Dogs can be a lot of work. However, if you’re strict for the first few years, you can start to relax as your dog matures. Whether you’ve recently adopted a puppy, or you’ve gotten tired of your old dog’s naughty ways, these five tips will help you train your four-legged friend.
- Everyone has to be on board. When you set rules and boundaries for your pet, every single person that interacts with your dog needs to know and follow them. That includes friends, family, the housekeeper, the babysitter, and anyone else who comes into contact with your dog. It’s based on the concept of intermittent reinforcement. If your dog gets a table scrap one out of every thirty times he begs, he’s going to keep begging in the hopes that this time will be the one time he finally gets scraps.
- Ask for help. You know the saying “It takes a village to raise a child”? Well, the same is true of a puppy! Most people, especially children, are glad to take a few moments out of their day to help you with an impromptu lesson. For example, if you’re walking your puppy and he barks at a boy on a bicycle, ask the boy to ride by again while you tell your dog to sit and stay. Practice this a few times whenever someone rides by on a bike, and your dog will take bikes in stride in no time.
- Train as if you’re weak. Chances are that your dog will interact with many kinds of people in his lifetime. It might be fun to teach the dog to jump up on you whenever you thump your chest, but when he knocks Grandma over with this trick, she could get hurt. There are plenty of tricks to teach your dog – roll over, dance, play dead, etc. – that you don’t need to teach negative behaviors. When you’re teaching your dog to heel, he shouldn’t pull even if you are walking very slowly. Again, think of Grandma. Train the dog so that if your grandmother came to visit and play, she would feel safe.
- Your dog has Attention Deficit Disorder(ADD). Okay, your dog doesn’t really have ADD. But when it comes to training sessions, short and frequent is the way to go. You shouldn’t spend more than ten minutes per session trying to train your dog. Beyond that point, he will become frustrated, bored, and unresponsive. Even if your dog still seems interested after ten minutes, leave him wanting more. You can do several ten-minute sessions a day. Just make sure you have some playtime afterward.
- You’re a master first, friend second. Your dog can be your best friend (I know mine is!) but your words and wants are law. You can make this clear to your dog by establishing certain consistent behaviors. For example, I always walk through a door first. I give the dog the command to sit and stay, then I walk through the door (along with any other humans) and then I release her. Now, she does this automatically. When we pass people on our walks, we step to the side and she sits and waits while the person walks by. She sits and stays before she eats her food. It doesn’t mean I love her any less; she is just learning respect.
Training your dog doesn’t have to be a nightmare. In fact, it can be a fun (though sometimes frustrating) bonding experience. As your dog learns to respond to you, you will learn much more about your dog: her likes and dislikes, favorite treats, how she likes to be rewarded, and what commands are most effective. When you and your family adopt a dog, you’re starting a journey together. Enjoy it!