Bringing home a new dog will fill your house with the fun and love that only a canine pal can provide. Unfortunately, an untrained dog can put a serious damper on that joy. When your dog is out of control, pet ownership turns into a constant headache.
A disobedient, destructive dog is every owner’s worst nightmare. Picture your couch cushions ripped, your flooring torn up and your walls scratched. Dog hair is everywhere it’s not supposed to be, and constant barking interrupts your favorite shows.
When your dog constantly misbehaves, your friends no longer want to come over for fear that your dog will jump up on them, and your neighbors constantly yell about your pup getting into their yards. For the sake of your relationships–and your own sanity–you have to get your dog under control.
The good news is that every dog can be a well-trained, obedient pooch. No puppy was born knowing what it would take to obey. Rather, they grew into well-behaved dogs because someone invested the time to help them get that way.
With the same sort of time investment, your dog can be the best pup on the block. Teaching obedience is a process, but the following dog training tips will get you started. Before you know it, your friends will be asking you how to train a dog.
1. Keep stress at bay with positive words.
The first thing to remember is that training your dog isn’t always going to go as smoothly as you would like. I say this not to discourage you, but to help keep things realistic. There are times that the process will frustrate you.
How you talk about training can make all the difference in your attitude, however. Resolve to speak positively to and about your dog. Not only will you as the trainer benefit from this resolution, but your dog will pick up on your low-stress attitude, too.
2. Fit training into your life with short sessions throughout the day.
Training isn’t a one-time thing. You can’t expect to devote eight hours of your weekend to the process and then be finished with it. Not only will the lessons not stick with your dog, but you won’t have effectively demonstrated that obedience should be part of daily life.
Instead, do your training in short snippets each and every day. By keeping your sessions short, you’ll take advantage of when your dog is most alert and ready to learn, rather than wasting your time trying to force your dog to train when he’s no longer up for it. Plus, short sessions are easier to fit into a busy schedule.
Related: How to Potty Train a Puppy
3. Prepare your dog to respond by teaching him his name.
Selecting your dog’s name is both a privilege and a responsibility. Once you pick the perfect moniker, it’s time to help your dog learn to respond to it. Used properly, it will be a word that your dog associates with love and good things.
Animal behavior consultant Sherry Woodard recommends using plenty of treats when you are teaching your dog to respond to her name. Call her name just once in a happy voice; then, give her a treat and some good attention when she responds. Repeat this quick game again and again.
4. Teach your dog to come, since you’ll use this command regularly.
Every day, you’re going to need to get your dog to go where you want her to go. If she doesn’t understand the command to come, then you’ll either have to prod her along or break down and carry her.
Having a dog who comes right away when called is so much easier. The Humane Society recommends a game to teach this skill. Put your dog on a leash, say, “Come!” and then back up until your dog catches up to you. When she arrives, give her a reward and enthusiastically exclaim, “Yes!”
5. Get your family on board, so everyone is working together.
Dogs need consistency. The rules in your house should be the same, whether the pooch is hanging with you, your partner or your kids.
A family meeting to outline the behaviors that you expect from your dog is a good start. Then, make the training a group effort, in which everyone encourages good actions and corrects misbehavior. Everybody should use the same words and signals to communicate with the dog.
6. Issue specific commands that communicate what you want.
Your dog doesn’t speak English, so he doesn’t need a lengthy diatribe on proper behavior. Get the point with quick commands.
Specific words will let your dog know exactly what you expect. Dog expert Cesar Millan recommends teaching your dog to respond to “sit,” “come,” “down,” “stay” and “leave it.”
Use these words more often than the less specific “no,” which your dog might find open to interpretation. These specific commands let your pup know exactly what behavior your expect.
7. Encourage good behavior by giving positive attention.
When you see your dog doing something right, let him know it. Speak your approval to him in a cheerful voice. Reward him with something that’s meaningful to him.
Conversely, pay less attention to negative behavior. Sometimes disobedience must be addressed, but downplay the amount of reaction your pup gets from you when he does something wrong. He will learn to associate good behavior with your affection.
8. Figure out what your dog likes, so you can reward accordingly.
Just like people, dogs each have a unique personality with individual likes and dislikes. Rewards that your dog truly loves will be the most effective. Just because your friend’s pup adores a certain brand of crunchy canine treats, that’s no guarantee that your dog will also be a fan.
Get to know your dog and his desires. It’s good for your relationship and will also make training easier. Some dogs love treats; others prefer a loving pat or a toy.
9. Follow through, so your dog knows that you mean what you say.
If you tell your dog not to sit on the couch, but then let her up there three times out of four, she’ll rightly think that it’s okay for her to lounge on the couch. Be clear with yourself about what the expectations are, and enforce those guidelines regularly.
Don’t let her nudging, barking or whining encourage you to slack off. If you give in just because she’s being a nuisance, she’ll learn that that’s all it takes to get her own way.
10. Respond to your dog’s behavior right away, so it’s fresh in his mind.
If I did something you didn’t like, I’d prefer that you tell me right away, rather than stewing over it all day before you finally burst with anger. Your dog deserves that same courtesy.
According to Canidae, a dog’s short term memory is only about five minutes long. If you wait to discipline your dog for an infraction, he probably won’t remember what he did. This makes the discipline not only unfair but also ineffective.
11. Show respect to your dog by paying attention to his signals.
Your dog’s body language is how she communicates with you. To develop a strong relationship with your dog, you have to understand what she’s saying to you.
Modern Dog Magazine describes a dog with upright ears, an open mouth and a down tail as relaxed and ready to be approached. For more information on canine body language, watch Doggy Dan’s video on the topic.
12. Offer chew toys as an outlet for your dog’s need to bite.
Chewing is a normal dog activity, but don’t take that to mean that your dog should be allowed to gnaw on you, your shoes or your furniture. Direct that behavior to toys and chew bones instead.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals advises maintain your dog’s interest in these items by rotating them out regularly.
13. Set limits that can grow as your dog matures.
When you bring a new dog home, he doesn’t need to be given free reign of the entire house. Give him a smaller, secure area to explore at first. Choose a space that won’t be easily damaged by an untrained dog, and close off other areas with doors or gates.
As your dog becomes more comfortable in your home and has demonstrated trustworthy behavior, open up more of your home to her.
14. Give your dog the appropriate amount of energy with the right food.
Your athletic, outdoor dog won’t be up to running and playing with you if her diet isn’t providing enough fuel for those activities. Likewise, a less active dog will become overweight if fed more calories than she can burn off. Feed your dog for the activity level you expect from her.
According to Lisa Hanks, the most active dogs need a diet with a high percentage of fat and protein. She also recommends consulting your dog’s veterinarian for a personalized recommendation.
15. Let your dog have a space of his own for down time.
Pedigree advises that every dog be given his own bed that he shares with no other person or pet. Once he learns to relax calmly in this area, he’ll appreciate the downtime. To teach him to rest quietly in his bed, offer him rewards for relaxing in that spot.
16. Remember that realistic expectations will keep discouragement at bay.
Dog training isn’t an overnight process, and sometimes you might feel that you aren’t making much progress. Although some training programs might advertise that your pup will be fully obedient after just six lessons, Neil Sattin points out that training is a lifelong process.
Sometimes your dog will obey just as you wish, and other times getting good behavior out of her might be more of a struggle. It doesn’t mean that she’s a bad dog or that you’re a bad owner. It just means that you’re both still a work in progress.
17. Get expert help by turning to a professional.
No one loves your pooch like you do, but sometimes you need a hand. If training isn’t going well, don’t force yourself to stick it out on your own. A professional trainer will ease your stress and provide the help that you need.
The Association of Professional Dog Trainers suggests conducting an interview with a potential trainer to learn whether his or her methodology blends with your dog-rearing philosophy. For more help on how to pick a trainer, watch this helpful video from expert Zak George about what not to look for in a professional.
Time to Start Teaching Your Dog New Tricks
Training your dog will take perseverance, but if you keep at it every day, your dedication will pay off. For the best results, keep in mind your furry friend’s personality, his body language and his physical needs. Teach your dog that you mean what you say, and resolve to always keep a positive attitude.
The process can feel overwhelming, so start small. Teach your dog his name and “come,” followed by a few other simple commands. As he learns, increase your expectations and also your trust in him.
And, of course, if you need help, turn to an expert, who can help you and your dog become the very best pair you can be.