The first step to dog training or therapy is obedience training. I get asked by a lot of people how to teach their dog to sit, how to teach their dog to walk on a leash, etc. While there are some tried and true techniques for these tasks that I will share, I will also share a general training technique that you can apply and this will help you to teach your dog nearly anything that you want them to learn.
I am often asked about my dog training skills when I am out with my own dog, a 170 pound Old English Mastiff. People are often amazed at his gentleness, his obedience and his patience with children. I used my “general technique” to teach him almost everything he knows! And, much to my vet’s disbelief, my dog will even go “poo” and “pee” on command (again, taught with my super-simple general technique).
Step 1: Your Dog’s Personality
- Is your dog super energetic? Make sure they get plenty of exercise before your training sessions.
- Is your pup lazy and tired easily? Make sure they have had plenty of sleep!
- Is your dog highly inquisitive? Set up plenty of mental challenges to keep their attention.
- Is your pup prone to lose focus? Make sure to have plenty of their favorite things on hand to get their focus back (treats, ball, etc)
- Is your dog super stubborn? Arm yourself with extra time and patience to devote to training, and a little motivation never hurt, like treats or favorite toy as a reward for a job well done.
- Is your dog so willing to please you that any positive feedback from you makes their day? This will be smooth sailing for you!
Step 2: Your Dog’s Motivation
- Will your dog do anything for a treat? Make sure you have plenty of training treats on hand! Training treats can be any edible food, really, as long as it is very very small and safe for your dog to eat. You could even use a different flavor of their regular food, break up their favorite biscuits into small bits or purchase specially made training treats that are super yummy and a uniform size and shape.
- Is your dog out for love, love and more love? For some pooches, affection can be the best reward out there!
- Some dogs will learn to do anything you ask if you have their favorite toy in your hand and give them a little time to play with it after they get their task right. Figure out which type of motivation best works for your pup and use it to your advantage.
Step 3: Setting Up Your Training Schedule
Basically, set up a schedule and stick to it! No dog will enjoy training sessions that are too lengthy. My advice is to make it 30 minutes or less, and at least twice a day. No skipping days, and reinforce throughout the day – so if your pup is learning to sit, ask them to sit before they go outside and before feedings; if they are learning to focus, ask them to focus on you during other times of the day as well. Pick times that work for you both, not just times that are convenient for you but are cutting into your pup’s normal routine, so no 30 minute training session when they are used to naptime or feeding, but just after walks, exercise or playtime would be perfect!
Step 4: Use “The Technique” to Your Advantage!
“The Technique” is no real secret, it is just common sense! Most dogs are motivated by more than one thing, so take full advantage of that and have all of their favorite things available for you to use. Most dog owners are amazed at how well their dog will respond to a simple “Good pup!” and a little affection, especially if it comes with a small treat. Eventually, you can work away from treats and more to verbal and physical reinforcement. The same works with toys and balls to play with: a tiny playtime with a “Good pup!” and a few pats can eventually be worked down to no toys and only verbal and physical reinforcement. Work down slowly: the first week or two, give as many reward times as possible but in very small doses. As your dog responds better and better to your verbal and physical rewards, slowly diminish the other rewards until you are working on only verbal and physical rewards.
Pro Tip: Work in hand signals with your verbal signals for your pups to learn. This will help you later on… if you get a sore throat, can’t speak and want your dog to sit, being able to make a gesture and your dog knows what you want them to do can be hugely beneficial! To do this, simply figure out what hand signal you want to use for each task (i.e.; sit when you point at the floor, lay down when you tap the floor, stay when you hold your hand out flat) and make sure to always use that signal when you are issuing the verbal command. This will create the recognition in your dog’s memory that the hand signal means the same thing as the verbal word.
Work slowly and lead up gently! Don’t expect miracles on the first day. If you are willing to stick with it and work on your pooch’s behavior, your pooch will be happy to work with you.
Start slowly. Your first session can be very short, then work up to the full sessions over time. A simple triumph will give you and your pup confidence and you will both end up enjoying your training time together. Use it as not only a training session, but also as a bonding session.
Encourage your dog to watch your face, you can do this by holding their favorite toy or treat next to your eyes or cheek while you speak happily to them. After a few sessions, they will continue to gaze at your face even if you have no more treats or toys there for focus aids. If your dog is focused on you, they are ignoring outside distractions and this is what we want!
Use your dog’s natural instincts and tendencies to your advantage. A sight hound will be more likely to follow physical cues, but a scent hound may be more happy to follow their nose to the ground when they are learning to lay down. It is easier to teach a dog to sit by holding a small treat to their nose, then slowly moving it above their head while you put your other hand on their hindquarters and apply very gentle pressure while you ask them “Sit”. The motion of moving their head to look up will naturally make their hindquarters more likely to go down. When they get their bum to the ground, immediately and happily praise with a pat and a “Good Sit, good sit!” and treat. After a while, stop using the treat and use your hand as guidance only. Make sure to use the same happy verbal words “good sit” and affection each and every time they do it right. Eventually, you will be able to simply say the word, move your hand as you did with the focus previously and they will sit. After even more time, they will respond with a prompt sit with only a hand gesture or a word, or both. Make sure to keep the hand gesture tied to the verbal gesture at least a few times a day in your regular routine, to cement in the connection so they will remember that a certain gesture means the same thing as a verbal command.
This technique can be applied to a plethora of training commands: sit, lay, stay, paw, high five, speak, come, heel, settle, quiet… the list goes on and on. As long as you can keep the commands and gestures straight, your pet will as well and you will have people amazed with your training skills in no time!
Pro Tip: This is considered positive reinforcement, natural training. Negative training techniques will often get you into more trouble than they are worth! NEVER, EVER HIT YOUR DOG for any reason! Hitting will cause fear and a fearful dog is much more likely to bite than one that is confident and not afraid. Don’t rub your dog’s nose in a house training accident… I will go into this later with house training tips but right now, just trust me, it doesn’t work. If necessary, you can punish your pet by removing affection rather than adding violence. They will get the point a lot faster and with less trauma down the line.
The information provided on this site is very generalized and while the techniques will work fine for the majority of dogs, some dogs may be heavily traumatized and require more intensive therapy. Please contact me or another dog behavior professional for one-on-one help with those particular cases! This site contains information that is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical issues. All information on this site is written my Kristen Camp and is copyright! Pingbacks are welcome, reposting of this information is only allowed with specific written permission.