Owning a dog is a lot like being a parent. Your dog has a mind of its own, and it will likely make some choices that you dislike. Many owners struggle to connect with their dog and train them in a meaningful way, so they wind up at their wits’ end with no idea how to improve.
Whether you are looking for help or just about to embark on the adventure of dog ownership, here are five training tips that will set you up for success.
1. Don’t Just Reprimand, Redirect
When your pet does something you dislike, don’t just yell at them and expect it to never happen again. Many people often find that their dog “acts guilty” when they discover a mess on the floor, and they assume that a quick verbal scolding will correct the action.
Dogs need to be taught how to behave. If they chew something up, show them the mess and then redirect their action by giving them a toy instead. Show your dog how to behave and lead by example.
If they climb up on the couch, tell them, “No,” and gently guide them to their bed. You should make sure that your dog is well cared for and relaxed before you try any training. Many behavioral problems that drive owners crazy are actually the result of pent-up energy and frustration on the dog’s behalf.
Your dog should be walked at least 30 to 45 minutes a day, preferably in the morning. They also need plenty of stimulation around the house. If there isn’t anything available to entertain them, they’ll find their own methods, which usually results in shredded shoes and major damages.
2. Consistency is Key
If you’re training your dog to stop a particular behavior, you need to make sure that everyone is on the same page. If one family member allows the dog on the couch when you always tell it to get off, the mixed signals will quickly confuse your pup and undo any hard work.
Make sure that you are consistent with your commands and establish rules early on. Puppies are like children; they absorb everything and quickly fall into a routine.
3. Set Realistic Goals
Some people have expectations that their dog simply isn’t going to meet. Think about your desired outcome and break it down into smaller goals. If you want to train your dog to stop jumping on people when they enter the house, first work on mastering the “sit” command and holding the position for several seconds.
You have to build up the discipline and skills necessary to succeed. Establishing new behaviors will always be easier than trying to constantly scold old ones.
4. Exhibit “Alpha” Behavior
Dogs are pack animals, and they naturally want a leader. If they don’t recognize anyone in the house as the leader, they’ll assert themselves into the role. There are many subtle actions owners do that tell their dog, “You’re the boss.” These behaviors might seem harmless and even affectionate at times, but they really only complicate your relationship as an owner and can lead to issues with dominance and aggression.
Some behaviors you’ll want to avoid include letting your dog walk ahead of you on the leash, letting them sleep in your bed and never feeding them freely. Cesar Milan, the world-renowned “dog whisperer,” suggests that dog owners formulate a plan with a set intention. The follow-through is fare more important than the day-to-day execution.
You may make mistakes and slip up now and again. After all, you’re only human. But consistent actions and examples of your position as pack leader will have a lasting impact on your relationship and bond with your dog.
5. Positive Reinforcement is Everything
Most dog training is modeled on operant conditioning, which rewards good behaviors and punishes bad ones. Unfortunately, many people focus far more on the latter and, as a result, wind up harming their relationship with their dog and failing at training.
In the dog training world, there are two primary models of teaching: reward training and discipline-based training. The former thrives off positive reinforcement while the latter focuses on disciplining undesirable actions.
You may find that one method is more effective than the other depending on what you’re trying to teach your dog. Some problems are far more pressing than others. You need your dog to stop growing at strangers, for example, but you don’t need him to know how to roll over or play dead.
Discipline-based training does not help the dog-owner relationship as much as a reward-based approach. Often times, negative reinforcement creates an emotional association with fear and avoidance. No one wants their dog to only listen because they’re scared of them.
Think about the emotional response that you’re conditioning your dog to have during training. Do you associate the desired action with something happy and fun, or do your tactics only teach your dog to be afraid or feel like they’ve done something wrong?
Put Your Bond First, Then Train
If you consciously think about how each interaction with your dog will impact your relationship, it becomes much easier to make the right decisions. The more comfortable and relaxed your dog feels, the more likely they will respond favorably to training.
Stay committed, be consistent and view your training as an opportunity to strengthen your bond and grow closer.