Six Steps to Train Your Dog

1. Get the right equipment:

A harness, leash, treats, something to hold treats like a bait bag/pouch, toys, and clicker (is optional since you can also mark behavior with a chosen word).

A harness is a necessity for dogs walking on leash. Since the leash will clip to a back connection (or front connection, usually used for strong pullers), when dogs pull, their bodies will absorb the pressure. In contrast, any leash attached to a collar puts pressure on the neck and can lead to trachea damage. Even dogs trained to walk calmly without pulling, may lunge towards prey like a squirrel, and one instance is all it takes to hurt the neck.

Treats and toys are for motivation and rewards. Clickers mark behavior correct and buy you some time to deliver the reward, but you can also pick a word like “Yes!” or “Good!” to mark behavior.

2. Remove all negative/force interactions in your dog’s life.

The important concept to note here is that we want to remove anything negative from our dog’s point of view, not from our personal perspective. For example, we may think we’re being kind by petting a dog, but if he is nervous or uncomfortable about being touched in that moment, it’s not a positive interaction and can lead to problems.

Obvious interactions to avoid include any type of force training (remote shock collars, prong collars, and choke chains, yelling, approaching threateningly, spraying with water bottles, shaking cans of pennies, throwing objects at them, and so on).

Ultimately this will help prevent behavior problems like fear and aggression from forming, and allow your dog confidence to quickly learn new behaviors.

3. Focus on rewarding good behaviors you want

If dogs are doing behaviors that bother us, think of what you would like instead and then teach the behavior. Many times we accidentally focus on bad behaviors and give attention to those, but instead we can catch our dogs in the act of being good and doing behaviors we prefer. By rewarding those, our dogs will perform more of those behaviors. You can teach any behavior using positive reinforcement training.

4. Teach behaviors you want in short training sessions, then use them in daily situations.

Short training sessions can help you focus on rewarding desirable behaviors. Break behaviors into parts to make it easier for your dog. Once your dog can perform the behavior in response to your signal, start to ask him to perform it in daily life situations. For example, use a sit stay at the front door before a walk. Ask for calm walking behavior on leash without pulling, and reward it.

5. Proof behaviors by working in new environments, on distractions, distance, duration, and cold trails for reliable behavior. 

If you want your dogs to perform their new behaviors in certain types of situations then you’ll have to train in those specific situations. It might be easy for your dog to sit when asked at home in the living room, but more challenging to perform a sit from 10 feet away with distractions like people walking by in the front yard. If you want your dog to hold a 2 minute stay instead of a 2 second stay, you’ll have to build the time or duration up step-by-step. In addition, working on cold trials, where your dog is not warmed up after several practice repetitions, simulates real life situations and is useful when you need a correct response on the first try.

6. Provide for your dog’s other needs

Dog’s have amazing noses, and a basic need to walk in new areas and smell scents in the environment. They also tend to be high energy with physical movement (running, walking) needs.  We can also provide them with other types of enrichment such as puzzle toys, playing with them (chase, tug, fetch, etc.), allowing swimming, and opportunities to socialize and play with other dogs and people.

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