Some dogs pick up on training cues easier than others and some dogs require training throughout their life to stay engaged. Regardless of which bucket your puppy falls into, training sessions are important. Here are a few valuable dog training tips to help you out:
1. Make Sure They Are Getting Plenty of Exercise
When dogs don’t get enough exercise or get bored, they can start exhibiting some less than desirable behaviors. Destructive behavior, overactive behavior, and more are all signs your dog isn’t getting enough exercise. And, it can make them distracted and unable to focus during training sessions as well.
Start by making sure your dog is getting plenty of physical and mental exercise. Not only does this take care of some behavioral issues, but it also puts your dog in a calmer state. This can make training specific commands a little easier since there are fewer distractions and your dog won’t be trying to expend extra energy.
2. Create and Follow Structured Routines
Giving your dog some structure and getting them used to routines is a great way to reinforce training. Incorporating structured downtime into your dog’s day after a romp outside or other exercise starts training them to settle down during certain times or while doing certain tasks.
A routine helps you set expectations and boundaries for your dog throughout the day. It can also help them adjust to changes better as well. In addition to helping with training, one of the tips for moving with a dog is to keep routines in place as it can help them become more comfortable in a new place faster.
3. Reward Good Behavior Consistently
Just as structure, routines, and puppy training classes help your dog reinforce training, consistency does the same. If you consistently reward the behavior you want, your dog will begin to exhibit more and more of the desired behavior over time. Usually, this results in more of the desired behavior and less of the undesired behavior.
Another thing to consider with consistency is ensuring everyone in the household, and perhaps even visitors too, are on board with training the dog. Everyone should be following the same rules and using the same cues for rewarding good behavior and avoiding the reward of unwanted behavior. Inconsistencies can confuse your dog and annoy your dog, while consistency sets clear expectations.
Also, praise, pets, and attention may only go so far. Since many dogs are inherently food-motivated, don’t be afraid to use treats to further reward the behavior you want, especially during training. If you’re worried about overfeeding or unhealthy treats, you can also make your own healthier treats at home or substitute standard dog treats with some of the best fruits and veggies for dogs.
4. Avoid Reinforcing Unwanted Behavior
Behaviors that are rewarded and reinforced are behaviors that are more likely to be repeated. So, in addition to rewarding good behavior, you also want to avoid rewarding or reinforcing unwanted behavior. A reward or reinforcement is any time the dog gets what they want or need at the moment.
Example: Inadvertently Reinforcing Leash Pulling
So, if you’re on the way to the dog park and your dog is pulling on the leash as you approach, what they want at that moment is to get to the dog park faster. However, if pulling on the leash is an unwanted behavior for you, you will want to avoid rewarding it.
This is one of the biggest leash training tips. If you speed up in reaction to your dog pulling on the leash, you have reinforced the behavior of pulling on the leash to get somewhere faster for your dog. Instead, stop moving, call your dog to return to you, and only start moving again when your dog has stopped pulling.
Be Aware of Small Reinforcements That Encourage Unwanted Behaviors
Small reinforcements like this are sometimes how dogs end up learning to beg at the table or wherever someone is eating, jumping up, barking, and a plethora of other potentially unwanted behaviors.
You can always train your dog not to beg or jump up or bark or whatever, but it will be more difficult to train them out of learned behavior instead of keeping them from learning that it is okay or encouraged in the first place.
Don’t Encourage Behavior in Puppies You Won’t Appreciate in a Grown Dog
This is especially important to remember with puppies. It’s easy to forget that a tiny, adorable puppy is going to quickly grow into a larger, still adorable dog. Some of the cute habits you’re allowing your puppy to form now might not be so cute when they are bigger.
For example, playing with hands or howling with your puppy can easily become unwanted learned behaviors. It’s cute when a tiny puppy plays with your hands; it’s not so cute when a fully-grown dog with adult teeth does it.
Puppy howls can be adorable at times, but excessive barking and howling are not. Think about the interactions you have with your puppy and identify any reinforcement of bad habits. Then, start training for better behavior before bad habits start forming.
5. Teach Your Dog a Better Way
Stopping unwanted behavior and rewarding good behavior is one thing, but it isn’t enough by itself. When you begin to stop unwanted behavior, you also have to teach your dog a better way to get what they want. Then, you reward that behavior over the unwanted behavior. This will start to replace the behavior you’re trying to stop with the desired behavior instead.
Let’s say your dog tends to jump up on visitors and you would like to train your dog to stop jumping up. Instead of jumping up, you can teach your dog to sit or lay down. As you reward the sitting or laying down when visitors come over, your dog will start to exhibit that behavior more often.
The other side of this is ensuring that jumping up does not get rewarded or reinforced. Petting or giving your dog attention while they are jumping up reinforces the behavior as it gives them what they want while they are exhibiting the unwanted behavior.
6. Pick Your Battles
As you’re training your dog out of bad habits, you’ll want to take into account each one and what reward they’re getting out of it. Then, you may want to pick your battles. Some dog owners aren’t worried about their dog pulling on the leash and are more focused on something else, like excessive barking or jumping up.
Pick the habits you actually care about changing and focus on changing the behavior-reward association for those. Then, continually reinforce good behavior in general throughout your dog’s life.
7. Use Clicker Training
Using a clicker in combination with rewards can help train your dog faster and more efficiently. By using the clicker for dog training* (Amazon Affiliate Link), you can help your dog associate a specific command with the desired behavior and a reward more quickly.
In some cases, clicker training can cut down training time by a third! It can also result in higher retention rates as well. Clickers can be helpful as you teach your dog nose targeting, other commands, and more. It can also help transition more smoothly from a clicker to a voice command and even into nonverbal hand signals.
2 Steps to Get Started with Clicker Training
There are generally two steps to starting with clicker training:
1. Clicker to Reward Association
You must first make sure your dog understands that when they hear the sound of the clicker, a reward is going to be given. Start out by getting your dog’s attention, click once, and then give them a treat. You will be able to tell when the dog gets it because if you click from across the yard, they will come running for their reward.
2. Making Sure the Timing is Right
After the association is made, timing is your only hurdle. Making sure that you are clicking right as the correct behavior/action is being performed is the key.
If you fail to click at the right time, it can be confusing to your dog when it comes to which specific behavior is related to the click and the subsequent reward. Depending on your dog, it may be better not to click at all if it won’t be on time.
8. Start and End Training Sessions Positively
Good training sessions help teach your dog new things and reinforce things they have been learning, but they are also bonding time with your dog. You want your dog to look forward to training sessions and enjoy them; you also want to keep your dog engaged during training sessions.
If you make them a positive experience, then your dog will be more excited to work with you during them. Start with some praise and a treat or two to get them ready, reward them throughout for desired behavior, and then end the sessions on a good note too.
Set aside some time at the end for another treat, a lot of praise, and some dedicated time and cuddles. This helps keep training a positive bonding experience that your dog looks forward to.
With these dog training tips on your side, your puppy will start off building good habits and behaviors. And, you might even be able to teach your older dog some new tricks.
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