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To train a dog can seem like an impossible and daunting task if you have never done it before, and especially if you are not too familiar with what dog training is. You will often see people reaching out in forums for help with how to find a professional dog trainer, but the truth is that there are a lot of things you can teach your dog yourself! Patience and a positive attitude go a long way and working with your dog can help create trust and a stronger bond.
This is a basic guide to what dog training is, what your dog will need to learn (both puppies and adult dogs) and how you can approach of helping your dog become a happy and balanced canine. Dogs want to please their human family members, and it is our job to show them what we need them to do, while still making it a fun and positive experience for everyone involved.
In the world of dog training, there are multiple different dog training methods and beliefs used, and before you get in touch with a trainer or start training yourself – you need to be sure that your own ideas coincide with those of the person’s advice you will be taking. “Positive reinforcement” is something you are likely to hear about the second you start researching, and it is believed to be one of the most effective and humane ways of training a dog.
Positive reinforcement means to focus the training on rewards rather than punishment, and to reward good behavior – whenever the dog follows your direction and successfully completes a task – instead of punishing the dog for failing. Let’s look at three examples to see how this could play out in real life during a training session with your furry friend:
+ You are trying to teach your dog to sit on command, and you are starting to get frustrated after hours of failed attempts. Should you scorch the dog for not sitting when you tell him to? No. With positive reinforcement methods, you should ignore the unsuccessful attempts, remain patient and keep trying, and reward the dog with treats or verbal praise when he finally sits.
+ You and your dog have been working on passing other dogs on walks without barking. It is going well, but then suddenly your dog loses control and lunges after a passing dog. Should this behavior be punished? No. A calm correction is in order, but the trainer should remain tranquil and assertive, and instead focus on rewarding the dog every time you successfully walk past another canine.
+ When housetraining a dog – should you yell at the puppy if they pee on your favorite carpet? No. Don’t punish a dog for making the mistake of peeing or pooping inside, and instead give praise and other suitable rewards whenever they go do their business outside.
The idea is to teach the dog to associate the correct behavior with something positive, as it will make them want to obey you. Dog training based on fear and dominance are very outdated methods that were once believed to be the correct approaches, but research has since shown that positive reinforcement creates a much healthier training atmosphere, a stronger bond between a dog and its owner and quicker training results.
House Training a Puppy
The first thing new dog owners are faced with is usually house training. Nobody wants to step in puppy pee the first thing they do when waking up in the morning, but the only way to prevent it is by teaching your four-legged friend where he or she should be doing their business instead.
This is something all puppy owners have to go through, and also some new owners of adult rescue dogs that might never have had the opportunity to learn, and it is important to know how to get started and what you can do to make the process easier.
The key is to remember that your puppy (or adult dog) is an animal and that they won’t understand what you want them to do unless you show it to them. Dogs don’t pee inside to spite you – they do it because they don’t know where you would rather have them do it.
A common mistake made by new dog owners is to get mad or to take it personally whenever your pup leaves a puddle on the floor, and this only creates a negative atmosphere and frustration on both parts. Stop and ask yourself this – am I sure my dog knows where I expect to urinate and to defecate to take place?
Forget everything you’ve ever heard regarding pushing your dog’s face down in its own urine if they pee inside (…) or spraying water on them with a water bottle. These are sad old beliefs and will only lead to your dog being afraid of you and to the dog feeling confused.
Instead, if your dog happens to do its business inside, ignore it and wipe it up without making a fuss, and try to be more vigilant of when your puppy needs to go outside. This is usually after sleeping, eating and playing, or if you start noticing the puppy walking around in circles sniffing the floor. The next step is to carry the puppy outside, and if he or she pees – rewards and verbal praise is in order!
Focus your energy on when your dog gets it right, and simply ignore it when they do their business inside. If your dog does not ask to go outside to pee, it is not a sign of rebellious behavior, and simply an indication you need to step up your game with the training.
Once your dog has all its shots (talk to your veterinarian about this), you can start taking your furry friend out for walks! Few dogs will walk happily on a leash right away, and they are likely to try to get away from the leash, pull or show other signs of discomfort the first few times.
Some dogs will even refuse to walk the second a harness or collar and a leash comes on, but this is normal, and if you think about it – understandable. How would you react if someone suddenly put a rope around your neck and expected you to walk?
Let your dog get used to the harness or collar first, by allowing them to wear it inside and when playing. Just make sure they can’t get stuck in anything while wearing it, and if they seem reluctant – use treats to help them forget their own discomfort.
There are so many fun ways to train a dog to walk on a leash, but the first step should always be to make them comfortable wearing a harness or a collar. After that, you can start clipping on the leash and let the dog drag it around without being restrained before you pick it up and try to have your pooch follow you in your chosen direction. Avoid pulling or forcing your dog to walk and use praise and treats to reward the expected behavior.
Socializing a dog is also a crucial part of their training, and it can be easy to forget this when you have a new dog! Your dog needs environmental exposure where they learn to function outside in busy environments, without experiencing stress or anxiety, which is usually what feeds unwanted behaviors like barking, evident fear and other signs of aggression.
Take your dog outside to sit on a bench a few times a week and try to see if you can get your pup to sit there and watch the world go by for a few minutes. This will not only teach patience, but it will also give the dog an opportunity to observe and get used to things like large crowds, passing dogs and loud by-passing vehicles.
To socialize a dog is also to expose them to people and different animals. This also requires your dog to be vaccinated, but as soon as they are – you are good to go. Invite friends and family members over to meet your dog in a calm environment, to show them that people are friendly and that it is okay to be handled by humans other than their owners.
Your dog also needs to be taught to interact properly with other dogs, preferably from a young age, and you should try and find suitable dog friends for your dog to meet and play with. A dog park could be a good place to start, but make sure it doesn’t get too overwhelming for your dog, and if so – try to find a reliable dog to meet up with one-on-one and take it from there.
What most people seem to associate with dog training is the practice of teaching a dog tricks and to respond to certain commands with an action. Common basic commands are Sit, Down and Stay, which can all be incredibly useful in your daily life together with your dog.
There are also a variety of tricks you can teach mostly for fun, like for your dog to bark on command, to spin around, shake hands, walk backwards, jump over obstacles or up into your arms and more, but the first thing you should focus on are those first commands that could help keep your pup safe.
When teaching tricks and commands, you use the same methods as when you house train a dog, teach them to walk on a leash, etc. etc. Positive reinforcement. There are excellent videos on YouTube explaining every step of teaching each trick, and one trainer who is a big spokesperson for positive reinforcement methods is a U.S native named Zac George, who previously hosted a show on Animal Planet.
He has since released several books on the subject and has a YouTube channel featuring how-to videos for how to teach a dog to follow certain commands, and it is a great place to start for any dog training newbie.
Clicker training was originally developed by experienced marine mammal trainers, and the purpose was to create a more efficient reward system for good behavior, that would prevent the animal from diving back into the water and swimming away (which was often the case when trainers tried to use punishments).
Positive reinforcement methods proved to be a much better option, and the clicker became a bridge to tell the animal that a reward was coming.
The clicker is a small device with a button, and it produces a loud clicking sound when the button is pushed. This sound does not resemble many other sounds which makes it easy to distinguish for animals, and it is potentially what has made it such a great success. The idea is to click the button in the exact moment that the animal – and in this case the dog – does something correctly, and then to follow up with a treat or verbal praise.
What is so unique about this is that it makes it possible to mark the exact action that your dog is being rewarded for, even if you wish to wait for a few seconds (for example when practicing the Stay command) before giving the actual reward. To clicker train your dog, you can either buy a Clicker or use a verbal command as a replacement for the click.
This could be “good” or “yes” and should always be said in a similar and monotone tone. Many, however, an experience that using an actual clicker is easier. Keep in mind that the click is simply the cue for the dog to know that he has done something right, and not a replacement for a reward or praise.
Correcting Unwanted Behaviors
If your dog has developed bad habits like barking at other dogs, stealing food from the table or pulling on the leash, then behavioral training is what you need. This can be a little trickier and more frustrating than training your dog just for fun, but with positive reinforcement methods, you can reach results a lot faster than you think.
Trainers like Zac George also have videos explaining how to deal with unwanted behaviors, or you could opt for contacting a professional dog trainer in your area.
Professional Training Classes
There is a lot you can teach your dog yourself, but experts recommend taking at least a puppy class with your dog, as it helps with both socialization and with creating a good foundation for future training.
A training class is where you actively participate with your dog, rather than to hand the dog over to someone who will train him for you, and you get to learn how to properly work with your dog.
It is also a chance for you to meet like-minded dog owners and dogs for your pup to play with, so contact your local kennel club to see if they can point you in the right direction for where to find dog training classes in your area.
Ask if the trainer uses positive reinforcement methods before you sign up for the class and if not – look for another. Training with your dog should be fun, not only for you but also for your four-legged friend, so take it slow and enjoy the process!
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