If you have ever wondered how to train a dog, this article is a great place to start. Training your dog will be a continual, lifelong process, from initial puppy training to practicing good manners throughout your dog’s life.
Most training can be accomplished with three tools: food treats (or toys if your dog isn’t a snacker), consistency, and patience.
- Treats are to reward your dog when she does something right, which increases her desire to do it again.
- Consistency ensures that you are communicating what you want to your dog clearly and in the same way every time so that she doesn’t get confused and can learn more quickly.
- Patience is for when your dog doesn’t understand what you’re asking, or is distracted by things in the environment and needs a little extra help.
I’ve been training dogs and competing in dog shows since I was seven years old. One of the most important things I have learned from working with both my personal dogs and other people’s dogs is that each dog is unique.
Most dogs love to learn and are eager to please, but different dogs may thrive with slightly different approaches to training. Some pick up new behaviors almost instantly, while others require some time and practice.
As you and your dog embark on your training journey, start each new challenge with the approach that makes the most sense to you. If your dog doesn’t seem to be getting it, evaluate your training strategy. Are you being clear with your cues and signals, and are you being consistent? Is there another way you can try to get the same result? Then adjust as needed.
Most of all, have fun. Your dog is going to be one of your closest friends and partners, and training is an amazing opportunity to learn and bond together.
Can you self-train a dog?
Absolutely! In fact, it can often be better for you to train your dog yourself than to send him to a training school without you. That’s because you and your dog should be a TEAM, working together.
Training and learning together help solidify the bond between you and your dog. Most dogs enjoy learning new things. Remember having a favorite teacher, who challenged you and celebrated your successes? You can be that teacher for your dog.
Yes, your dog might learn more quickly with an experienced trainer. But you will still have to put in the time to learn the different cues and signals your dog has been taught, and practice with your dog to keep his skills sharp. If you are inconsistent, your dog will not retain the skills he learned with the trainer.
In some ways a trained dog is just like a remote control – the remote’s capabilities are the same no matter who holds it, but the person needs to know which buttons to press.
The key difference between a dog and a remote, however, is that while the remote will stay the same forever, your dog is continually learning. If you don’t keep up with training, he can forget what he has learned and pick up new habits and behaviors.
What’s the first thing you should train your dog to do?
The very first thing you should teach your new dog is her name, and a recall. Her name is going to be the foundation of everything you do together. It is how she knows you are talking to her and will be used in play, training, and praise.
Coming when called is convenient because it allows you to summon your dog when you want or need her close. It is also a crucial life skill that could save her life if she is ever loose near a road or wild animal.
You don’t need formal training to teach your new dog or puppy her name. Many dogs pick up on their names in much the same way as human babies do, by hearing it frequently in day-to-day life.
To speed up the process, pair your dog’s name with something positive, like a treat or playtime. Say her name, and deliver a snack. Repeat a couple of times throughout the day. She’ll quickly learn that when she hears her name, someone is talking to her.
If you have adopted your dog as an adult, she may already have a name. You do not have to keep her old name if you don’t like it – she can learn a new one! I even know one dog who spends time with two different families and has a different name in each house.
Crate training is a critical life skill for all dogs, even if your dog won’t need to be in a crate often. Crates are the safest way for dogs to travel in the car, keep them out of trouble if they aren’t trustworthy home alone, and are important for their safety when at the veterinary hospital.
Being comfortable in a crate will make travel and emergency situations much less stressful for your dog.
Dogs are den animals, so many of them enjoy being in a crate and feel safe with a hideaway that’s all their own. My dogs are rarely crated at home, but will frequently go into their open crates on their own to take a nap.
If you got your puppy from a breeder, the breeder may have already started crate training. Ask about any cues your pup might already know, and if the puppy knows a routine for crate time.
How to crate train a dog
To introduce a crate for the first time, set it up and outfit it with a blanket and some toys. Then get some really tasty treats. Toss a treat near the crate and let your puppy get it (to increase her excitement, gently restrain your puppy as you toss the treat, then release her). Gradually toss the treat closer and closer to the crate.
Next, place the treat in the doorway of the crate so your dog has to reach inside to get it. Gradually place the treat further and further in.
Once your dog is getting all the way in the crate, you can introduce your cue word. I like to use “go to jail” because I think it’s hilarious. Other popular cues are “kennel” and “go to your crate.” Pick a cue that you like and stick with it. Say your cue, toss the treat inside, and praise when your dog gets in the crate. Repeat several times.
Now you can start closing the door. At first, just close the door briefly, and immediately open it. Gradually increase the length of time that door is closed. Don’t make a big deal out of opening the door. Just open it quietly and let your dog out. You want the experience of being in the crate to be a casual, normal part of life.
Most dogs love food. To make your dog’s crate a good place to be, feed her in the crate.
At first, close the door when you put her bowl in. Stay close by so you can let her out as soon as she’s done. Once she is used to that, you can wander a little more and leave her in the crate for a few minutes after finishing. If she is fussing, don’t let her out. Wait quietly until she settles, then open the door and release her without ceremony.
Many dogs learn to run to their crates at mealtimes.
Most puppies and dogs are initially not trustworthy loose and unsupervised at home.To keep your pooch out of trouble, crate her at bedtime. Place the crate right next to your bed so your dog doesn’t feel alone. You can even put your hand down so she can snuffle it through the door.
A bedtime treat, like a biscuit or chew, can help your dog to settle in for the night. If she fusses a bit at first, just ignore her.
If your puppy starts to fuss in the middle of the night, she may need to go outside. Take her out, and when she has done her business put her back to bed in her crate.
I usually start giving my dogs the run of the house at around six months old, but play it by ear if you have a chewer or counter surfer.
Dogs naturally want to keep their space clean. The goal of housetraining is to teach your dog that the entire house is his “den.” To do this, you’ll need to set your dog up for success by giving him plenty of opportunities to eliminate outside, keep an eye on him for signs that he needs to go, and praise and reward him for being a good dog.
House training for puppies
The first step is getting yourself and all other family members on a schedule. Young puppies can’t hold their bladders very long. For these little guys, take them out every hour for a short walk. When your pup pees or poops outside, praise and pet. You can even give him a treat.
Puppies also frequently urinate right after a nap and after a hard play session. If your snoozing pup gets up and stretches, usher him out the door! When playtime starts to slow down and you see your pup start to walk away or circle, it’s time to head outside.
As your puppy gets older, he can longer between pee breaks.
House training for adult dogs
Most adult dogs already have some sense of housetraining, but this may not be true if your dog spent the first part of his life in a kennel run or in a situation where he was allowed or forced to eliminate in the house.
If you are unsure about your new adult dog’s housetraining status, start out just like you would with a puppy, and take him outside every hour or so. Praise and reward when he eliminates outside.
Over time, increase the length of time between pee breaks.
Your dog or puppy will tell you when he needs to go. Some dogs cry and whine. Others will stare at you intently (one of my dogs does the laser stare and then will lead me directly to the door – I wish all dogs were that clear!). Others run back and forth between you and the door. Some just look uncomfortable or anxious.
Dogs often need to eliminate first thing in the morning, an hour or so after meals, and after waking up from a nap. Puppies often eliminate after a play session.
Pay attention to your dog’s body language to learn his signs that it is time to go out!
Crates and housetraining
Crate training makes housetraining so much easier! Your dog’s crate is his den, and he naturally does not want to eliminate in it because that would be gross. To capitalize on this natural instinct, be sure that your dog’s crate is properly sized for him. Big enough that he can lie down comfortably, but not so big that he could throw a frat party and use one corner as a pooping spot.
If you can’t keep an eye on your dog, put him in his crate. The crate can be set up near where you are working so he doesn’t feel alone. If after a while he starts to fuss or whine, he may be signaling that he needs to go out. Take him out for a short walk, and praise him for eliminating outside.
Crates are also great for overnight while everyone sleeps, and when you need to leave your dog in the house alone.
How to train a dog to use a pee pad
Some people like to use pee pads for their dogs. If this is you, house train the same way but take your dog over to the pee pad when you think he needs to go instead of taking him outside. Keep the pee pad in the same spot in the house so that your dog has a designated bathroom spot.
If your dog is horrified at the idea of eliminating inside, start by introducing the pee pad outside. Put the pee pad in a designated spot, and when your dog needs to go, bring him over to it. Praise and reward for eliminating on the pad. Gradually move the pee pad closer to the door, and then into the house.
Socialization and obedience training
Socialization, household manners, and obedience training make your dog an enjoyable companion and a good canine citizen. In fact, your dog can even earn a Canine Good Citizen title from the American Kennel Club by passing a test that uses many of these skills! Begin training as soon as you bring your new dog home.
Socialization is about exposing your dog to common things that she will see in day-to-day life in a positive way so that she is calm and confident when she experiences something new. Human children are socialized by going places with their parents and observing both the world and how their parents react to it.
To socialize your dog or puppy, take her on outings where she can see new things safely and meet friendly dogs and people. Walks in your neighborhood and quiet parks are a great place to start.
Your pooch can also go to dog-friendly stores and make brief visits to the vet’s office to get weighed (veterinary staff are usually happy to help with these visits if they have a free moment – a dog who is happy in the vet clinic is much easier to work with during formal appointments!).
Try to let your dog observe people of varying sizes, ages, and ethnicities. She doesn’t have to meet everyone one-on-one – just being around people while hanging out with you or out on a walk is good exposure. It shows her that people who look different don’t change the fun you are having playing tug at the park or exploring a new neighborhood.
Keep outings positive. If your dog is afraid of new people, avoid crowds and don’t allow people to pet her. Let her learn that she is safe with you and that new people aren’t going to bother or harm her. If she is afraid of other dogs, arrange visits and walks with a calm, quiet, non-reactive dog or two so she can get used to that.
If your dog sees or hears something new and startles, let her observe the new thing from a distance. Quietly praise her when she relaxes.
Note: if your puppy hasn’t been fully vaccinated yet, avoid places with lots of other dogs, such as dog parks, pet stores, and the vet’s office (except for her appointments, of course!). You don’t want your baby to pick up something nasty, such as parvovirus.
Also, many dogs go through a fear period around 14-16 weeks old. Your previously confident puppy may suddenly seem shy and fearful of new or even familiar things. This is normal and will pass. Continue your socialization outings, but dial back the intensity. Stick to quiet places where she is comfortable, and avoid people, animals, or items that stress her out.
Household manners and obedience training
Household manners and obedience training include: sit, down, stay or wait, coming when called, and not jumping up on people. These basic commands are all the things that help make your dog enjoyable to live with and welcome in public places.
You and your dog can benefit from learning and practicing many of these skills in a puppy or basic obedience class. Most areas have a local dog training club or kennel club that offers classes, or even individual trainers who offer training classes.
The benefit to a class environment is that you and your dog will get to practice around other dogs in a controlled setting. This will make it easier for her to generalize the skills she learns to other places and situations.
If you can’t find a local class that fits your schedule, start by working with your dog at home. You can also take online classes, such as those offered by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy.
Leash training is a critical life skill for all dogs, even if your dog can run loose in your yard most of the time. Many areas have leash laws, and he will need to be on a leash whenever he goes to the vet’s office, a park, or any other public place.
Being on a leash when away from home both protects your dog from cars and other dangers and also prevents him from scaring or causing harm to other people or animals.
To get started, place the leash on your dog and follow him around the house or yard, letting your dog choose the route. This gives him some time to get used to the feel of the leash and the idea of being tethered to you. When he relaxes, encourage him to come to you and follow you by using treats, toys, and verbal praise.
Teach your dog to walk on a loose leash by being consistent about not allowing him to pull and rewarding him when he walks nicely. Many of the problem behaviors dogs can exhibit on a leash result from overstimulation or over-arousal, so it is important for you to stay calm while working on leash training. If you stay calm and relaxed, your dog will be more likely to calm down.
Clicker, bell, and whistle training
There are a variety of extra tools that you can use when training your dog.
Clicker training is a blast. This method uses a small noisemaker that makes a “click” sound to mark when your dog does something right.
First, you teach your dog that the click means a reward is coming. Once she knows that, you can use the click as a clear and consistent marker when she performs the desired behavior. My dogs go crazy when they see the clicker come out because they know we are going to be learning something new!
Some people like to teach their dogs to ring a bell when they need to go outside. Start by setting up a bell near the door, and ring it every time you take your dog outside (be sure your dog isn’t afraid of the bell first!). Over time, your dog will figure out that the bell means going outside and will start to ring it on her own.
For some dogs, this can be a fantastic way to streamline communication. When your dog needs to go outside, she can just ring the bell!
But be warned: some devious canines may start to ring the bell any time they want to go outside to play, not just because they need to pee or poop.
If your dog starts to take advantage of the bell system, be sure that you are NOT playing with her when she rings the bell for fun. Give her a time limit to do her business outside, then bring her back in. She can have a reward for eliminating outside after ringing the bell, but if she is just goofing around, quietly bring her back in. Plan playtime inside or at some other time that YOU choose.
Whistles can be useful because they are loud and clear. The whistle will sound the same to your dog every time, so the signal is consistent, and they can be heard much farther away than your voice.
The most common way for the average dog owner to use a whistle is to call their dog. First, teach your dog to associate the whistle with treats – really good ones. Blow the whistle in your house or yard, and reward your dog for investigating. Repeat until your dog is responding quickly and enthusiastically when she hears the whistle. You can also use the whistle to summon her for meals, further increasing the value of the whistle.
Next, take it on the road. Practice with your whistle in the yard and other locations, gradually increasing the level of difficulty (how far your dog is from you and how many distractions are present). Always have high-value treats on hand so that your dog knows that a tasty snack is waiting when she hears the whistle. This will result in a reliable recall, even in an emergency situation.
Whistles are also frequently used when training dogs for hunting or directing them when herding livestock. If you are interested in hunting or herding with your dog, find an experienced trainer to mentor you and get you started.
What is the easiest way to train a dog?
The easiest way to train a dog is using positive reinforcement or giving a reward when your dog performs what you asked her to do (like sitting, coming when called, or walking nicely on a leash).
Ok, so you know you are going to reward your dog for doing what you want, but how do you get your dog to do something in the first place? That’s where luring, shaping, and capturing come in. More on those in just a bit!
As a budding dog trainer, it can be beneficial to understand some of the science behind dog training.
Most dog training methods are modeled on a theory called operant conditioning, developed by B.F. Skinner. In his studies, Skinner discovered that behaviors that are reinforced are more likely to be repeated, while those that are not reinforced are less likely to be repeated.
For example, if you give your dog a cookie every time he touches your hand with his nose and never when he touches your hand with his paw, he will choose to use his nose so he can get the cookie. This is positive reinforcement.
The nitty-gritty of operant conditioning
If you like to nerd out about science and vocab, this section is for you.
There are four ways to mold behavior in operant conditioning:
Positive reinforcement is when you add something to make your dog want to repeat whatever he just did. Positive = adding something, reinforcement = happy dog. Giving your dog a treat is positive reinforcement.
Positive punishment is when you add something to make your dog NOT want to repeat whatever he just did. Positive = adding something, punishment = sad dog. Running at your dog yelling angrily is positive punishment.
This is when you remove something to make your dog want to repeat whatever he just did. Negative = removing something, reinforcement = happy dog. Releasing pressure on a leash is negative reinforcement.
Negative punishment is when you remove something to make your dog NOT want to repeat whatever he just did. Negative = removing something, punishment = sad dog. Taking away the toy and stopping playtime is negative punishment.
These terms can be a bit confusing as the academic definitions are not the same as how we usually use these words in day-to-day life. But, they are important to keep in mind when reading articles on training and learning theory.
Positive reinforcement is the most commonly used and most effective strategy when teaching your dog something new. Everyone is more enthusiastic about learning if they get a reward for doing it right! This strategy is also the simplest to understand and use well to get the desired results.
Luring is a basic training method, and the one most pet owners are familiar with. With luring, you use a treat to lead (or lure) your dog into position. For example, to get your dog to sit using luring, you would hold a treat in front of your dog’s nose and then move the treat up and back over your dog’s head so that he rocks back and sits.
For a more complex behavior, such as teaching your dog to sit in a chair, you would use the treat to lure him to and then up onto the chair, and then lure him into the sit position.
Luring can also be very effective for teaching your dog to heel or walk close by your left side.
Shaping is one of the most fun training methods because it is a guessing game for your dog. It is also the most common method used with a clicker, so I am going to use that as an example. If you haven’t done any clicker training with your dog, you can also use shaping by saying, “Yes!” to mark when your dog guesses right.
Did you ever play Hot and Cold as a kid? Your friend would hide an item, and as you wandered the room, your friend would say if you were getting hotter (closer) or colder (farther away). When shaping a behavior, the click tells your dog that he is getting hotter, or getting closer to the final behavior that you are looking for.
Shaping is an excellent strategy for training complex behaviors that are made up of several smaller behaviors strung together.
To get started shaping a behavior, you need to break down the end behavior into baby steps that will build up to the final product. At first, you will click and reward for anything that your dog does that is remotely related to the end behavior.As he gets quicker about it (indicating that he understands), you can get more specific with your criteria for what he has to do to earn the reward.
What is really cool about shaping is that it teaches your dog how to learn. You aren’t showing him what to do – he is figuring it out on his own, and getting rewarded for his efforts. And dogs love it.
Let’s look at the example of sitting in a chair. When shaping this, at first you will click if your dog approaches or even looks at the chair. When he is consistently doing that, start waiting to click until he gets right next to the chair.
Next, click only when your dog touches the chair. When he is repeating that quickly and consistently, wait to click until he puts a paw on the chair. Then two paws, then the whole body. For the final step, only click and reward when he gets up in the chair and sits.
This can take some patience! At each step, your dog will experiment and try different things to “make” you click. Just sit quietly and wait.
If your dog is taking a long time to figure out the next step and seems to be getting frustrated, he probably wasn’t as solid on the previous step as you thought. Go back a step and make it easier for him so he can be successful.
Capturing is a simple concept, but requires a lot of patience. To capture a behavior, you will need to wait until your dog does it on his own, and then immediately praise and reward. With repetition, your dog will figure out what you want and start offering the behavior.
For example, to teach “sit” with capturing, wait until your dog sits on his own and then reward. Do this every time he sits (or as often as possible).
For the best success with capturing, you will need treats either with you at all times or stashed throughout your house for easy access.
Capturing does have some limitations. It works well for behaviors that your dog does naturally, such as sit, down, or sneezing (yes, you can teach your dog to sneeze on command). But if you want your dog to do something more unusual or involved, like pulling a tissue out of a box and bringing it to you, capturing is probably not going to work.
Introducing a cue
No matter what training method you are using, don’t introduce your verbal cue until your dog knows the final behavior and is repeating it regularly and easily with minimal help from you.
Why? Because you want your cue to mean the final behavior, not a halfway point!
Dogs don’t intrinsically know what phrases like “sit” or “go to your chair” mean. To pair the cue with the behavior, first, just practice the behavior. For example, if luring a sit, your dog should be at the point where you only need to reach your hand with the lure toward him to get him to sit. If shaping sitting in a chair, he should be hopping right up in that chair as soon as you let him go.
After that brief warm-up, say your cue word or phrase (such as “sit” or “go to your chair”). Even though he doesn’t know what it means, he will perform the behavior because that is what you have been working on (if luring, use the same degree of lure that you have been using). Praise and reward. Repeat until he starts to offer the behavior immediately when you give the cue.
Once you choose a cue, be sure to use the same word every time you want your dog to do that behavior.
Pro trainer tip
Once you start introducing the cue, only reward your dog if he performs the behavior when you give the cue. The cue becomes a “gateway” to tell your dog that you a) want that behavior now, and b) will give him a reward for it. If he doesn’t offer the behavior when asked, help him a little bit so he gets it right. If he offers the behavior without being asked, just ignore him.
What if my dog doesn’t do what I asked?
This depends on if you are asking your dog to do something new that he is still learning, or if you are sure that he knows the behavior. The situation will also affect how you react.
If your dog is still learning the behavior, not doing what you ask for or want simply means that he doesn’t fully understand what you want yet. Go back a step in your training and make it easier for him to succeed, then work back up.
If you think your dog knows the behavior, think about it a little more. How long have you been working on this behavior? Are you giving the same cue in the same tone that you usually do, or are you doing something different this time (for example, one of my dogs only lies down if I say, “lie down” – if I forget and just say, “down,” she just stares at me)? Are you in a familiar environment, or is this your first time taking the behavior “on the road” and doing it in public?
You might realize that your dog actually didn’t know the behavior as well as you thought. Help him a little, and make a mental note to practice more, whether that means solidifying your cue or practicing in places with distractions.
If your dog truly knows the behavior, your response depends on your dog and the situation. Shaking paws to impress a friend is pretty unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Don’t repeat your cue, because that will just teach your dog that he doesn’t need to listen to you the first time you say something. Quietly and calmly break the awkward silence by repositioning him or asking him to do something else, then try again.
Breaking a sit stay at the door is a higher-stakes situation because it could impact your dog’s safety or the safety of a guest at the door. In this sort of situation, calmly catch up with your dog and remove him from the area. He loses the privilege of being close to the door for a bit while you review that skill with him. This might mean keeping him on a leash the next few times you expect company or putting him in his crate to prevent access to the door.
Basic commands: how do I teach my dog basic commands?
These are five of the most common cues that owners want to teach their dogs. As you have learned, there are many ways that you can teach each of these behaviors! We’re just going to go over one strategy for each cue.
Sit is usually the first thing that a person teaches their new puppy or dog. Because of this, luring is the go-to method.
- Get your dog’s attention with a treat.
- Use the food lure to draw your dog’s nose up and back.
- When he leans back and sits, praise and give him the treat.
- Repeat several times.
- When your dog starts to sit more quickly without as much help from you, you can introduce your cue word. Say, “Sit,” then start to lure.
- Repeat until your dog is sitting as soon as he hears you say, “Sit.”
Pro trainer tip
The way you move your hand to start to lure your dog into a sitting position can morph into a hand signal that your dog will know means to sit!
Down is another easy behavior to teach with luring.
- Get your dog’s attention with a treat.
- Use the treat to draw your dog’s nose down and back between his front legs.
- When he lies down, praise and give him the treat. The first couple times he may just go into a play-bow position, and that’s ok. Baby steps!
- Repeat several times until your dog is lying down more quickly with less help.
- Now you are ready to introduce your cue. Say, “Down,” before you start to lure.
- Repeat until your dog is lying down as soon as he hears you say, “Down.”
Pro trainer tips
- Never ask your dog to “sit down.” If your dog knows “sit” as meaning to sit and “down” as meaning to lie down, he is going to be confused when you ask him to do two things at once!
- If your dog is frequently leaving his butt in the air and having trouble connecting this last piece of the down position, sit on the ground with your legs in front of you and knees elevated to create a tunnel. Then use the treat to lure your dog under your legs. When he folds his hind end to go under, praise and give him the treat. Repeat until he is lying down quickly, then introduce your cue word and try doing it with just a lure (not crawling under your legs).
- Many dogs aren’t keen on lying down in new places, because it is a vulnerable position. To increase the value of the down cue, you can use a clicker to help build up your dog’s speed and enthusiasm.
A reliable recall is great for use in day-to-day life, and could also save your dog’s life if he is running loose near a road.
- Choose a quiet spot with few distractions to practice, and arm yourself with some favorite treats or a favorite toy.
- In your best happy voice, call your dog and encourage him to come to you. Only say, “Spot come!” once. When he gets to you, celebrate and give him his reward.
- Let him go or back away.
- Call again, saying his name and your cue only once, and then cheering him on when he comes.
- Practice several times a day, always in situations when you are pretty sure your dog will come to you.
- When your dog is reliably running to you when called, up the ante and move to a more distracting location, such as your yard. Also, work on recalls over longer distances.
Pro trainer tips
- Only give your recall cue once. If you repeat it several times, your dog will learn that he doesn’t have to listen the first time you call.
- Get silly! You want your dog to think you are more interesting and exciting than everything else nearby. Use a happy voice, spread your arms wide, or even sprint in the opposite direction to encourage your dog to come to you after you call.
- When first moving your recall training outdoors, work in an enclosed area and/or put your dog on a long line. If he doesn’t come when you call, you can gently but firmly reel him in. Then ask him to sit or down and reward for that.
- When playing in the yard, do some calls and release. Call your dog, grab his collar, praise, and reward, then release him to go play some more. This teaches your dog that a recall doesn’t mean playtime is over.
- If your dog doesn’t come when called, calmly walk him down and catch him. Then go back to working on a long line for a bit to remind him that he is supposed to come the first time he is called if he wants to have off-leash privileges.
Wait or stay
Wait (or stay) is useful at doors and when your arms are full but your dog wants to say hi, plus dozens of other situations. I usually start by teaching my dogs to stay in a sit position, but once your dog understands the concept it can be applied to any position.
- Ask your dog to sit, and praise quietly.
- Take a baby step back, then immediately return to your dog. Praise and reward quietly. Calm is important when teaching wait or stay – if your dog is too excited, she’s more likely to move around.
- Repeat several times, gradually moving farther away from your dog.
- Once you are able to get three steps or so away from your dog, introduce your cue word. Say, “Wait,” or, “Stay,” back away, then immediately return and praise and reward.
- Repeat several times, continuing to move farther away from your dog if she is successful.
- Over time, you can also add in distractions. Practice inside, outside, and in places where your dog can see other people and animals. If your dog has trouble in a new place, go back a couple of steps to make it easier for her.
Pro trainer tip
- You can use “wait” and “stay” interchangeably, or they can have different meanings. For my dogs, I use “wait” to mean that they should pause until I give further instructions, which will be coming soon. This is the cue I use at doors or the start of an agility run. “Stay” means my dog should hold its current position until I come back. When I ask my dog to stay, I always return to her before I release and reward, whereas with “wait,” I might use my release word when I am away from her.
- Keep sessions short, especially for young dogs. Self-control is hard!
- Practice in places and situations where you will be using your stay/wait cue, such as at the door.
- If your dog breaks a stay, quietly retrieve her and gently but firmly lead her back to where she was and try again.
- If your dog breaks a stay and tries to bolt out the door, block her with your leg or the door if possible. Then put her back where she was supposed to be and try again.
Off (don’t jump up)
While it might be cute when a little puppy jumps up on you, it’s not so cute when that jumping puppy turns into an 80-pound dog. Reinforce keeping all four paws on the floor from day one for the best success.
Never encourage your dog or puppy to jump up. It can be hard, but stay strong. Teach her to sit, and get in the habit of having her sit before she can be petted. When meeting new people, you can instruct them to ask her to sit before they pet her.
Jumping up is usually a result of overstimulation. If you can tell your dog is worked up, keep her back from her new friends until she settles down. Ask her to do simple tasks, such as sit, down, or a hand touch, so that you can get her to focus. Once she is calm, then allow her to approach the new people and have her sit to be petted.
If your dog jumps up, turn away so she bounces off you, and say, “Off.” Praise when her feet are on the floor and ask her to sit, then reward.
Another option for chronic jumpers is to gently but firmly grasp your dog’s feet when she jumps up. Being held in that position is a lot less fun than ricocheting off your body, so this can help to decrease your dog’s arousal level. Only hold her legs for a few seconds, then release and ask her to sit so you can praise and reward her for good behavior.
You can also use “off” for getting your dog off of furniture. Say, “Off,” and lure her onto the floor with a treat. Praise and reward when her feet hit the floor. Basically, the “off” cue means to get her feet down on the ground.
If your dog jumps up on someone else, you can use your “off” cue or redirect her with a different behavior, such as sit or a hand touch.
If your dog is too worked up and won’t settle, gently but firmly catch her and remove her from the situation. She may need to be kept on a leash around new people so that you have more control over how she approaches new friends.
Pro trainer tip
Don’t use the cue, “Down” to tell your dog not to jump up unless you actually want her to lie down. This will prevent confusion.
Specialized dog training
There are lots of things that you and your dog can learn, and endless training classes that you can take together! These are just a few examples of specialized training that you and your dog can pursue if desired.
Puppy training classes are reserved for, well, puppies. These classes are designed to give pups a great experience as they start their lives, and often include playtime as well as learning household manners and basic obedience.
Competition obedience training
These classes prepare your dog for competing in obedience competitions. They will start with basic obedience skills but expand on them by having precise criteria for when and how your dog executes each skill. As you progress through the levels, the difficulty increases.
Agility is an obstacle course that you and your dog navigate together. Your dog will learn how to jump, climb, and weave through upright poles. There are a variety of competitive venues, or you can just do agility for fun.
Therapy dog training
These classes prepare your dog to do therapy visits at schools and nursing homes. Therapy work requires superb manners and for your dog to be relaxed around wheelchairs and walkers. After taking a class, your dog will need to pass a test to be certified by a therapy organization, such as Therapy Dogs International.
Guard dog training
Most dogs have some natural “guard dog” behaviors and instincts, such as barking when they see a person or animal near their house or growling when someone behaves strangely. Even sweet, friendly dogs have been known to bite when their family is threatened by an intruder.
The key to having a reliable guard or protection dog is often to fine-tune your dog’s natural behaviors and to teach an off switch for them. You want a confident dog who can relax, not a dog who is always wound up and looking to bite someone.
If interested in protection work, Schutzhund, ring sport, or monitoring, seek out an experienced professional to get started.
Service dog training
Service dog training is when a dog learns specialized skills to be able to provide a service for a person with a disability. Service dogs include guide dogs, hearing dogs, and diabetic alert dogs, among others. Emotional support dogs and therapy dogs are NOT service dogs. For more information on service dogs, visit the website for the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Search and rescue training
Becoming a search and rescue team takes a lot of time and effort. Search and Rescue Dogs of the United States says that the training process can take up to two years, and very few dogs have the physical and mental abilities to succeed as a search and rescue dog.
You and your dog will need to learn how to navigate disaster zones, search for missing people from a boat, and search for human remains, among other skills. You will also need to pass at least one certification test and recertify on a regular basis.
How much does dog training cost?
The cost of dog training varies widely depending on what type of class you are taking and where you live. According to HomeGuide.com, the average cost of a group class is $30-50.
Dog training clubs may offer a discounted rate for club members, and private lessons generally cost more than group classes. Specialized training, such as protection work or sheep herding, will cost more than standard obedience classes.
Online classes often have different rates depending on how interactive they are. For example, the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy offers three tiers for online classes. The Bronze level typically costs $65 and gives you access to the lectures and supporting materials. The Gold level typically costs $260 and gives you access to a discussion forum where you can post videos of your dog and get feedback from the instructor on your progress.
“Board and Train” programs where your dog is sent to a facility to be trained for a couple of weeks can cost thousands of dollars.
Key takeaways on dog training
With patience, consistency, and some tasty treats, and a little creativity, you can become a dog trainer and train up your well-behaved dog. You can also go on to compete in dog sports or learn specialized skills.
Positive reinforcement keeps your dog coming back for more, and makes training fun.
Keep training sessions short, and always try to end on a positive note. If your dog is struggling, think about how to make the task a little easier so she can succeed, then work back up to what you were trying to do.
And most of all, have fun! Training is a wonderful bonding activity for you and your dog, and learning together can make you the perfect team.