How to Train a Dog in 7 Easy Steps
Are you interested in training dogs? Do you know how to train a dog in obedience, agility, or just to do tricks? Do you need help with potty training a dog or dog behavior problems? These seven steps are the foundation for all dog training objectives.
Small breed dogs are eager to please their owners. Learn to take advantage of this human/dog relationship. You’ll be surprised at how “smart” your dog is when YOU learn how to train dogs properly.
Step 1: What Do You Want To Accomplish?
Since you are reading this article, you probably need help with training dogs. The good news is you are already working on the first step – knowing what you want to accomplish and setting dog training goals!
Dogs have been trained as working dogs, competitors in sports, human guides, therapy dogs, and even search & rescue dogs. There are several different dog training methods and levels of training.
Several books are available to learn specialized dog training techniques. This article is a basic guide for training dogs that sets the foundation of all other training.
It doesn’t matter what BIG goals you choose, you’ll want to learn to focus on small goals when working with your dog. That’s the first lesson in our guide for training dogs.
FOCUS ON SMALL GOALS
By focusing on one small goal, your dog will start to associate commands, rewards, and behavior. Start with one goal and then, go to the next.
You may want to start with these six basic obedience training commands: No, Sit, Stay, Down, Heel, and Release.
Learning basic obedience commands will give you and your dog confidence – a sense of accomplishment! You will begin to communicate with a common language.
You will start moving toward more advanced training as your bond and confidence grow.
Teaching your dog all six commands is too large of a task for one training session, however. Remember to focus on small goals while training dogs.
Your goal for one session might be to teach her how to sit with a food reward. In a later training session, you might have the goal of getting her to sit without constant food reinforcements.
Step 2: Have Fun Training Your Dog
No guide for training dogs should leave out the important aspect of having fun. After all, if you’re not having fun…it’s work! You and your dog will enjoy your training sessions if you have fun.
ENJOY YOUR TRAINING SESSIONS
Dog training is a time to bond with your dog. It’s a time reinforce leadership and the security of your dog. She looks up to you as the leader and will cherish moments when just the two of you share time together.
Step 3: Short Training Sessions
Step 3 in our guide for training dogs is to keep training sessions short. Do you remember being in first grade and watching the clock for recess? You just couldn’t “learn” anymore right then. It was time to do more important things like play on the monkey bars.
Put this image in your mind before you start training. Although your small breed dog is eager to please you, she will learn more if you keep the sessions short. Teach, observe the behavior, reinforce the behavior…go out to recess!
KEEP TRAINING SESSIONS SHORT!
Seriously, five minute sessions are more effective than longer attempts. This is only a guide for training dogs, but I’m sure you’ll appreciate the shorter sessions as well. You’ll experience less frustration from your dog getting confused and not following through with desirable behavior.
None of us learned how to read and write in one day. Our grade school teachers broke it down for us with short goals like learning the alphabet (step 1). They taught us to learn by having fun (step2). I remember the big shoe at school where I was taught in a fun way how to tie my own shoes.
They taught us in short training sessions (step 3) until we were ready to go to the next level. Your dog will learn in much the same way you learned as a child.
Step 4: Remember, Timing is Everything!
Here’s another golden gem in your guide for training dogs: reward desirable behavior as it is being done or within 3 seconds. If you want to see this principle in action, watch a dog show competition. You will see rewards given immediately.
Your dog doesn’t speak your language. She must learn through associations. The closer the reward to the desired behavior, the quicker she will associate the reward with the behavior.
Here’s an example of common training error made by pet owners when trying to potty train their puppy. Sally comes home from work and finds that Noodles did not use the papers by the door or wait for Sally to come home. Sally looks at Noodles and tells her in stern voice that she is a bad girl. Noodles lowers her head and whimpers.
Has Noodles learned anything in this example? Yes. She learns that Sally is not happy with her. Sally just got home. Noodles is excited to see her. Sally doesn’t appear happy to see her. The next time Sally comes home, Noodles may hide. Noodles may learn to fear Sally’s arrival. And, the undesirable elimination habits may continue. (Hey, Sally needs a guide for training dogs!)
Noodles could not associate Sally’s displeasure with Noodle’s urinating on the floor early that morning. Too much time had elapsed.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
Ok, now for a good example of timing. Suzy takes Boco outside, and Boco starts urinating. As Boco is performing the desired behavior, Suzy praises him. Suzy tells him he is a good boy.
Suzy gives Boco a treat or lots of petting and praise immediately after Boco is done. He now starts to associate eliminating outside with the positive rewards Suzy gives him when he does. Timing is everything. (Suzy must have read our guide on training dogs!)
Step 5: Rewards Are Lures
What is a reward? A reward is something that you give to your dog to reinforce a desired behavior. As we mentioned in step 4 of your guide for training a dog, it’s important to reward appropriate behavior in a timely fashion…even better if you can do it while the dog is performing the behavior.
Let’s go a step further. Think of your “rewards” as LURES. You will use a reward to lure your dog into performing a specific behavior. If you want to train your dog to sit, hold a treat in front of her nose and slowly raise it up and back.
THINK OF REWARDS AS LURES
Your dog will keep her eyes on the treat. As you move the treat up, her head goes up. When you slowly move the treat back, she sits to be able to keep her eyes on the treat. You are successfully using the reward to “lure” her into performing the behavior you desire.
When do you give her the treat? That’s right! Reward her with a treat as she is going down into the sitting position. Reinforce the desired behavior and repeat the process. Oh, that takes us to the next step: repetition.
Step 6: Repetition! Repetition! Repetition!
Reinforce desirable behavior and repeat the process. Oh, I said that already, huh? Repeat the process. Dogs, like humans, learn through repetition.
REPEAT THE PROCESS
Any dog can learn new behaviors. It doesn’t matter whether you have a new puppy or rescued an unruly mutt. The key is consistency in the first five steps of our guide for training dogs, and repeating the process until she demonstrates acceptable performance.
Step 7: Variety & Imagination
The seventh and final step of our guide for training dogs is to use variety and imagination.
Use variety in where you train your dog, what you ask of her, and how you reward her. Random rewards will bring better results.
When you first start training your dog a new command, try to keep the training area consistent. This will help her stay focused. For example, you might start to teach her the sit command in front of her water bowl.
Once she has the sit command down in that location, introduce a new location with the same command. Dogs have a slightly different association than humans. They must be trained how to recognize a command’s meaning in different environments. “Sit” in the kitchen means the same as “sit” when we’re in the living room.
VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF LIFE
Use variety in what commands you are using as well. Remember to keep your training sessions short. Try the sit command, and then, switch to come. Without variety, she may get bored with the same request, especially if she doesn’t quite understanding your pleas.
Finally, use a variety of rewards (i.e. food treats, verbal or physical praise such as petting, a toy or ball, or a click from a clicker.) As your dog learns a command, do not reward her every time. Random rewards create better results. You’re the “leader,” and you get to say when a reward is given.
We hope you enjoyed our short training session! Our reward to you for visiting this webpage is a list of books to start your dog training library.
By the way, the Animal Behavior College offers classes to get certified in training dogs if you want to train professionally. Good luck…and remember to have FUN!