No, this is not going to turn your dog into an elite university graduate over night, but hopefully, it will help you and give you some tools to get started as your own dog’s trainer. Let’s break it down in 5 easy to follow parts:
- Training Time
- Training Plan
This is both for you and your dog! You don’t like to work for free, do you? Well, neither does your dog. Find out, what makes your dog tick the most. Yes, we all think, our dogs will do anything for a pat on the shoulders, but I haven’t seen a dog turn down a tasty treat yet. For training, we want small, soft treats, like hot dog or string cheese pieces, that can be chewed fast, so the dog is ready to continue. Size matters! A German Shepherd will probably need a different size treat than a Chihuahua. Training with food reward is a good way to keep training motivational. It does not mean, that you need to keep treats in your pocket for the next 15 years. Yes, your dog should obey your commands, but he needs to learn them first! I love REI’s treat pouches– it makes carrying and dispensing treats so much easier. If your dog turns his nose on what you offer him, you’ll have to try different treats until you find that one that makes him salivate at the pure thought of it. I’ve seen people train with Cheetos or french fries! You, on the other hand, need to be motivated as well. Don’t get frustrated, if things don’t work out right away. Be patient and have fun with it!
Don’t drag the training out – stop while both of you still have fun! Even if it is just 5 minutes, it is valuable. The best thing is to have a couple of short and sweet trainings throughout the day. Don’t start when you just come home from work and you’re still stressed. You should train when your mindset is relaxed and stress free.
Always have a plan before you start your training. Know exactly what you want your dog to do, so you can teach him precisely that. If you have a big trick in mind, start slow and break it into pieces – for example, if you want to teach your dog to go hide in a box, don’t start with the whole thing. Start with rewarding him when he goes close to the box, then put his feet in the box, reward him sitting down and eventually work on him laying in the box. Do every step multiple times until he does it reliably, before you move to the next. Read up on different training methods and styles before you start. And always, always be consistent and patient.
Once your dog knows what you ask of him, we can talk about corrections. Know your dog. Some dogs are more sensitive than others. If you do apply corrections, they need to be fair and the timing has to be great. Use enough to get your dog’s attention but as little as necessary. Inform yourself about different correction methods and be cautious about those which promise instant results. In the end, it is better to use one good correction than 50 weak ones. A correction can be a verbal (e.g. ‘No!’) or a physical (e.g. quick tug on the leash). It can also be withholding the reward. When you train your dog for a behavior that he does not know yet, don’t correct wrong behavior. Instead make the right behavior more interesting. Give your dog a chance to offer the correct behavior. If you do use corrections, make sure that it is balanced with reward – and always, always end on a good note.
Have realistic expectations. If you haven’t worked with your dog in two years, don’t presume that he will start heeling after a short training session. Good things take time and it is important to build a solid foundation. Start at a place where your dog is comfortable, like your home. Don’t take your dog to your friend’s house to show of tricks you’ve never done outside of your home. Once your dog applies your commands correctly, you can start adding distractions by training in your backyard, then in your neighborhood and eventually in a public park. It is not fair to expect your dog to do a roll over in a dog park, if you have not extensively trained it with many distractions around before. Set up training goals and don’t do too much at a time.
Keeping the fun working with your dog is the most important thing!