Dog Training 101

Dog Training 101

Young and Adult Dogs Can Learn the Basics

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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.

Teaching your dog appropriate manners is important! Just remember it takes a lot patience…be patient with your pet and yourself!

No puppy is too young to start training and no dog is too old! Just remember that all dogs learn at different rates. Here are some key pointers.

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:

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  • Use a specific word or cue for each behavior. 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!”
  • Say the cue once. . . Say “Sit” once, repeating the cue only tells the dog they do not have to respond until they hear the cue multiple times. If your dog is not responding to the cue, it could mean he doesn’t yet understand what you’re asking for.
  • Limit your training sessions to short session, multiple times per day. 5 to 10 minutes 4 or 5 times per day.
  • Be calm. It will be counterproductive if you lose your patience or become angry. Your dog is trying to please you but won’t always understand what you want him to do right away. Baby steps!
  • Mark the behavior! Tell your dog they are correct. You can do this with a clicker - small box that makes a “click” sound to indicate an appropriate behavior. You can also mark the behavior by simply saying “yes” when the appropriate behavior is offered. Once you have marked the behavior, remember to add a “reinforcement” or reward (treat, toy or praise) this action reinforces the correct behavior.

**Important to remember that reward can be a treat, a toy or praise. Whatever your dog considers a reward

  • Always end your training session on a positive note. Have your dog respond to a cue he knows, then praise him and end your training session.

Basic Commands

Come. Sit. Stay. Down. Heel.

If your dog learns these behaviors, he will be a much more enjoyable member of your household and help develop your dog’s social skills when there are guests at the house. These basics will increase the bond with your dog and build a stronger partnership.

Did you know older dogs are still interested in doing new things? Always take into consideration any physical limitations they might have, depending upon their age and health.

Step 1: “Come”

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"Come" is the most important behavior. 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 6-foot leash or long line on your dog’s collar. Start a few feet from him. Say the dog’s name and take a couple of steps backwards to encourage his movement toward you. As your dog starts to move towards you (very important that your dog be moving towards you) mark the behavior (say “yes”) and reward him. After a few sessions, he will start coming toward you when you say his name. Now is the time to add the cue “come.” Say it calmly — just once — take a couple of steps backwards to encourage the forward motion of your dog. Repeat!

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Step 2: “Sit”

Sit is another important behavior. Hold a treat in front of his nose (think of the treat like a magnet) and then slowly raise it above his head. Your dog’s natural inclination is to look up while his rear end goes down. The second you’re his rear end hits the ground, mark the behavior and reward! After you have repeated the exercise several times, add the cue “Sit” as his legs are bending. Again, when his rear end hits the ground, mark the behavior and reward. Don’t force his back down, as your hands on him can be confusing and the movement could lead to injury. Be clear with what you are asking - don’t say “Sit down” — “Sit” and “Down” are two different commands and could confuse him.

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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, step back in toward him, mark the behavior and reward. Keep repeating. As your training progresses 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 a sit, down or stand position).

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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 (remember the magnet). Lower the treat down and out, like an “L”, to the floor. When his front elbows hit the ground, mark the behavior and reward. Do this exercise several times and then add the cue “Down”.

Step 5: "Heel"

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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 standing next to your left leg with both of you facing the same direction. Hold a treat in your left hand near your waist. Say your dog’s name to get his attention. Take two steps forward, saying “Heel” if your dog comes with you , mark the behavior (remember – click or say “yes”) and reinforce the behavior by giving him a treat or praising Repeat. Only reward your dog 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

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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.

Older dogs can be less active and can have trouble shedding extra pounds so you may need to monitor the number of treats he gets.

Dog Training Help

Your veterinarian may be able to refer you to a local dog trainer or dog training facility in the area. You can always research information on the internet. YouTube is a great resource for short “how to” videos!

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 a dog trainer or animal behaviorist 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.

Happy Training!