Owning a dog can be one of the most rewarding and fun experiences in your life. The best part of the experience is developing the relationship with your canine companion. I love talking with people that have had their dog for a long time and they can tell how their dog is feeling just by looking him in the eyes. People and dogs have an innate connection and a bond that only grows stronger with time and love.
The most important things to remember about your dog are that his world revolves around you, and that he is a product of his environment. Remembering that you are his world will help give you patience if he is having trouble learning commands, understanding when he misbehaves, and compassion when he is going through something scary like a vet visit.
Importance of Training
Training your dog to obey commands is important for many different reasons, the most important of which is for his safety. Imagine you take your dog outside in the front yard to do his business and he manages to slip his collar and runs toward the busy street. Having a reliable “Stop” or “Sit” command would come in quite handy to avoid the dangers of the street and saving you a heart attack in the process.
Other important reasons to properly train your dog could be avoiding bathroom accidents in the house, having him calmly greet guests rather than jumping up and scratching/injuring people, or even something as simple as not begging at the table.
Personally, I started training diligently with my girls with the intent of teaching them novel commands such as “Roll Over” and “Play Dead” and “Fetch me a beer” (still working on that last one).
Benefits of Training
I have found that there is a wide range of benefits to training your dog. I am going to simplify that into three main benefits: (1) bonding between the two of you, (2) mental stimulation for your dog, (3) a well-behaved dog for you.
Bonding: I can tell you from experience there is nothing that establishes a bond quicker or more effectively than teaching your dog commands. When we first adopted our dog Molly, she had been living on her own for awhile and had zero training. During the first few days that we had her, she would follow my wife everywhere and was “her dog”. She barely gave me the time of day. On day 4, I sent my wife out of the house on a walk with our other dog, so I could have some one-on-one time to begin Molly’s training. We started with a simple “Sit” command. After approximately 10 minutes, she grasped the ideas of (a) receiving commands and (b) following them for a reward. Since that day, Molly has been “my dog” and she is my little shadow around the house.
Mental Stimulation: most dogs have excess energy and it needs to be relieved somehow. Many people believe the only way to get rid of the excess energy is to take their dog for a walk/run and burn the energy off physically. What you may not realize is that mental stimulation works just as well, if not better, than a physical workout. After just a 15 minute training session, my girls are about the same level of tired as they are when we go for a 2 mile walk (keep in mind I have poodles which are a high energy dog breed). The training doesn’t necessarily need to be command training either. It can be quite fun to play Hide and Seek with them (how to do this will be covered in a later post). Anything that makes your dog think will wear them out in no time. Remember, a tired dog is a happy dog.
Well-behaved Dog: this is probably why most of you are here. You want to have a well-behaved dog that you can count on to listen and obey your commands. You want to have a dog that is polite to your guests and brings pride to your heart. All of this is entirely possible, and I am here to help.
Things to Remember While Training
- Keep training sessions short, especially when learning a brand new command. Less than 10 minutes at a time. Longer training sessions can cause your dog to become frustrated or bored. You need to make it fun for him so he wants to do it every day.
- When using treats as rewards, less is more. Choose smaller, lower fat treats so your dog doesn’t become overweight. As he gets better at the command, phase out the food rewards.
- Always use positive reinforcement whether that is treats, belly rubs, etc. As you develop your obedience training skills and get to know your dog you will find out what best motivates him.
- When starting out with a new command, minimize distractions for the dog. Put away his toys, turn down the TV/stereo, and put away his food dish. As he gets better at the command, you will slowly make it harder by adding back these distractions.
- Keep a log of the hand signals you use for each command. Same goes for verbal commands. The more consistent you are in your training, the better the results will be.
- As your dog gets better at a command, practice the three D’s: Distance, Duration, and Distractions. Keep increasing all three as you go, and you will get a reliable reaction to the command.
I want to leave you with some parting thoughts and things to keep in mind as we begin this journey together.
- This is a marathon, not a sprint. Be realistic in your expectations of your dog. Results will come to those who are consistent.
- Be patient and supportive of them even when they fail. Hilariously and often. Be okay with that.
- Never strike them. They don’t know any better and hitting them will only break down the trust they have in you.
- Set ground rules. If you don’t like a behavior, it’s okay to say No and correct it.
- Most dogs are food/treat motivated. If you are going to use training treats, purchase the lower fat versions so your little pooch doesn’t become a little pudge.
- Start small. Little victories can have a big impact.
Until next time,
Founder – Dog Training Tips