Having a well-trained dog means that you can go places together and enjoy a great social life with your friends as well as fun adventures in the great outdoors that further enhance that wonderful human-animal bond.
Training really begins the moment you place a leash on your dog’s collar or harness.
“Consider it a connection tool,” says dog trainer Irith Bloom, CPDT-KSA, CBCC-KA, CDBC, CSAT, CBATI, FFCP, faculty at the Victoria Stilwell Academy. “Using positive reinforcement to teach your dog while on leash is one good way to help the dog stay connected with you even when other interesting things are happening.” Since dogs can find things humans do odd, and, walking on a leash is not intuitive, start leash training by teaching your dog that when the leash is around, they get treats. Do the same thing with the harness.
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Because it’s going to take a lot of incentivizing treats at this stage, and, as you progress, it’s important to reward with tiny, low-calorie treats. Zuke’s Mini Naturals have less than 3 calories per treat making them ideal for training. And with seven flavors— peanut butter and oats, chicken, beef, pork, salmon, rabbit, and duck— you can change it up or find your pooch’s favorite.
The Important Cues
There are nine key cues a dog needs to master to develop great life skills.
This is important if you and your pooch are going to enjoy going places together.
- Eye contact
- “Stand” (Bloom points out that this cue is great for older dogs as “sit” and “down”can be difficult for a senior canine with mobility issues)
- Loose Leash Walking
- “Leave it”
- Permission to greet signal (so the dog only greets people or dogs you want them to greet)
“For me,” says Bloom, “the most important skills are paying attention to the human. In other words, the eye contact. Next, is settling. So ‘down’ is a good one for this, and then, coming when called. Everything else is a bonus. For example, I can get a dog to ‘leave it by coming to me, or, to stay still, by settling into a down,” she explains.
Further, the person on the other end of the leash needs to learn a dog’s body language in order to let the dog control the pace of interactions.
“If your dog is quietly saying ‘no thank you’ with body language such as licking their lips, yawning, looking away, or walking away, let them leave the situation,” she advises.
When first working with a new dog or puppy, it’s best to train in short sessions lasting five minutes or less. For one thing, most untrained dogs (including puppies) haven’t learned to focus on training yet. That means a short session will get you better results because the dog is more likely to stay engaged the whole time. Training must be viewed as a fun activity. A cheerful tone, a higher pitched voice and a smile all help to send the right message. Treat every time a dog repeats a behavior. Consider treats are as your dog’s paycheck. When you pay your dog well from the start, they learn new behaviors faster than if you only give treats here and there. And add lots of praise. Say “yes” before you treat.
Train for no more than five or ten repetitions before taking a break. Consider playing with your dog between sets of training.
Where to Train
Like humans, dogs can get distracted. Distractions make it harder to focus on a lesson. That’s why initial training should be done at home and not when you’re relaxing at a camp site or taking a break on a mountain trail with birds flying overhead and squirrels teasing your dog from a tree. That would be the doggy equivalent of trying to learn a new physics concept while a brass band is playing in the back of the room. Consequently, for the best results and stress-free sessions, start teaching new behaviors and cues in a quiet, distraction-free environment at home such as a bathroom or a small room that makes it easy for the dog to stick close to you. Once your dog has mastered the behavior, move to a slightly busier part of the house. Gradually work your way up to practicing in the busiest room in the house while other people or animals are around.
Next, go just outside your front door (on leash). Gradually work your way down to the street and then practice there. Any time your dog stops responding to cues, or starts pulling on the leash, head back towards your door. Go back as far as you need until the dog is able to do the behaviors correctly again.
Final Training Tip
Never set your dog up for failure. If you’re not sure if your dog is up for a particular challenge, build up to it gradually. Don’t “test” your dog in a difficult situation without first making sure they are fully prepared.
Finally, end a session by giving your dog their favorite toy. That is a reward too. They will remember and eagerly await the next training session!