure everyone is consistent with using the same verbal cues they give to the dogs, and the behaviors each person allows. 
  • To prevent confusion, make sure you don't use the same cue for different behaviors. If "down" means to lie down, then use "off" to get the dog off the furniture. 

Always End On A Success

  • If you are in a training session and you are having trouble teaching your dog something, don't just end it and walk away. Make sure to go back to a behavior the dog understands and work that prior to ending. For example, if you are working on "stay" and are struggling, but the dog knows how to sit, prior to ending the session have the dog sit a couple of times and reward him. Keep the training sessions positive and upbeat, and the dog will enjoy coming back to try again later.

Keep Them Engaged

  • Keep them engaged and willing to train by keeping them guessing and using their brains. Not all training sessions need to be about obedience or learning a new trick. It is as important to exercise and stimulate their mind as it is to exercise their muscles. Playing mental games like the one seen above can wear them out just as much as a hearty game of fetch. Place a couple of treats in a muffin tin and hide them under a tennis ball (make sure the hidden treat is a bigger reward than what is hiding it) and let the dog "search" for the treat. The key is to not hide a treat in every opening, just use 1 or 2. 

Bonus Tip

  • This next one isn't really a tip, more of a helpful hint. If you have a dog that is overweight, there is no need to skip training or using treats as rewards, you just may need to change the treats you are using. Cheerios make for great, delicious, low fat, and inexpensive (compared to specialty dog treats) training rewards. Plus, you can reward yourself 😄.

If you enjoy working and training with your dog, there are many activities that you can do to keep going and learn new things. Obedience competitions, agility, nose work, and so many more are great ways for you and your dog to work together and have fun! But sometimes the best reward is having a healthy, well mannered dog as your faithful companion. Spending time together with your dog, whether in a training session, playing fetch in the yard, or on a walk around the neighborhood is time well spent.