All of us dog owners can identify with that moment where our dog does something that, frankly, we really wish they wouldn’t. Millions, no, billions are spent and earned around the world as a result of dog owners who simply want their beloved canine to behave more appropriately.
Here we’ve got 22 foundational dog training tips that you should memorise to your internal hard-drive (that’ll be your brain!). Each excellent in its own way, but together – these are 22 rules that any dog owner will benefit from when it comes to having better behaved, happier dog and owner.
1. Concentrate on what your dog is doing right.
Trainers recommend that owners praise and reward their dogs with treats and affection for good behaviour instead of just scolding them for bad behaviour.
2. Be proactive and keep your dog from behaving badly in the first place.
One of the most important tips that a professional dog trainer will tell his or her students is that good behaviour is not just the responsibility of the dog.
The owner must make every effort to avoid giving the dog the ability to engage in bad behaviour while they are still learning the ropes. For example, if you notice that your dog likes to chew, it’s important to make sure that everyone in the home puts their shoes behind closed closet doors to remove temptation.
In short, it's better to set your dog up to succeed rather than tempt them in to failure.
3. Stop saying NO!
One of the biggest mistakes that people make when training their dogs is saying NO without giving the dog an explanation of some type. Dogs, much like children, will become confused with a simple command of NO!
Here’s what you should do instead. If your dog is stealing the cat’s food, tell him NO and then gently guide him to his own food dish. Or, if your dog is chewing on a table leg tell him NO and give him rawhide or another toy on which he can chew. Once your dog begins to actually use the new behaviour, reward him with treats, toys and praise.
Read more: Why does my dog ignore me?
4. Learn the difference between boredom and separation anxiety.
Figuring out why your dog is engaging in bad behaviours is usually the quickest way to combat the problem.
If boredom seems to be the issue, you can probably keep your dog from destroying your house during alone time by providing him a toy stuffed with treats or something else that will help exercise his mind a little.
If separation anxiety is the problem, you will need to learn ways to desensitise your dog to not only your absence, but also your “preparing to leave” routine.
5. Consider clicker training.
Clicker training is a relatively new technique in the dog training world and involves the owner using a specific sound to indicate to their dog that a particular behaviour is acceptable or desired.
The owner will repeat the “click” and then reward their dog for his or her good behaviour. The positive feedback will encourage the dog to repeat the good behaviour.
6. Be patient, persistent and consistent.
These three behaviours on the part of an owner will develop similar behaviours in a dog. Patience means that you understand that learning new behaviours may take some time and a lot of practice and repetition.
Persistence means that you, as the owner, do not give up when training does not seem to be going well.
Consistent means that your dog knows what to expect from you. For example, if you always say NO when your dog is misbehaving, they learn to recognise NO as a sign of disapproval. Conversely, if you only give treats for good behaviour, your dog will learn to recognise such positive feedback.
7. Start early.
As soon as you get a dog, you should begin training in some capacity. If you are getting a late start, it may take some time to catch up. The key to remember is that training is often nothing more than reversing bad habits and behaviours.
If your dog is young, they haven’t had a chance to develop a significant number of these bad behaviours and training will be simple. With an older dog, you really have to unteach everything the dog knows about behaviour and start to reteach behaviours that you find acceptable.
Read more: Understanding puppy development stages
8. Be kind and gentle for best results.
An owner who constantly punishes his or her dog for bad behaviours is bound to be a lot less successful than an owner who is gentle and kind, rewarding his or her dog for acceptable behaviours.
Consider offering your dog plenty of praise, and be gentle when redirecting his attention from a bad behaviour to one that is more acceptable to you.
One of the way's dogs learn is not by being punished for a behaviour that is unwanted, but by not getting a reward for a particular behavioural action they did.
Read more: Punishment vs reward
9. Have reasonable expectations.
For example, if your dog misbehaves at home you are wise to expect that he will misbehave at the dog park or in the yard. Therefore, if your dog is having trouble paying attention to your commands you will want to make sure to keep him on a leash when outside.
If your dog jumps on people in the house, expect that he will be rough with other dogs.
You can reverse these behaviours through positive training, but you need to realise that bad behaviours will most likely continue regardless of the circumstances until they have been unlearned by your dog.
10. Always enforce your commands.
If you give commands, but do not enforce them, your dog will learn that there is no reason to listen to you. On the other hand, if you back up your commands with reinforcement he will quickly learn that you mean business.
For example, if you tell your dog to sit and he ignores you, gently push him into the desired position and praise him. Always praise good behaviour as a means of enforcing your commands.
Think about a teacher in a school.
She sits at her desk and she tells the class to be quiet. They ignore her. She goes back to marking.
She notices the noise level has risen. She raises her voice and tells the class to be quiet. Again, her instruction barely registers with the chattering students.
Eventually she slams her hand on the desk, gets up, pointedly shouts at the class and says: "The next person to make a noise will be getting detention!".
What have the students learned? They learned that the teacher only really means something on the third or fourth occasion, when she stands up, hits the desk and is explicit in her threat of consequences.
Imagine if she told the class to be quiet and immediately reinforced the instruction the very first time. No raised voice. No desk bashing. Just a calm, considered reinforcement of an instruction by issuing a detention notice to the first student who'd ignored her instruction. That class would at least be in no doubt, what she says, she means.
11. Use the ONE command rule.
Only give your dog each command one time. If you want your dog to sit, tell him SIT! If your dog decides to ignore the command the first time, gently place him into the sit position and then praise him.
Do this with every command, so that your dog doesn’t think that your commands are optional. Stick to the ONE command rule, and your dog will quickly learn to take your commands seriously.
12. Clearly define your commands.
If you expect your dog to follow commands, then it is imperative that he understands what it is that you want him to do. For example, if you are trying to teach him to sit you will only confuse him if one time you use the command SIT and the next time SIT DOWN.
If he’s confused he’ll most likely just ignore you. And this can lead to a vicious cycle. So, pay attention to the commands you are teaching and don’t confuse your dog by being inconsistent.
13. Teach your dog to read your tone.
Tone is just as important as the actual command that you are giving. Therefore, try to always use a consistent tone when issuing a command. Yelling a command will be less effective than just using a firm and authoritative tone.
Pick a tone, and stick with it. Your dog will begin to recognise that tone, and respond to what you are telling him more effectively.
14. Analyse stubbornness.
If you find that your dog is stubborn and does not want to listen to your commands, there may be a simple explanation. Look for signs to see whether you are giving commands that your dog understands, whether your dog knows what to do when they hear a certain command and whether the command is creating an uncomfortable feeling in your dog.
Most likely, you need to simply repeat training for a specific command and make your dog feel more comfortable through rewards and praise.
15. Never use your dog’s name in anger.
You should try to reprimand your dog without using his name so that there is no negative association with the name itself. When you praise your dog, call him by name so that the dog responds happily when he is called by name.
You may find that simply using the dog’s name will get him to come to you eagerly in just a short period of time.
If you have the discipline, you should try to use your dog's name instead of other exciting words, drop 'walkies', 'biscuits', 'ride in the car' and replace all three with your dog's name.
If your dog associates their name exclusively with the greatest joys in life, you'll notice a much better response when you call their name at the park.
16. Earn the respect of your dog.
If you hit or scream at your dog, he will quickly lose respect for you. And instead of becoming a loving companion, will become reserved and fearful. Therefore, be sure to avoid training when you are in a bad mood and avoid negative reinforcement whenever possible.
Staying upbeat will make your dog more willing to do whatever it is that you expect from him and help the two of your form a good relationship.
17. Never use a training technique that is not natural and comfortable for you.
If you are using a technique that does not come naturally, your dog will sense your hesitation as quickly as he will sense fear or anxiety. This can lead to your dog ignoring any commands given and cause frustration for both of you.
Therefore, work to find techniques that you understand and feel comfortable with before starting to train your dog.
18. Control your dog's environment when training.
Make a point of being able to ‘control’ certain environmental scenarios when you are exposing your dog to them for the first time.
For instance, make sure that the first time you take your dog for a walk on a busy high street, it is not on an occasion when you are running late and your attention may be focussed away from the dog.
Instead set aside the time to introduce your dog ‘gently’ to different environmental elements such as loud vehicle noises, busy traffic, hustle and bustle of people and different smells in different areas.
Make sure your focus is on the dog and you are in a position to comfort and reassure them at all times.
Read more: How to properly socialise your dog
19. Allow your dog to safely learn about children.
Try and allow your dog to have some sort of interaction with children at the earliest possible opportunity. Always ensure this interaction is monitored 100% of the time but make a point of allowing your dog to find out for themselves what children are and how they respond different to adults.
20. Control their socialisation opportunities.
Try and ‘hand-pick’ the dogs that you allow your dog to be introduced to at an early age. Generally dogs that are considerably older and who are already very well socialised themselves will make excellent ‘role-models’ for your own dog.
If your dog is introduced, either deliberately or through circumstances out of your control to an overly aggressive or overly nervous dog it can lead to your dog adopting a similar response.
21. Ask if your dog can come too.
Include your dog in as much as you are able to. Always try and think to yourself ‘can the dog come?’ You might be going to the pub for a quick drink ‘can the dog come?’
You might be going in the car to the tip to get rid of some junk, ‘can the dog come?’ Picking the kids up from school, ‘can the dog come?’ Wherever possible expose your dog to as much as you humanly can and always try and include them in different activities and expose them to different environments.
Make it a rule whenever you are about to do something or go somewhere ask yourself ‘can the dog come?’ Remember to assess each situation and plan ahead. Can you, at least to some extent ‘control’ the scenario?
Do you have your pre-planned responses worked out? Are you in a position to ‘read’ your dog? Can you ensure your dog will be safe and you will be in a position to reassure him or her if needed? If the answer is yes then take the dog where you go as often as you can.
22. Dog training classes can always help.
Dog training classes are excellent as they will allow you to socialise your dog in a controlled environment under the watchful eye of a knowledgeable dog trainer or behaviour expert. Take advantage of them even if you are confident of being able to train your own dog in the basic commands.
Even the world's best dog trainers gain rewards from attending dog training classes. New experiences, different dogs, different scenarios. Dog training classes aren't just the domain of naughty dogs or inexperienced owners. They are a place where learning is a constant opportunity.
You can’t beat the experience of allowing your dog to mix freely with all sorts of other dogs or different shapes, sizes and temperaments. Make the most of these classes even if you only attend occasionally.