Your dog may not be a genius like Einstein, but chances are he has some pretty smart tricks under his belt. In fact, if you’ve ever seen him sit through an entire meal without so much as flinching at your plate, then you know that your pup has more brains than you might expect from such a cute little ball of fur.
But just because your pooch is smarter than you doesn’t mean he understands everything you want him to know. Dogs aren’t exactly known for their verbal dexterity, and they’re even less adept at understanding complicated instructions. So while you may be able to train your dog to walk on a leash using treats or play bows, you won’t be able to make him understand “sit” or “stay,” let alone master these skills.
However, this doesn’t mean that all hope is lost. There are many ways in which you can still work with your dog, whether you plan to eventually enroll him in obedience classes or simply take part in fun activities together. The important thing is to find a method that works for both of you.
How Much Time Can We Spend Together before Starting Formal Lessons?
First things first you should set aside a certain amount of time each day to dedicate to training. This could involve going outside to practice basic commands or working inside with positive reinforcement techniques. It also depends largely on the type of relationship you’d like to build with your dog.
If you only want to use simple commands, you might be okay spending less time interacting with your dog during the week. On the other hand, if you want to engage in elaborate games and tricks, you’ll probably want to devote more time to training.
Once you determine how much time you want to invest in training, keep in mind that it takes anywhere from 10 to 20 repetitions per session for a particular command to become ingrained into your dog’s memory. Be sure to give yourself enough time to accomplish this goal.
Another consideration you should make is how long your dog has been exposed to human interaction. If your pet hasn’t had much contact with people prior to you coming into his life, it might take longer to establish a strong bond. And if your dog lives indoors, consider how long he typically spends outdoors or around unfamiliar animals before deciding how much time you want to commit to training.
Different Ways of Teaching Your Dog Different Commands
Next, you should choose the specific commands you wish to teach your dog. Some common ones include sit, stay, down, fetch, high five and heel. For beginners, it’s recommended that you begin with the easiest commands first, since you can always add difficulty later on. However, once you’ve mastered those basics, you could progress onto more complex tasks like walking on a leash and staying still while you clean up after your dog.
If you’ve never trained your dog before, you should check out our guide to teaching your dog basic commands. After reading about different strategies, you might even be inspired to try something completely new. Once you’ve gotten comfortable with the basics, though, you’ll likely want to move onto more advanced tactics. With that in mind, here are some tips for choosing the appropriate approach for your dog.
When Should You Start Training With Treats Instead Of Words?
Treats and play bows are effective tools for reinforcing good behavior, but you shouldn’t rely too heavily on either one for training purposes. While food rewards are a great motivator for children, dogs often lack the ability to process words accurately.
Instead, treat training involves giving your dog a special toy or object whenever he performs a desired action, rather than rewarding every step toward completing a task. Play bows require similar dedication to physical exercises, as opposed to mental challenges.
Both of these methods are especially useful for encouraging your dog to perform repetitive actions. But please note that toys and bows cannot replace verbal instruction, especially given that dogs hear differently than we do.
Difficult Behaviors That Are Harder to Teach (and Why)
One drawback of owning a dog is having to deal with behavioral issues. While some problems can be resolved quickly, others may necessitate professional intervention. Many people assume that because their dog is intelligent, he must understand everything they ask of him.
Unfortunately, this isn’t necessarily true. Unlike children who can repeat phrases, count to ten and grasp the concept of cause and effect, dogs operate primarily on instinct and impulse. Most of us tend to forget this when dealing with our pets, but they’re unable to comprehend abstract concepts like “no.” Because of this, it may sometimes be easier to explain what you want in plain terms.
Some common examples of hard-to-teach situations include jumping up on guests, digging holes, chewing shoes and furniture and barking incessantly. These behaviors occur mainly due to fear or anxiety, making it challenging to change them.
There are two main reasons why your attempts to correct these problematic behaviors fail. First, dogs don’t view negative consequences as punishment. They believe that your reaction to bad behavior is the real threat, so they feel compelled to continue misbehaving. Second, dogs learn by repetition, so they are unlikely to remember your correction unless they witness it multiple times. To avoid forgetting, wait a few seconds before following up on corrections.
What Kind of Communication Skills Does Your Dog Already Possess?
Before embarking on training sessions, it’s important to assess your dog’s natural intelligence level. Many puppies are naturally outgoing and friendly, but older dogs may be harder to read. As a result, it’s better to focus on stimulating interest in your dog than trying to force him to pay attention to you.
In addition to evaluating your dog’s personality, it’s helpful to evaluate his existing communication skills. Although dogs can understand spoken language from humans, they may struggle with accents or dialects. In general, they are sensitive to tone of voice, body language and gestures, but they may have trouble interpreting facial expressions and distinguishing between emotions. For example, they may interpret yawns as signs of boredom, frustration or hunger.
To improve your dog’s comprehension, you should communicate with him in clear sentences, avoiding slang terms. He’ll be better equipped to follow directions if you speak slowly and clearly. Also, watch for excessive blinking and eye rolling, which may indicate confusion.
It’s also important to realize that dogs don’t communicate through speech. Their vocalizations consist mostly of barks, growls and whimpers, which are usually accompanied by visual cues like tail wagging or lip licking. As a result, it may take your dog longer to recognize your mood. Nevertheless, there are measures you can take to help increase your dog’s receptive vocabulary.
Reward-Based vs Praise-Based Training Methods
Whether you’re training your dog to sit or stand, you should stick to reward-based training. Simply put, this means that you should provide your dog with a desirable outcome when he completes a task. Conversely, praise-based training requires that you say something positive when your dog accomplishes a desired behavior.
While praise-based training may seem intuitively obvious, it’s important to remember that dogs don’t associate praise with feelings of happiness. Rather, they view it as an indicator of success. When you show excitement through words or gestures, your dog may interpret it as encouragement, regardless of the actual meaning.
Praise-based training also puts undue pressure on your dog’s self-esteem. If you consistently tell your dog that he did something correctly, he may come to believe that no matter what he tries, he’ll receive approval. Over time, this may lead to undesirable outcomes, including low confidence, aggression and separation anxiety.
You should also beware of praising your dog for unwanted behaviors. For instance, if your dog jumps up on people uninvited, telling him that he didn’t do anything wrong is counterproductive.
Is It Worth Working With A Professional Trainer?
Professional trainers can offer valuable guidance when it comes to training your dog. Depending on your goals, experience and budget, you may want to hire a trainer several months or years ahead of training. A good trainer should be able to identify possible causes of problem behaviors, develop a customized training regimen based on your needs and demonstrate consistent reinforcement
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