There are a few simple rules to stick with which will make your training successful. Dog training isn’t an exact science, it’s not a predictable journey, and it can be hard to know where to start or where to go when things are difficult. These tips will help keep training on track and break down any barriers to progress.
Consistency is key. Without this, our dogs get mixed signals and learning becomes difficult. Everyone needs to be on the same page and follow the same expectations with the dog.
Decide what behaviours are acceptable and which ones you want to change, and then stick to it! Letting your dog jump up one day, and then trying to stop them the next, will only confuse them more and won’t improve the behaviour.
Teaching new behaviours or undoing bad habits takes time, so don’t give up when it doesn’t seem to be working, keep being consistent with your training.
2. Be clear
Dogs benefit from clarity, the clearer you can be, the easier it is for them to understand. Keep your expectations clear for them and help them out if they’re struggling with something.
If you’ve asked your dog to perform a behaviour he knows, make sure you follow through with it and reinforce the desired behaviour. For example, if you’ve asked him to come back during a walk, make sure he responds!
Dogs learn what works, they seek out reinforcers so always train using rewards and positive methods. Punishing behaviours or using methods which cause fear or pain will not help them learn effectively and can create big problems.
Rewards could involve treats and toys, but you can also use anything your dog enjoys, for example, cuddles, access to sniffs, freedom off-lead, or playing with other dogs. Find what your dog enjoys and then use this to reinforce good behaviours.
Training should be fun and enjoyable for you and your dog. If it’s becoming stressful or frustrating, you need to change what you’re doing and find the positivity again! Keep sessions short so your dog doesn’t become too tired or over-excited. Start with easier behaviours and build up the difficultly gradually, and always work within you and your dogs’ coping abilities. Some dogs find learning fun and easy, others can find it difficult and need more help to maintain the enjoyment.
If training isn’t fun, stop what you’re doing and focus on something else for a while, taking a break from training and spending time simply playing or having fun in other ways with your dog is also important.
Without management, training is rarely successful, especially when you’re trying to teach new habits and stop old behaviours. Prevent opportunities for your dog to practice unwanted behaviours and set them up to successfully learn new ones.
If your dog steals food in the house, prevent access to these areas or keep all tempting items out of reach. Management shouldn’t be underestimated, it’s a vital part of training and it can be the difference between your training being successful or not.
Learning takes time. Think about when you’ve had to learn a new skill or a new language, it doesn’t happen overnight and it can take a huge amount of time and effort. It’s the same for our dogs, we might know what we want them to learn, but they will need time to understand.
Old habits don’t change quickly, you need to put all the elements together before things will change. You need to be consistent, clear, and set your dog up to succeed. Then add in a lot of time and patience!
Sometimes you need to be patient if your dog is going through a tricky phase. Don’t just ignore the problems, but accept that you need a combination of training, management and to patiently wait for your dog to come through it (…think puppyhood and adolescence!).
7. Set up for Success
Don’t blame your dog for not learning or understanding if you don’t help him out enough. Start your training in easy environments where he’s able to think and learn. Distracting situations are rarely a good time for learning, so teach good foundations in quiet places first before you expect your dog to cope with distractions.
Management is key too, if your dog keeps reverting to old habits, manage the situation better so he finds it easier to choose a more desirable behaviour.
If your dog is struggling, be prepared to return to easier steps and build up again. Setbacks are all part of the learning process, especially when you’re working through more complex or established behaviours, so always take a step back when needed and support your dog throughout.
It can feel a lonely place at times if training isn’t going to plan or you’ve hit a wall with progress. Working with a professional trainer can help give you reassurance and someone to talk to when things are tough. It can help to bounce ideas off other people, but remember sometimes too many opinions aren’t helpful so choose the right people who can support you.
If multiple people are involved with the dogs’ training, make sure everyone is on the same page and working towards the same goals. If everyone has different expectations or there’s a lack of consistency then progress will be slow or non-existent. Work together!
There is no quick fix in dog training. Anything sold as a ‘quick fix’ is likely to be provoking fear or pain in your dog and essentially shutting their behaviour down … it’s not healthy. Surely you would rather your dog learns in a positive way, even if it happens more slowly. Behaviours and habits taught using positive methods will be more reliable and consistent, and importantly, your dog will feel happier and more relaxed about life!
You also need to be prepared to dedicate time to your dog. You can’t expect someone else to train your dog if you don’t put your share of time and effort in. And your dog won’t learn anything unless you take the time to teach him. We often expect our dogs to behave in ways that aren’t natural to
them, their motivations don’t always match ours, so it requires time to teach them acceptable behaviours.
Ultimately, training should be FUN. Sometimes it will feel like a chore, sometimes it gets tiresome and we wish it happened quicker. But the majority of the time, you should enjoy training your dog!
When training isn’t fun or enjoyable, ask yourself ‘Why?’. What needs to change in order to make it a more positive experience again. If the environment is too difficult, your expectations are too high or you’re not using the right motivators for your dog, these can all lead to a more stressful or frustrating training scenario, so adapt what you’re doing, take the pressure off and have FUN!
*One last tip … Know when to push yourself and your dog. It’s important to set your dog up for success but you also need to know when to push them to make progress at times. Don’t get stuck on one thing for too long because it can become hard to move beyond that point.
Sometimes you have a brave the next step, you may follow that by going back to easier steps because progress is rarely a straight path and you need to be flexible to adjust your training and expectations all the time.
If you’re working through more complex behaviours, this is where it can be invaluable to work alongside an experienced professional because they can help guide you with knowing when to move on to the next steps or when to make things easier again.
Written by Naomi White
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