Whether you have a new puppy or are looking to get Fido a little more under control, knowing how to get your pup to pay attention and how to teach him new commands will not only help you maintain a less chaotic home, it’ll grow the bond between you and your dog.
But before you break out the treats and training clickers and start giving commands to “sit” or “stay,” here are the top 10 simple rules to ensure a productive training session—and a learning pup!
The professional trainers at ECAD (Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities)—who train service dogs for veterans in need—have shared some of their expertise in the tips below.
1. Take Advantage of the Good
Dogs are always learning. Even when you’re not issuing your dog a command and expecting a response, your pup is learning from you. If you see your dog doing something good on their own, like sitting calmly next to you in the yard when the neighbor’s dog is going bonkers and barking, give them praise. Take advantage of the moments when your pet behaves, maybe even unknowingly, and they’ll learn which behaviors are good.
2. Use Your Hands
Dogs speak dog, says Team ECAD. Don’t get frustrated with your dog if they don’t understand what you’re saying. Dogs are very good at learning commands under the right circumstances, but they won’t know what you’re saying without a little help. For example, you can hold a treat in one hand and use a consistent sweeping motion to point to the floor if you want your pet to lie down. If your dog seems to be thinking about doing what you asked, encourage them with praise, say “that’s it!” and then repeat the command. You can also put your hands gently on your pup and encourage them into a position you want, like a “sit” or a “shake.”
3. Be the Leader of Your Pack
“Dogs are naturally pack animals,” says Lu Picard of ECAD, “and you must be the alpha, or the leader of the pack.”
- Leaders have a calm, focused, assertive confidence and demand respect from others.
- Leaders are not frantic or confused. Know the commands you want to teach and go through the steps with confidence.
- Leaders stand up straight and walk with eyes forward; they’re not hunched over and waiting for approval.
- Leaders lead! The dog takes cues from you, not the other way around.
4. Keep it Positive
If you end a training session on a successful note, your dog will be excited to participate when it’s time to train again. This may mean stopping the day’s teaching lesson when your dog does one simple thing correctly—maybe even just focusing their attention on you for a few heartbeats instead of getting distracted every other moment. If you can’t get to everything you wanted to today, that’s not a problem. Give your dog a generous pet and lots of love for trying.
5. Correct Quickly and Move On
“Be quick, be firm, be positive, and be done,” says Team ECAD. “Don't hold a grudge or stay mad.” Your dog won’t be able to associate a bad mood hours later with the doo-doo they left on your rug. You can only correct bad behavior at the moment it occurs. Tell you dog firmly but lovingly that you don’t approve, through your tone, your body language, and a quick “No.” Then move on and don’t make your pet wonder why you’re still mad.
6. Be Consistent
“Don't accept a behavior today that you won't want tomorrow,” says Lu Picard. It can seem easier to let a puppy get away with slobbering all over guests at the door—after all, that’s what puppies do, right? But if you won’t want your dog to be doing that when they’re grown, set the boundaries now.
7. Don’t Ask
Don’t ask your dog—tell them. When you give a command, you are the leader of the pack, the head honcho, the one in charge! If your dog doesn’t recognize your words as a command, you won’t be training your dog, you’ll be chatting in a language they don’t understand. Be firm and make eye contact with your dog so they know you mean business.
8. Leash Up
Even if you’re going to be inside, or not even hold the end of the leash, clipping a leash to your dog’s collar can be a signal that this is Serious Business Time. ECAD suggests using a leash when teaching your dog to roll over or show you their belly, even though you won’t be holding the leash. If you consistently use a leash when training your dog, they’ll learn that a leash means it’s time to pay extra attention to you. As always, make the training session positive and fun with praise and treats. Then the leash will be a signal of fun challenges and love to be had.
9. A Little Longer Now
If you’re teaching your dog to “sit” or “stay,” like to wait patiently while you pour their food without rushing forward and gobbling it straight from the scoop, vary the amount of time you make your dog wait. If you always wait five seconds, your dog could learn that they only need to sit for five seconds before it’s chow time. If you vary the amount of time your dog has to wait before a giving a cue like “okay,” your dog will learn that he must await your command to go ahead.
10. Sweet Rewards
Keep a supply of treats on hand to reward your dog for a job well done. Treats are a straightforward reward for your pet—tasty, exciting, and delivered right from you. But don’t forget love and praise. Telling your dog “Yes, good dog!” with a happy tone and a smiling face will let your dog know they’ve done well. Just a little bit of your time and enthusiasm will help you bond with your dog and make them associate training with a happy time.
When you’re ready to start the teaching sessions, take a look at the 20 Dog Commands You Need to Know, and get started on the road to a calm, happy, doggy-home!
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