A quick google search will turn up about a bazillion results for the best way to train your dog. How do you know which way to go?? There are many, many different schools of thought and techniques on the best practices for training a puppy or dog. So many different ways and techniques that I think most people simply just “roll over” because they’re overwhelmed and don’t know where to start.
We have found the best way to help owners train their pups, no matter their age, is by using lots and lots of positive reinforcements and very little negative. Dogs love their people and really want to please them so these methods will get you fast tracking to a good, responsive dog. And best of all, this works will ALL ages of dogs. We often show new puppy clients a few of these at one of their first puppy visits. Puppies as early as 5-6 weeks can learn the basics of coming to their name, sit, and heel. What fun! Older pets and adoptions can learn new tricks with these techniques too.
“What is the amazing system and do I have to watch some late night infomercial to get it”, you ask?? Nope and Nope!
The secret is to use a special food reward. Yep, that’s it. Well, there’s a bit more to it than that but the reward is the touchstone of these methods. Most, like 90% of dogs will work for some sort of food reward. Labs often will work for their kibble and a super excited “Good puppy, Duke!!” from you. Other breeds might be a bit fussier with their food reward and need something fancier.
Step 1: Find the reward your pup goes nuts for. We do recommend a food reward. There has been a ton of science done of using food as a reward for dogs and it is overwhelmingly positive (get it? Positive! Sorry, got carried away there) Victoria Stillwell has a great blog post on using food. (Read it here: https://positively.com/dog-training/positive-training/using-food-in-training/
Play around with this. Try some commercial products or make your own with chicken, beef, cheese or liver. And make a note of which ones are the high value ($$$$) treats and which are lower value ($) to your pet. This is important information. With many dogs, you can start with a medium value reward for most basic things and save the $$$$ for more difficult tasks. With older pets that you are “retraining” or modifying some behavior the reward will need to have a high, high value.
Step 2: Get over your inhibitions about giving your pet a food and vocal reward. This maybe should be step #1. Your dog has NO idea about what you want him to do. When you lavish the praise on him for something as easy as bounding over to you and sitting down, he will soon figure this gig out and work very hard for what type of reward is available. Dogs don’t know or speak our regular language. YOU MUST BECOME A TRANSLATOR. And honey does catch way more flies than vinegar.
Most people get hung up on this because they’re worried about spoiling their dog. Okay, what’s better?
- A dog who bounds across the yard to look at you adoringly, sits nicely when people come to your house and doesn’t knock older people and kids to the ground OR
- A dog who runs from you, jumps around and is generally a pain to be around?
You get the idea. And, really, if you can’t spoil your dog, what’s left in life??
Step 3: Decide what lesson you are going to work on today and set a timer for about 3 minutes. Let’s start with the pup’s name. This is a great place to start. We love when pets come in the clinic and they know their name. It’s super cool to see their ears go up and tails wag when you say “Hi Molly”.
Put a very small piece of treat in your fingers and holding your fingers right in front of the puppy say her name. When she looks at you, usually, licking your fingers for the reward, give it to her and tell her she is AMAZING! Depending on the puppy, you could move to sitting or coming when called or just quit for this session. Keep you sessions super short at first. You can do 3-5 short little times each day. This keeps it fun and new for the puppy or dog.
Here is a very short video by Ian Dunbar showing how he trains a dog to sit. Watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q1W_3CDVVqo I love this video. Look at how easy this is! And it is just that easy. We use this technique in the clinic with every puppy, every day and usually get these same results. The biggest reasons this isn’t working for you are
- Your puppy isn’t hungry
- You are giving the reward either too early or too late
- You aren’t consistent with the reward.
- You haven’t found the $$$$ reward for your puppy.
This technique works for many different commands such as come here, sit, down, and heel. Best of all, everyone in your family can do this. What fun!!
The easiest way to teach your dog to come to everyone in the family can be done this way. You can do this in the house or outside. Put a long leash or rope on the dog’s collar, sit in a circle with the dog in the middle of all of you. Toss the leash to a family member. That person calls the dog and tugs gently on the line. When the dog responds and come give the reward and lots of praise. Repeat. This is a great game for the dog and they catch on pretty fast.
In this video, Mr. Dunbar shows how to use a food reward to teach a dog to lay down. Check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0I0O6ktNJuA
Dr. Sophia Yin was a veterinarian and animal behaviorist. She had an amazing ability to connect with dogs and cats. Her website is full of great tips and strategies to help you in your quest to have a fabulous relationship with your pet. She has many books available too. You can see her work here: https://drsophiayin.com/philosophy/ A quote from her website says it all: “The dominance approach creates an atmosphere of competition and fear between the human and pet. This fear will eventually ruin the relationship.”
Patricia McConnell is an animal behaviorist too. Her book, http://www.patriciamcconnell.com/store/The-Other-End-of-the-Leash.html is one of my all time favorites! And not just because the book cover is sooooo much fun! It’s chock full of good tips to help you see the world from your dog’s perspective. Check out her entire site for more cool stories, blogs and tips here: http://www.patriciamcconnell.com/
On of the easiest ways to help teach your dog to walk nicely on the leash is the Gentle Leader head halter. This quote if from their website: “The Gentle Leader® is a non-punishing, headcollar designed to humanely assist in training and managing your dog’s behavior, but can also be used as an all-purpose collar. It is very effective in controlling dogs that pull on a lead.
Scientific literature abounds with data as to the effectiveness of reinforcement-induced training. The non-punishing design of the Gentle Leader® encourages handlers to concentrate on positive reinforcement methods of training while fully complying with the basic principles of learning. It complies with our goals of training in that it is non punishing. (Pain is not produced so aggression is not aggravated and the dog’s trachea is not endangered.) It encourages the use of reward based training. It proves to be pleasant and fun for the dog and should be for the handler. This enhances harmony with our dogs and leads to an increase in the human-animal bond, a goal which as canine enthusiasts we all want to achieve.”
The head collar comes with a video showing you how to put it on your dog and tips on how to best use this. We recommend this for most large breed puppies, puppies who don’t want to “look” at their owners and adult dogs who drag their people around ruthlessly. Well, and anyone else who wants to use it!
You can learn more about this tool here: https://www.gentleleadercanada.com/
We are committed to helping you on this journey. Give us a call at the clinic with any questions that you might have. You can come in and look at some of these books to see which might help you the most and visit with us about what your goals are and where you are stuck right now. We can also watch you and your pup interact to help you create a stronger bond.
Send us any videos of your success using the rewards! We love happy pup videos! Let us know what techniques are working the best for you and how you have implemented them. This way others can try what’s worked for you.
Good luck out there. Keep Calm and Reward on!!!