Dog Training Basics

Part I: Create Your Training Plan

Determine Your Dog’s Trainability

Different breeds of dogs are easier to train than others. Some breeds are eager to please, like Poodles, Collies, Shepherds, Retrievers, and Labradors. If done appropriately, these breeds will catch on to the training quickly and be very responsive to training. It is for this reason that these breeds are often seen as sniffing dogs, guide dogs, service dogs, police dogs, or competition dogs. 

Some dogs are less eager to please which can make them harder to train, like Beagles, Rottweilers, Huskies, and Hounds. By determining your dog’s trainability, you can better determine how often you need to repeat a task, and how long between training sessions. For harder to train dogs, repeating the task multiple times in a training session is going to be key for ensuring that they understand the task. Furthermore, more frequent training sessions are going to help solidify that understanding. 

Determine Your Reward System

In training, a reward system has been found to be the most beneficial when training. While breed can factor into this, it varies from dog to dog and trainer to trainer. Some dogs are food motivated, like Labradors or Pitbulls, which can mean training them with kibble or treats will be more successful than verbal affirmations or affection. To determine which reward system to use, determine your dog’s personality. 

What gets them most excited? Do they enjoy physical touch and attention? Are they interested in treats or mealtime? Do they enjoy verbal affirmations? When you determine what motivates your dog, you can use that as your reward system during training. Some trainers also believe in a reward word. For example, when your pet correctly performs a task, you would say “yes” to let them know they did it correctly and then reward them with a treat.

Determine Your Goals

What do you want to train your dog to do? This is going to vary depending on who you are and what you want your dog to do. For many people, they are going to want the same general obedience training: sit, stay, come, and heel. Once you have determined your dog’s level of trainability and the reward system, you can identify your training goals and order them based on what your pet will connect with most. 

This will vary from dog to dog, but ordering your goals will help you in your training plan because each task can be used to help train the next task. Some professionals believe in starting with heel, while others believe in starting with sit. This is entirely up to you, but nearly all agree that sit should come before stay, since most pets often perform stay in a seated position.

Determine Your Training Vocabulary

Each task will require a command word or words. The most logical command word for the task of sit would be the word, “sit.” When choosing a word, try to keep it a short word of one to two syllables. Some tasks, such as stay, can require two command words. The first word will be the command to stay while the second will be a release word to release them from their stay.

In addition to determining your command words for your tasks, you must determine your command voice. Some people choose to make their voice higher, some lower. By changing your tone of voice, you are creating a tone that will capture their attention. One final thing to remember, is to make sure none of your words or inflections on the words sound too similar. For example, if you were to train your dog to lay down, using the command word “lay” may be too confusing because it sounds somewhat similar to the command word “stay.” Consider this when choosing your command words.

Part II: Begin Your Training

Delivering a Command

You have created your training plan and are ready to begin training. To train on a task, you will want to use your command voice, a preparatory command (the dog’s name), the command word, and follow up with your reward system (i.e. treat or kibble, pets, verbal affirmations, a combo of these, etc.). We will be training the basic tasks of sit, heel, come, and stay.

How to Train Sit

Dogs naturally want to sit. Many professionals have learned to train dogs by using the dogs natural movements and desires.

Method 1: If using treat training, hold the treat over the dog’s head so that, in order to see it, they would have to tilt their head back really far, or sit. In order to see the treat and still be agile, the dog will sit to bring the treat into focus.

Method 2: Tap on the dog’s bottom or push the dog’s bottom gently towards the ground.

Method 3: If a dog is reluctant to sit and Method 2 does not work, push on the upper part of the back legs almost parallel to the anus. Some dogs push back when you try Method 2. 

How to Train Heel

When training heel, some people find it helpful to use a harness as this helps to reposition the dog. Heel is a good training tool to teach proper leash manners. 

Method 1: Keeping your dog on one side of you, place the majority of the leash in your opposite side hand. Start walking with the foot on the same side as your dog, give the preparatory command and the command for heel. Do this for a few steps at a time. When your dog walks correctly, dispense your reward. If the dog gets distracted give a gentle tug back to bring them back into the correct position.

Method 2: Using a treat, lure the dog into the correct position, which will be at your side. Only dispense the treat when the dog is in the correct position. Be sure to use the preparatory command followed by the command word. This method also works well with the “yes” reward when the dog does it correctly, followed by a treat. When the dog is in the correct start position, move forward a few steps and attempt to lure the dog to your side again using the commands. The dog should be looking at you and want to follow you. This method works well for dogs who are focused on their owners and recognize their name. 

How to Train Come

Come can be trained on or off leash. This can be training from the comfort of your own home using open spaces, using other rooms, or outside in a larger area. The key to training come to ensure your dog recognizes their name, which is the preparatory command. Training come can also be simultaneously trained with a whistle so that the two are interchangeable. 

Once you have started one of these methods and received positive feedback, increase the distance between you and your dog. When you have successfully performed the task from a further distance, allow your dog to become distracted with something else or move to another room before attempting to perform the task again.

Method 1: This method is trained with a leash. Attached a non-retractable leash to your dog while they are in the sit position. Begin to move away saying the preparatory command followed by the command for come. When the dog follows you, dispense the reward. This  method works well along with the reward word “yes” to reinforce the correct behavior. 

Method 2: This method can be taught off leash in a closed space (dog park, yard, house). This method can also be taught using a whistle so that the two can be interchangeable. Use the preparatory command to get the dog’s attention and/or whistle. When you have the dog’s attention give the command for come and kneel/crouch down to their level. When they correctly perform the task and come over to you, stand back up and dispense the reward.

Method 3: This method can be taught on or off leash as it is designed to be taught in close quarters. This method can be taught beginning with your dog in the sit position, or by getting your dog’s attention (by calling their name). Show your dog a treat or a favorite toy close to them. Use the preparatory command and, while back away from them, say come. When the dog follows you dispense the reward. This method works well with the reward word “yes” to reinforce the behavior.

How to Train Stay

To train the task of stay, this often requires both a command to start the task and a command to release the task. Some people use the release command of “okay,” or “come.” You should decide on which commands to use prior to training this task and maintain the release word throughout the training. Remember to not use a command word that is similar to another command word, so if you use the command word “come” for training come, you should not also use it for training the task of stay. If training hand commands for this position, be sure to train the hand command and the command word at the same time so that they are interchangeable.

Method 1: Begin with your dog in the sit position. Stand in front of your dog and give the preparatory command followed by the command. Take a step backward and maintain eye contact while you repeat the task commands. Hold for a few seconds while maintaining eye contact. Give the release word and dispense the reward. Repeat this method to get further and further away. Be sure to repeat the task commands as you create distance to reinforce the behavior.

Method 2: This method is almost exactly the same with the change that instead of increasing distance you increase the time. Some trainers find this method more effective as it teaches the dog the behavior of maintaining the position for longer periods of time before introducing the distance because it allows the dog to more easily maintain eye contact which keeps their attention on you. This method works well for dogs who can become easily distracted as it forces them to maintain that eye-to-eye connection. 

Method 3: This method is a combination of Method 1 and Method 2. This method is great for dogs who know their name and are not easily distracted. This method also works well when trained with a hand command. This is because, as you increase the distance and eye contact is more difficult to maintain, the dog can still see the hand command which helps to reinforce the verbal command. Be sure to train a release hand command as well.

Tips

Tip #1: Keep your training sessions short. 10 – 15 minutes or less works best. 

Tip #2: Do at least 3 training sessions a day. You can do more, for example, some puppies will go out 4-5 times a day. Each potty time can double as a training session for come, sit, and heel

Tip #3: Patience and positivity. Patience is going to be key to making sure your dog is loyal and responsive. Getting frustrated or negative is going to make your dog shy away from things. Positivity and positive affirmations are going to be far more effective than negative punishment. 

Tip #4: If you want to train hand signals and verbal command, use the hand motion as you say the command word. For example, if you want to train sit with the command word “sit” and the hand motion of a fist, make the fist only when you say “sit.