With the new beginnings brought on by the start of 2022, it’s the perfect time to start thinking of ways you can include training in your dog’s everyday routine. In 2010, the Association of Professional Dog Trainers introduced January as National Train Your Dog Month to promote the importance of properly training your dog. Why January? Many new pets are adopted and added to families over the holiday season, so encouraging training throughout the month of January can help new pet parents start off on the right paw.
Why should I train my dog?
Hundreds of dogs enter the shelter each year for various reasons based on their individual situations. However, behavioral problems often contribute significantly when making the difficult decision to rehome your dog. While rehoming your dog can sometimes be the best option for you and your dog depending on the situation, there are cases where these issues can be resolved or greatly improved through proper training. Helping pet parents solve or prevent these types of behavioral issues helps keep pets out of shelters and in their homes. That’s why we offer free behavioral counseling for all pets adopted through RHHS for the first 30 days. A better behaved dog leads to increased happiness for the entire family and cultivates a stronger bond between a dog and his or her people. Physical and mental stimulation are crucial to your dog’s overall wellbeing, and training your dog is a fun and rewarding experience for all involved!
Where do I start?
Adding training to your dog’s daily routine doesn’t have to be overly complex or difficult, especially when first starting out. If you are totally new to the dog training world, don’t be afraid to do some research or reach out to a professional for help getting started. When looking for a trainer, it’s important to know which method of training they use and how it will work for your dog. We recommend looking for a trainer with a background in positive reinforcement and clicker training, as these methods motivate the dog during training sessions and provide the dog with a more clear understanding of what behaviors earn rewards. You’ll also want to choose someone who will not only teach your dog new skills, but will also actively involve you in the sessions so you are able to practice at home. Consistency is key, so being able to work on learned behaviors for a
couple minutes daily can have a huge impact on your dog’s progress. If you’re ready to start training your dog at home, congratulations! Dogs tend to learn best when sessions are kept short and positive. Each dog learns differently so it can sometimes be best to focus on teaching one behavior per session to set your dog up for success without making sessions confusing. For other dogs, working on the same trick for the whole session can quickly be boring. Start off with one trick per session until you know your dog’s learning preferences, then adjust as needed. You’ll want to make sure you have plenty of high-value, bite-sized treats or your dog’s favorite toys close at hand to reward desired behaviors.
A good way to begin training is setting aside as little as 5 minutes once or twice daily to work on a single basic command, like sit. The goal is to help your dog enjoy learning the command and look forward to training sessions instead of becoming bored or frustrated. With puppies, it is especially important to keep training sessions short and rewarding, occurring several times daily. In addition to keeping initial sessions under 10 minutes and fun, it’s also important to train in a quiet, distraction-free environment while your dog is starting off. As your dog begins to master their first command, you can begin adding new commands and increase the length of training sessions. There are countless tricks and commands you can teach your dog with consistency and patience. Below are several basic commands to teach your dog using clicker training to start them off with their best paw forward!
Charge the Clicker
Using a clicker is a great way to train your dog because the clicker serves as a clear and constant marker for a desired behavior. Because the sound is always the same, unlike our tone of voice or the person speaking the command, communication between the dog and owner is much easier for the dog to understand. When dogs learn through clicker training, as soon as they hear that ”click” they know a treat is coming to reward that behavior. This click sound, always sounding consistent, marks what behaviors are desirable for the dog and encourages them to perform those behaviors more often. The clicker’s sound becomes valuable to the dog because it signals a reward is coming. Before beginning clicker training, the first thing to do is charge the clicker. Charging the clicker teaches your dog that the “click” sound equals a treat, meaning he did
something right! Charging a clicker is one of the easiest things to teach, especially for dogs who really love treats!
● Find a quiet place with no distractions. You’ll need a bunch of bite sized treats your dog finds rewardable and a clicker in hand.
● Press the clicker and immediately throw the dog a treat. This is referred to as “click and treat.”
● After your dog has lost interest in the initial click and treat, randomly click and treat for several minutes, trying not to click and treat certain behaviors just yet. You do not want him to associate the click with any of his actions yet. The only thing we want to teach him at this point is the click sound equals a treat.
● Continue clicking and treating frequently for 2-5 minutes without marking behaviors or asking for a command.
● Repeat this session daily for a few days until you are confident your dog knows click equals treats. Once the clicker is charged, you are ready to begin clicker training! Throughout your clicker training process, always remember the click is the first and most important step. Clicks should always happen immediately after a desired behavior and before the treat.
Sit is one of the most basic commands a dog can learn but also acts as a key foundation for many other commands. To teach your dog how to sit:
● Hold a high-value treat just above your dog’s nose.
● Move your hand over the dog’s head towards his back, allowing his head to look up and follow the treat. This will cause his bottom to lower as he tries to keep his eyes on that treat.
● As soon as his bottom hits the ground, click and treat without using a vocal cue like telling your dog to sit.
● After several training sessions, you can begin to add vocal cues since your dog will know what action is desired and will then learn to associate that action with the sit command. Start off saying “sit” after the dog is sitting and gradually say sit earlier in time until you are able to say the command before the dog sits.
● Find a distraction-free area and leash your dog up. Longer leashes tend to work best.
● With your dog in a sit or stand, Lower yourself to his level and gently pull on the leash.
● As soon as he reaches you, click and treat. As he begins to understand the behavior you’re asking for, gradually add the command “Come“ starting after he arrives and receives the click and treat, working up until before he approaches.
Before learning to stay, your dog should have mastered the sit command.
● With your dog in a sitting position, take a single step back from your dog. If he stays in the sit, immediately click and treat. If he leaves the sit, calmly correct him by having him return to the sitting position.
● Gradually increase the number of steps you take before clicking and treating. Always click and treat for staying in place, even if it’s for just a brief moment. The length of time your dog stays in place as you back away will increase over time.
● As your dog begins to understand the behavior you are asking for, you can add the verbal command “stay” to the training session. Start introducing the command after the click and treat and gradually give the command earlier until you are commanding the stay before it is performed.
● Place a treat in your hand and make a fist around it. Show your hand to your dog so they know something valued is inside, but it can help if the treat isn’t as valued to start off teaching to leave it.
● Ignore any behaviors associated with the treat in hand including sniffing, pawing, mouthing, barking, or licking.
● Once he ignores the treat in your hand and stops trying to get it, immediately click and treat.
● Repeat until your dog begins leaving the treat alone after closing it in your fist. Gradually add the vocal cue “leave it” until you can give the command before the action is performed.
● Once they have mastered leaving the treat alone in your hand, practice the command with a treat in an open hand and even a treat on the floor. Dogs are always learning whether we know it or not, so setting intentions for their learning can make all the difference in the home. With countless tricks to teach your pup, there is always something that they can learn—and yes, old dogs can learn new tricks! Have fun training your dog this National Train Your Dog Month, but don’t let it stop there! Consistency is key, so practice daily! Find out what works best for you and your dog and stick with it, and don’t be afraid to ask for help!