Simple Hacks to Effectively Train Your Dog
Whether you’re a new pup parent or a seasoned dog owner, you’ve likely heard about the benefits of training your dog — outside of the obvious ability to shake your dog’s paw.
It can increase your ease with leaving them alone, as they’ll know the behaviors you approve of and the behaviors that will get them in trouble (i.e., chewing up your shoes while waiting for your return). Plus, you’ll bond even more with your dog by training it regularly. Your pup will learn to listen to you, and it will become a habit, so you can learn new dog tricks even quicker.
But don’t let the prospect of teaching your dog cool tricks overwhelm or stress you out. There are lots of ways you can break this seemingly major task into delicious bite-sized morsels you can sink your, well, canines into.
Here are a handful of simple tips on how to teach your dog tricks that will make training your dog go more smoothly.
Despite the fact that they may look at you with pleading, doe eyes, it’s important to remember that training your dog will take some time. Don’t give in immediately to their begging or let disruptive behavior continue for too long simply because you’re frustrated or think they can’t learn.
Dogs have been human companions for centuries. They know that part of their job is to be your buddy who makes you happy. And if the way you’ll be happiest is that they learn to listen more intensely and learn what it is you’re attempting to communicate, it won’t take long before you’ll have a world-class floppy-eared student on your hands.
Also, remember that they’re not going to always understand everything on their first try. Keep your patience for them high so neither one of you gets frustrated and associates training with anger. Take whatever accomplishments you can get and stay the course — your pup will undoubtedly respond sooner rather than later.
You may eventually want your dog to know and identify a whole slew of toys so you can impress the neighbors — and that’s an excellent goal to have. But don’t assume that you’ll get to that level of ability quickly as you begin your training program. No matter what age your dog is, meet them at the level they’re at.
Even if they’re good listeners and really in tune with you, if you’ve never taught them any of the most basic commands, they’re going to struggle to learn it at first. Plus, commands like “sit,” “stay” and “shake” are great building points for future more-complicated commands. It will give you and your dog a sense of accomplishment that will make both of you excited for future learned skills.
If you have a puppy in your life, don’t wait to start training them. Though many puppies do lose some of the fascination they have for chewing, that doesn’t mean you should wait to teach your pup that chewing everything isn’t acceptable. And while many dog lovers don’t have issues with a little puppy nip or playful bite, you have to train your dog early that it’s not OK to bite people.
If you’re able to establish not only basic behavior boundaries, but also indicate that your dog needs to listen to your commands at a young age, you’ll be setting yourself up for an even happier relationship in the future.
All dog breeds — not to mention the range of personalities within each — have specific preferences, skills and needs. Knowing what you’re getting into when you get your dog will really help you get them to behave their best. If a dog is more active and absolutely needs regular activity, you’re going to have a really hard time training it when it's losing its mind to go play.
And, you’ll be making it easier on yourself by simply knowing that you’re meeting some of its basic needs so it can better concentrate on learning and listening to you. Some dogs, too, are much more interested in pleasing you and have the intellectual capacity to more quickly learn new tricks than others.
Once you start training, you need to be consistent about what you expect from your dog. If you’re only conditional with your expectations, your dog will get mixed signals, which can be frustrating for everyone involved. Plus, the repetition of your requests and expectations will make your dog understand that these behaviors are important.
If you allow them to slip up or get away with not doing what you asked, you’ll be setting a precedent that they don’t always need to do what you want to get what they want. So, don’t let their pleading eyes win you over when they beg for that treat without doing what you asked. Stay strong and stay consistent.
Ask Others to Be Consistent
Especially when you first start training, it’s really important you make sure everyone in your dog’s life plays by the same rules. If your dog starts learning that they only have to behave in front of certain people or in certain environments, they’re likely going to start skirting the rules every chance they get.
Getting people who you trust to help maintain the same expectations with your dog will mean that your dog will learn to listen to all the humans around them, not just some.
Change the Environment
Shortly after you begin training, you should consider practicing the training with your dog in as many new environments as possible.
Teaching your dog to listen to you no matter what may be happening around them will ensure you have more control over their behavior in the future if they decide to act out. Plus, they’ll be more stimulated and more mentally active, which will make the lessons hopefully come a bit easier for them.
Adding elements like outside noises, other animals and other people can help your dog better understand that what you guys may start working on at home needs to be applied no matter where they are.
Use a Clicker
Using a clicker as you train your dog can have a ton of benefits, including faster comprehension and more effective retention. Not to mention, it can keep them from putting on too much weight if you overdo it on the treats.
There are tons of free resources online that will help you efficiently use this simple training technique, so you and your pup can add even more great tricks to your arsenal.
Giving your dog a good scratch and an excited “yes!” can be just as effective in terms of teaching them expectations as almost anything else — especially if you have a breed with a particular affinity for pleasing you. Associating both training time and proper learning to affection and happiness will make your dog enjoy training time even more and continue to associate positivity with the activity.
And, let’s be real, there’s nothing more satisfying than a happy dog getting a nice ear scratch and being told he’s “such a good boy.”
Some dogs need to be bribed, and bribed in a big way. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with using treats to help your dog have more external motivation to listen to you. This is especially effective if you’re teaching your dog a major behavioral change.
Sometimes, no amount of clicking or ear scratches will get your dog’s attention when they’re reacting on an animalistic level to some stimulus. That likely means they will only respond to the promise of some delicious snacks.
So, while you don’t want to becoming completely dependent on treats (especially if you have a smarter breed), there’s nothing wrong with a little yummy reward for a job well done.
Yelling at or using a newspaper to attempt to control your dog’s behavior will have nothing but negative consequences. No matter what your dog’s personality is, none of them naturally respond to negativity. They want to be cuddled and reassured that they’re safe.
Yelling or intimidating them in an attempt to bully them to learn is a surefire way to get your dog to at least resent you (or maybe even lash out at you and exacerbate the situation). You can still use powerful vocal cues and gentle physical cues to train your dog, but make sure you’re keeping everything about the experience rewarding and upbeat.
Practice the Basics
Like dribbling in basketball, some of the basic, first skills you teach your dog are the best places to continue to practice on a regular basis. Starting from a place they understand will give them confidence and put their brains into listening and learning mode, so they’ll be more receptive and open to active learning.
Plus, like any skill, skipping over and failing to practice something may make them a bit rusty. Making sure you consistently work on the basics also helps increase your bond with your animal and makes their responses to you even more instinctual. That way, you can more confidently trust them to listen in more chaotic situations.
Spice It Up
Variety is the spice of life, even for dogs. Though it’s important to make sure they’re up-to-date on their basics, it’s also important that you don’t get in an expected routine.
When I was growing up, we taught our dog to “sit-down-stay-shake-rollover-and-speak” all at once. We thought it was an easy way to get him to efficiently do all those things at once. Until, of course, when he started treating it like a quick little dance that he would do all at once the second he saw a treat.
Teaching your dog that they have to stay on their toes and listen carefully to your commands will keep them active participants of the training session. And if they’re active, they’re much more excited and receptive to everything you’re teaching.
Make It Social
As you begin to increase your bond and trust with your dog, see if you can get a fellow dog owner to join you for a joint training session. This could be especially beneficial if the dog is well-behaved and well-trained.
Your dog, especially if it’s younger, will pick up on the cues that their counterpart is giving them, which can increase their retention and understanding.
Plus, it will teach them that they must listen to anyone who wants to train them (not just you), and that they need to concentrate on their specific cues if they want a reward.
Learn to Ignore
Even if giving your dog attention is what makes you the happiest person in the world, you need to learn that not all behavior warrants attention. Giving your dog a treat or reward for good behavior is helpful on the one hand, but on the other, you need to make it clear the type of behavior you will not reward if they regress or push boundaries.
By simply ignoring them, turning your back to them or walking away from them when they’re acting out, you can get a very clear message across that you do not approve of their activities. You’re essentially saying if they want your approval, they need to do the behaviors you approve.
Take a Group Class
Signing your dog up for a group training session can be a cost-effective and really fun way to learn some training basics. Your dog will not only learn some tricks (as you learn how to train them to do them), but they’ll inevitably have to learn to stay focused rather than distracted by all their fellow furry peers.
Plus, it will be a fun adventure you can share together and look forward to every week.
Use Online Resources
If you enjoy a more DIY approach to projects, there are a ton of resources (including some excellent video series from professional trainers) that can help you learn everything there is to know about training your dog. And for every great video, there are a hundred articles covering everything under the sun — just make sure it comes from a reputable source.
Also, keep in mind that the videos and articles you learn from may make the process seem smoother and easier than it truly is. Every dog is different. As long as you remain patient and stay in tune with your particular pup’s needs, you can easily pick and choose from the informational buffet available on the internet.
Do a One-on-One Pro Session
Fans of the hit show “The Dog Whisperer” already know that sometimes all it takes to make major behavioral changes is simply calling in an expert. But you don’t need Cesar Millan himself to help you learn.
If you’re a newcomer and need a bit more personalized attention or you’re really overwhelmed with some major behavioral issue your dog is having, it can be a really smart choice to call in an expert. Like any professional, they’ll be better able to assess the situation and give you a manageable solution so you can continue to effectively address it in the future.
Make It a Routine
Training your dog doesn’t have to be a burden or something that sucks up a ton of your time. By simply adding it to your morning or evening routine, you can easily carve out a little bit of time that can have a long-lasting impact on your dog.
Even doing as little as 10 to 15 minutes of training every day means that you can both stay fresh on everything you’ve been working on, and you can make good behavior and excellent listening habits a part of daily life.
More important than anything, make sure you keep a positive perspective and enjoy your training sessions. Dogs are extremely intuitive and can pick up on your emotions.
If training is a drag to you, it’ll feel like a drag to your dog. If it’s exciting and enjoyable, it will be the same for your doggo. So have fun, and keep it light.
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