Training your dog

Training is a great way to keep your dog’s mind active and helps make sure you and your dog understand each other, especially when you are out together.

Without training, the world can be a pretty confusing place for a dog. People expect dogs to behave in certain ways, and to follow certain rules, but, like a child, a dog can only know what these rules are if they have been properly taught. Sadly, it’s not uncommon to see people shouting angrily at their dog when what is really needed is some effective training. This isn’t fair on the dog.



What’s the best way to train my dog?

The key to successful training is to make it fun! The kindest and most effective method is called “positive reinforcement” – also called reward-based training. Anyone can do this, including you!


How does “reward-based training” work?

dog biscuit on noseThe underlying theory is simple: if an animal behaves in a certain way (e.g. sits), then receives something that they like (a reward), they will want to behave that way again.By repeating this several times and ensuring that the treat arrives either during the good behaviour or immediately after it, then adding a command (e.g. “sit”), the animal will eventually respond to the command without needing the reward.Using reward-based training, almost any animal can be trained to understand commands, from dogs and dolphins to ferrets and fish.


How can I train my dog using rewards?

First, you need to know these golden rules:-

Know what makes your dog tick! – The reward you offer has to be something that your dog really likes, so that they’re prepared to work for it. Some dogs like food treats, others prefer praise or a favourite toy.

Timing is everything – For a dog to know what they’re getting the reward for, the reward must be given while they are doing the behaviour or within half a second after they’ve stopped doing it.

Keep it short – Don’t make training sessions too long, or your dog will lose interest or get frustrated. Keep the training fun and positive, and end on a high each day, after a success.

One by one – Focus on training one command at a time. When your dog has learnt one, then you can move on to the next.

Clear commands – Make sure the command you are using is short and only used for the behaviour you are training, to avoid confusion.

Keep going – When you’re teaching a new command you’ll need to keep rewarding the behaviour that you want your dog to do. It may take lots of repetition but, with patience, your dog will eventually understand what you want. It’s a great moment when, suddenly, the penny drops and your dog gets it!

Ignore mistakes – Every dog will make mistakes from time to time. It’s not their fault, it just means they haven’t learnt the task yet. Ignore the mistake, then give the reward next time they get it right.

Never use punishment – Punishment includes shouting at your dog or, even worse, hitting or smacking them. It can also involve the use of gadgets like water pistols, rattle cans and choke chains. By using these techniques, your dog will experience anxiety and fear; emotions which have been proven to make animals learn more slowly. Reward-based training is kind and effective. Punishment is unkind and doesn’t create lasting results. In addition, if you punish your dog he will learn that people cannot be trusted and this can lead to a range of behavioural problems later in life.

Get everyone on board – Everyone who has contact with your dog should praise the right behaviour, use the same commands and ignore mistakes. This means that your dog gets the same message from everyone, rather than different messages, which is confusing.

A note on food treats – Dog and cat obesity is a big problem and causes health problems. Try using healthy food as a reward, e.g. very small slices of carrot. If your dog is only interested in less healthy food, such as small pieces of chopped sausage, reduce the amount of food given in the main meal so your dog doesn’t get too much food on training days.

cute dog in hat

When can I start training my dog?

It’s never too late, but the sooner you start the better. Basic reward-based training can start at 6 weeks of age but remember just to teach one task at a time.


Do I need to be the pack leader in my dog’s eyes?

No. It’s a myth that some dogs always want to be dominant and that you, as their owner, need to be the leader of the pack. Your dog doesn’t need to view you as more dominant than them, but they do need to learn to trust you and to understand your commands, using the kind and effective methods described earlier.


How can I find a good dog training class?

Make sure that any class you are thinking of joining uses reward-based training and does not base their training on the idea that dogs need to be dominant. Avoid any class which is using water pistols, rattle cans or similar training gadgets.


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