Dog Training 101

Young and Adult Dogs Can Learn the Basics

VPI employee Jenn and her 12-year-old Dalmatian, Pierce

Whether you're a first-time dog owner or a seasoned one, a puppy's behavior can test your patience: exuberant bounding; jumping, licking and nipping; the stolen socks and chewed-on shoes; and, best of all, misinterpreting "Come here!" as "Run!"

This may be cute at first, but as your puppy grows, many of these behaviors become a nuisance and possibly dangerous for both you and your dog.

Dog obedience training can curb bad behavior. Teaching your dog that you’re in charge could potentially protect him from harm — such as running into the street.

It takes a lot of patience to train your pet, whether he’s a puppy or a mature dog. But it’s possible, no matter what his age. Here are some key things you’ll want your dog to learn.

Consistency, Consistency, Consistency

You can begin working with your dog when he is 7-8 weeks old. Some tips to keep in mind along the way:

VPI employee Jenn and her 12-year-old Dalmatian, Pierce
  • Use a specific word for each command, and say it in the same tone. For instance, make sure everyone in your home knows that when you want him to sit, you say “Sit” – so your husband won’t say, “Sit down,” and your child, “Butt on the floor!”
  • Pick a certain training method and stick with it. Offer a command, such as “Sit”, only once, or else your dog will think he doesn’t have to sit until you’ve repeated it 35 times.
  • Limit your training sessions to 10 or 15 minutes per day.
  • Always be in control. It will be counterproductive if you lose your patience or become angry. You dog is trying to please you but won’t always understand what you want him to do right away.
  • Don’t over-praise. A “good dog,” small treat or pat is perfect. Too much praise is overkill and distracts your dog from the message.
  • End your training session on a positive note. Have your dog obey a command he knows, then praise him.

Basic Commands

Come. Sit. Stay. Down. Heel.

If your dog learns these commands, he will be a much more enjoyable member of your household. This will also help develop your dog’s social skills when there are guests at the house.


Older dogs are still interested in doing new things. Take into consideration any physical limitations they might have, depending upon their age and health.

Step 1: “Come”

VPI employee Jenn and her 12-year-old Dalmatian, Pierce

"Come" is the most important command. Why? Because if your dog runs off — toward a busy road, another dog or anywhere out of reach — you need him to return to you immediately. Start by putting a 15-foot cord on your puppy’s collar. Sit a few feet from him. Gently tug on the collar until he starts toward you. Praise him. After a few sessions, he will start coming toward you with just a slight tug. Now is the time to add the command “Come” to the training. Say it calmly — just once — when you give the slight tug. Your dog eventually won’t even need the tug but will associate the word “Come” with the action. At this point, remove the cord. If he regresses, you can put the cord on again for a refresher.

VPI employee Jenn and her 12-year-old Dalmatian, Pierce

Step 2: “Sit”

Sit is another important command. Hold a treat in front of his nose and then slowly raise it above his head. Your dog’s natural inclination is to look up while his rear end goes down. Use the word “Sit” as his legs are bending. Once he’s associated the action with the word, you can substitute “Good dog” for a treat. Don’t force his back down, as your hands on him can be confusing and the movement could lead to injury. Don’t say “Sit down” — “Sit” and “Down” are two different commands and could confuse him.

VPI employee Jenn and her 12-year-old Dalmatian, Pierce

Step 3: "Stay"

Teaching your dog how to “Stay”. Have your dog sit. Put your palm in front of his face. Say, “Stay.” Take a step or two back while facing your dog and looking at him. If he doesn’t move, return and praise him. Keep repeating this during training sessions.

You should be able to move longer distances from him and he should remain in whatever position you left him in (you can do a “Stay” in the sit, down or stand position).


VPI employee Jenn and her 12-year-old Dalmatian, Pierce

Step 4: "Down"

Once he’s mastered “Sit”, teach your dog to lie down. First, have him sit. Then, place a treat in front of his nose. Lower the treat down to the floor while you say “Down”.

When your dog lies down, give him the treat.


Step 5: "Heel"

VPI employee Jenn and her 12-year-old Dalmatian, Pierce

Ever see dogs taking their owners for walks? They pull the lead like someone’s waving a steak in front of them. Teaching your dog “Heel” will make your outings with him more fun for both of you. This is a difficult skill for your dog to master and will likely take several training sessions. Start with your dog should be standing next to your left leg with both of you facing the same direction. Hold a treat in your left hand near your waist. Call your dog’s name to get his attention. Take two steps forward, saying “Heel”, and then stop moving. If your dog comes with you and stops, give him the treat, praising him with a “Good heel!” Repeat. Only reward your dog with the treat when he’s in the “Heel” position. Continue to do this for longer stretches. Eventually, your dog should heel without being rewarded with a treat.

Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks

VPI employee pet Dalmatian, Pierce

Older dogs are still interested in doing new things. Take into consideration any physical limitations they might have, depending upon their age and health.

Older dogs are generally more challenging to train because they have established behaviors. Being consistent and patient with older dogs is perhaps even more important than with training puppies. While an older dog’s attention span is a bit longer, it will serve you both best to conduct training sessions in short spans.

Don’t rely to heavily on treats as rewards. Older dogs can be less active and can have trouble shedding extra pounds.

Dog Training Help

Your veterinarian is a good source of advice on training and can refer you to books, Web sites, and even obedience trainers in your area. Your veterinarian can also assist you with any specific behavioral issues.

You can also check out the National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors and the Association of Professional Dog Trainers.

Don’t Give Up

Training and behavior problems can be incredibly frustrating. Never hit or scream at your dog or he will become fearful of you. Certain things — such as growling, baring teeth or biting — should never be permitted. Contact your veterinarian immediately if your dog exhibits these dangerous behaviors.

Remember that a well-trained dog is a joy to have in the family. A dog that knows what’s expected of him is a happy, confident one. The effort you both will put in is worth it.


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