How to Choose a Training Program for Your Dog
Training programs based on positively reinforcing your dog's behavior can ensure your dog will learn to happily follow your instructions. Training a dog yourself can be especially rewarding, as it will strengthen the bond between you and your dog. You also have the option to have your dog professionally trained. There are several different training programs to choose from, though many popular training methods have been largely been debunked in terms of effectiveness. Whether you pursue a specific training program on your own, or enroll your dog in a professional program, there are certain attributes that all training programs should have.
Focusing on Training Fundamentals
Use positive reinforcement.It is extremely important that whatever training program you choose relies primarily on positive reinforcement to teach your dog desirable behavior. Whether training your dog on your own, with family members, or through a professional, training techniques must always be humane.
- Examples of positive reinforcement include rewarding appropriate behavior with treats, attention, play, and/or verbal praise.
- Positive reinforcement is only one component of a category of training methods called operant conditioning. Operant conditioning focuses on manipulating your dog’s environment, so that good behaviors are reinforced with favorable consequences, and bad behaviors are punished with negative consequences.
- The methods outlined in the following steps make up the most common, effective, and ethical training programs.
Ignore undesirable behavior.Before your dog is trained, they will likely engage in inappropriate behavior. The best way to respond to lapses in good behavior is often to ignore it, which trains your dog to stop what they are doing via positive punishment. Meanwhile, be sure that positive reinforcement is withheld into the dog engages in the behavior you want to see.
- For example, if your dog is begging for food, neither yell at them nor give them anything. Simply ignore them. Instead, train them to lay down away from the table during meals, and reward them with a treat when they do so.
- Another example of positive punishment is turning away whenever your dog jumps up. By ignoring this undesirable behavior, you're teaching your dog not to do it anymore.
Be consistent.Consistency is extremely important to any training regimen. For instance, you and others that spend time around your dog encourage and disallow the same behaviors. If you are training your dog not to sit on the couch, but other family members do allow them to, they will be confused.
Make training fun.The more that you and your dog enjoy training sessions, the more productive they will be. Games, praising, and hugging are some of the most effective training techniques to use in your program.
- One easy way to associate training with fun is by always giving a command before your dog gets to do something they enjoy. For instance, have your dog sit before they are fed, go out for a walk, or before a stranger is allowed to pet them.
Avoid yelling at your dog.Yelling should never be used a part of a training program. While it may temporarily stop an inappropriate behavior, it will not teach them that the behavior is inappropriate. Of course, You will want to use different tones with your dog for praising, directing, and disciplining your dog.
- In disciplinary situations, use short, loud commands to indicate that your dog should do something immediately. For instance, say something like “Down Boy!” or “Spot, No!”.
- In emergency situations only, you can use a forceful voice to get your dog’s attention and interrupt a potentially dangerous scenario.
Never abuse your dog.The training process can be frustrating, especially when your dog makes progress but reverts to negative behavior momentarily. However, you must never abuse your dog. Not only is abuse unethical, it can also confuse your dog and make training harder for both you and your pet.
- Never hit or shake your dog. Further, do not tug or jerk on their leash violently. Finally, forcing the dog onto their back, sometimes called alpha-rolling, is not recommended.
- Avoid using painful training aids, like prong, choke, and pinch collars. These may result in long lasting behavioral issues, including fear and aggression.
- A a general rule of thumb, you should never do anything to intentionally frighten or cause pain to your dog.
Use only non-abusive negative punishments.Negative punishments are another category of operant conditioning training techniques that can be effective. A negative punishment de-incentivizes a behavior by taking away something that your dog likes, such as a toy.
- For instance, while training your dog to play catch, they may try to jump up and grab the item you are throwing. You can hold the item out of the reach, in a location that they will clearly not be able to get it. This may indicate to them that you want them to stop.
- While techniques that rely on negative punishment may work for some training situations, they are generally not as effective of other training methods, such as those based on positive reinforcement.
- Remember, punishments of any type should only be used in contexts where you can safely and ethically convey to your dog that they are doing something they should not be doing. Physical punishments, like hitting, swatting, or rubbing your dog’s nose in messes, are abusive and should be avoided.
Improve communication with clicker training.Clicker training has become increasingly popular as a way to help you tell your dog that they did something you wanted them to do. It is based on behavioral psychology, and can add to the effectiveness of positive reinforcement training methods.
- Get a clicker designed for clicker training online or from a pet supplies store. As soon as your dog accomplishes an commanded task, such as fetching some thing you had made them wait to retrieve, use the clicker to send an auditory message and then reward them with a treat. Over time, they will learn that the clicker is a positive sign, and the click itself becomes a way to positively reinforce desired behavior.
Training Your Puppy
Start training as early as possible.By the time your puppy is three months old, they’ve essentially reached the equivalent of their teenage years. In other words, they grow up fast. As they develop the ability to interact with the world around them, they will also become increasingly interested in doing so.
- Some breeds are easier to train than others. Dogs that were bred to hunt or herd, like Border Collies, will learn faster than dogs that were bred to guard livestock, like bulldogs. However, when it comes to basic training, the harder-to-train breeds should only take a month longer with good training practices.
- It’s especially important to start potty training early. Keep in mind that small breeds may take longer to potty train than large breeds due to their smaller bladders.
Emphasize obedience training.Setting limits and introducing your puppy to basic commands is the best way to prepare your dog to begin a more comprehensive training program. Teaching a puppy to sit and stay, however, may be harder than you anticipate.
- To teach your dog to sit, say “sit” while you guide them into a sitting position by placing one hand on their chest and another behind their back legs. Once they are sitting, reward them with a treat. This is an example of positive reinforcement, which can be applied to many different obedience commands.
- Stay patient and consistent. The importance of teaching these commands is coupled with the importance of teaching your puppy to listen. Once these commands are consistently followed, your dog is not only able to begin further training, but the process will become much easier.
Focus on the basics.Aside from a command to sit and stay, there are other important basic components that every training program should include. For instance, a command to “lie down” can be useful during meals or while traveling in a vehicle. “Stand” can be useful during grooming and vet visits, and “come” is vital before you ever allow your dog off leash.
- Leash training is also important, but will likely require that your dog is used to being trained. As such, you likely want to teach a few more basic commands before beginning leash training, especially if you’re training a puppy.
Play nice for the first year.Especially if you have a male puppy, it is important to play gently between four and ten months of age. High amounts of testosterone will lead to boundary-pushing other types of aggressive behavior. As such, positive reinforcement and non-aggressive play are especially important during this period.
- As you play, your puppy is learning. Avoid games that may encourage them to be aggressive at a young age.
- For instance, hold off on wrestling and tug-of-war until they’re a bit older. These may convey that pulling and jumping are generally accepted behaviors, which can lead to training challenges later on.
Play with your dog before training sessions.Puppies have notoriously high energy levels, and this can prevent them from focusing during training sessions. To burn off some of that energy, take your puppy out to play before you begin each training session. Try playing fetch, tug-of-war, or taking your puppy for a walk.
- Experiment with a new game each week to see which games your dog enjoys the most.
- Don’t forget to give your puppy a bathroom break before you begin your training session.
Keep training sessions short and focused.The younger your dog is, the shorter their attention span will be. Instead of giving your dog one long training session, give them multiple shorter sessions throughout the day. Training sessions should last between one and ten minutes.
- Try to end the session before your dog loses focus.
Getting Your Dog Professionally Trained
Enroll your dog in a group class.Professional training can be a great way to improve your dog’s behavior. Group classes have many advantages, and are often more than sufficient to help teach a dog basic commands, as well as proper behavior around other dogs.
- The best choice for an initial group training class, especially if your dog is largely untrained, is a group obedience class.
Enroll puppies in classes for their age group.Young puppies benefit from socialization with other dogs immensely. While dogs of any age can benefit from group training, this is especially true for puppies. If your dog is between two and five months old, group puppy classes are ideal.
- Hold off on group classes until your puppy has received their full set of vaccinations. Talk to your vet to see what vaccinations your puppy needs.
Consider private training sessions.If you’re looking to correct a specific behavioral problem through training, a private training with a professional is a good option. Issues that can be corrected with training include over-protectiveness of food or toys, poor behavior on a leash, separation anxiety, and aggressiveness.
- Make sure any professional trainer working with your dog on these issues is trained specifically in behavioral therapy for dogs.
- Other issues, like potty-training, excessive barking, and chewing can often be corrected in group classes.
Ensure a professional trainer is well qualified.Don’t simply sign your dog up for a class wherever. Always ensure that anyone training and caring for your dog does so with compassion and genuine interest in improving the dog’s behavior. Never assume that membership in a dog trainer association means that someone is fully qualified to train your dog, especially in terms of behavioral therapy.
- Look for professional trainers through recommendations. Ask your vet, your local humane society, or your dog groomer about experienced trainers near you.
Talk to a professional trainer beforehand.Important things to consider are how much experience a trainer has, as well as the training methods they employ. These are both good things to ask a prospective trainer. Further, ask about talking to others who have completed a program.
- For instance, “Do you have an references of people who have completed the same class or program with their dog?”
- If you’re considering a group class, ask if you can sit in on a class before signing up your dog. Look for signs that the trainer enjoys what they are doing and only ever treats both dogs and people with patience and respect.
Expect costs to vary widely.Depending on where you live, what types of training your dog needs, and the type of class you're looking for, prices can range from affordable to extremely expensive. Generally, private lessons are priced per-session, while group lessons charge for a several-week course.
- Check with your local shelter to see if they offer subsidized training programs. They are especially likely to offer low costs classes to a dog you have adopted from their shelter.
- Some pet supplies stores will also host classes. For instance, Petsmart offers specific and general classes for individual dogs ranging from puppy obedience to advanced trick training. The cost for most of these classes is 9.
- Veterinary clinics or community groups, like 4-H in the US, often offer classes as well.
Consider day training.One option is having your dog trained by a professional while you’re at work, or booking your dog for a short stay in a overnight program for intensive training. Day training is great if you already have someone else watch your dog during the day. By leaving them with a trainer, they can work together on specific issues, like coming when called or interacting positively with other dogs.
- Board-and-train programs can be especially helpful to correct significant behavior issues. However, these programs are often expensive, and require you to keep up with training guidelines provided by the program to maintain the dog’s improved behavior.
Video: How to choose a right training program
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