1. Be aware of and control your mood and expectations. Understand that not every day of training will be perfect. Don’t get frustrated by this, it is normal and especially do not take your frustration out on your dog. If you adapt your own behavior and attitude you will encourage your dog and give him confidence in his own ability to learn. If you are calm, generally your will dog will be, too.
If the dog fears you or senses your bad mood, he won’t learn. He will be focused on your mood and become wary of you, creating mistrust. Finding dog training classes, along with a great trainer, can not only help your dog, but help you improve your behavior. This means success with your dog in his training and a better bond between you.
2. Consider your dog’s temperament. Each dog has different temperaments. You will find that, much like children, different breeds will pick up new skills differently and even at differing rates. Some dogs can be a challenge and will stubbornly give you a hard time about new skills. Other dogs couldn’t be happier to please you and take on whatever challenge you give. You may need to adjust how you train your dog to meet his specific needs and his temperament.
3. Reward your dog immediately. Because dogs have no concept or understanding of long-term cause and effect, you need to reward your dog within 2 to 3 seconds of performing a desired skill or behavior. This reinforces what you are teaching your dog as a positive thing. Dogs learn quickly. However, if you wait to reward your dog he won’t connect the behavior or skill with the reward.
Additionally, you must make sure that your praise immediately follows the desired behavior—timing is key. If not, you may end up rewarding unwanted behaviors which may follow the desired behavior unintentionally. As an example, you are teaching your dog to “sit”. He sits for a moment, but by the time you give him praise and a reward, he’s standing up or jumping. This means you are rewarding his standing or jumping and not his good job sitting.
4. Think about using clicker training. Clicker training involves delivering praise immediately using a clicker device. It is faster to click than to grab a treat or give a head rub. This means clicker training is more effective in reinforcing good behavior since it is geared towards a dog’s fast learning pace. The dog learns to positively connect the clicking sound and rewards. In time, your dog will feel rewarded just by the sound of the clicker device. Clicker training can be used for any dog command.
How this works is you click the clicker device upon the desired behavior, then immediately follow up with a dog treat. This lays the foundation of a positive association with the click. Soon enough, your dog will know he did something correctly just by hearing that sound.
Once he’s consistently performing the desired skill or behavior, you can attach a command name to that behavior. You can tie the command name to the behavior by using the clicker. Say the command, if your dog performs it then immediately click. Your dog will quickly learn that command as a positive behavior.
As an example, before you ever use the “sit” command, make a click sound and give a treat with praise whenever you find your dog sitting. When he starts to sit just to get a treat or head rub, start using the word “sit” to get him into that desired position. Follow that with the click sound to reward him. Eventually, he will connect that when he sits down in response to your “sit” command, he will earn a click reward for a positive behavior.
5. Consistency is key. Your dog will never understand what you expect from him if his environment is lacking in consistency. Every person in your household should understand and be on the same page with his training goals. As an example, you might be training your dog not to jump up on people. The kids in the house cannot allow the dog jump all over them or up at them. This sends mixed signals to the dog and undermines everything you are teaching in your training.
Everyone should be using the exact same commands your dog is learning in his training. Dogs do not speak English, so he doesn’t realize that “sit” and “sit down” mean the same thing. If you use these interchangeably your dog will become confused. He won’t make a connection between one single command and one single action, so expect that to be hit and miss.
6. Success and positive behavior should always be rewarded with praise and, at times, a small treat. These treats will motivate your dog to further learn his training. The treat you choose should be small, easy and fast to chew but very tasty to your dog. Having a large size treat means you will be interrupting your training to allow him to eat the treat and he could also fill up quickly on those larger sized treats. Think about how long it takes your dog to chew up a hard versus softer treat such as “Bill Jack” or “Zuke’s Mini Naturals”. The size of a pencil eraser is a good measure for the perfect reward treat. It gets the point across, won’t fill him up and you won’t have to wait for your dog to finish eating before continuing training.
7. Always train your dog when he has an empty stomach. Skip feeding him a usually large meal a few hours before your training session. Your dog will crave those treats even more if he is hungry and it will give him added motivation to perform the task you are requesting to get the rewards.