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. Plenty of Exercise
When dogs don’t get enough exercise or get bored, they can start exhibiting some less than desirable behaviors. 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. 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.
3. Reward Good Behavior Consistently
Just as structure and routines 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 desirable 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 cause confuse your dog, while consistency sets clear expectations.
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. 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 the dog park faster.
However, if pulling on the leash is an unwanted behavior for you, you will want to avoid rewarding it. 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. 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.
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 a desired behavior with the one you’re trying to stop.
Let’s say your dog tends to jump up on visitors and you would like to stop this behavior. 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 a 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. 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 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.
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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