Wet kisses, velvety ears, and endless photo opportunities! There’s a lot to look forward to when bringing home a new puppy or welcoming an adult dog into the family. You’ll inevitably spend the first few hours staring lovingly into her eyes and telling her how wonderful she is. But sooner rather than later, you need to think about dog training. Living with a dog is a lot of fun and games, but it can also be messy and frustrating. In order for your dog to fit seamlessly into the household, training needs to be a priority. You and your dog will get along a lot better if your pup knows exactly what’s expected of her. She won’t learn those lessons on her own, and it’s your responsibility to show her. She’s counting on you, so don’t her down!
Whether your puppy is a few weeks old or your new rescue dog needs a training introduction, this guide will help smooth the road toward your future friendship.
Getting Started with Dog Training
Decide on a Training Method
In case you’re wondering, yes, there is more than one method of dog training. It’s ultimately up to you, but professional dog trainers have a lot to say about what training methods work best. In the past, dominance theory and punishment-based training were popular. These methods taught dogs to behave in certain ways because if they didn’t, they’d be punished. While many dogs respond to this method and turn into seemingly well-behaved household pets, we now know better. Instead of training through fear, it’s been found that dogs respond better to rewards and positivity. Not only does positive reinforcement teach dogs well-mannered behaviors, but it also cements the dog/human bond.
Would you rather your dog obeys because she’s scared of you, or because she loves you and wants to please you? That’s what we thought. For this reason, we recommend learning a little about the positive reinforcement dog training method before you get started with your dog. The basic concept is easy to understand; you reward your dog for good behavior and ignore unwanted behavior. You might also want to consider clicker training.
Set Your Goals and Manage Your Expectations
The next thing you need to do is decide on what you want to achieve with your dog’s training. It could be that you want your dog to walk off-leash on hikes, or maybe you want her to stop barking at other dogs. You can have as many training goals as you want, but remember, you’re not a magician. Proper dog training with lasting results will take time. It will take longer than a week for your pup to go from pulling your arm off on walks to walking calmly by your side. You’ll need to work at it every day and be committed to a regular training schedule. Keep your written goals in a notebook or pinned to the fridge. You’ll want to look at them every day to stay motivated.
Get Your Supplies
The exact supplies you’ll need will depend on your specific goals. If you want to train your dog to stop pulling on walks, for example, you’ll need to invest in a no-pull harness. And if you decide to do clicker training, you’ll need a clicker.
Regardless of your goals, you’re going to need a sturdy leash. We recommend staying away from retractable leashes because they make dog training more difficult. Try a durable rope leash like these ones from Naked Dog Bistro.
You’re also going to need a stockpile of highly motivating treats. When you train, it’s good to have different levels of rewards. The more difficult the behavior you’re training, the better the reward. You can’t expect your dog to do good work for minimum wage, can you? Pick healthy treats (like these), and subtract those calories from your dog’s regular meals.
Ready to Train
With your leash in hand and your pockets full of treats, you’re ready to start training your dog! There are several different steps in training, but we’re going to start with the basic lessons every dog needs to know. We’ll offer advice and walk you through what happens when your dog just doesn’t seem to get it. It might not be easy, but it will always be worth it.
Crate training isn’t about putting your dog in a “cage.” It’s about giving your pup a safe space that’s all her own and keeping her out of trouble when you’re not around. Being comfortable in a crate is essential for all dogs. Here’s how to get started.
- First, put a comfy mat or blanket in the crate. Let your dog investigate the new addition to her environment on her own. She’ll probably sniff around and might take a step inside, but leave her alone. Once she’s done her preliminary checks, you can move forward.
- To get her excited about the crate, toss a few yummy treats right outside the entrance. Once she gobbles those up, put the treats a few inches inside. Get to the point where you can toss the treats all the way to the back of the crate and have her scamper happily inside to get them. Let her come right back out if she wants to.
- Take a break, but leave the crate door open. Sprinkle a few treats on the blanket, or better yet, put a peanut-butter-filled Kong (or anything else that gets your dog really excited) in there when she isn’t looking. The goal is to have her find those surprise treasures all on her own and think, “Woah! This place is awesome, I should come back here more often!” It’s all a part of associating the crate with all things positive.
- Once your dog is comfortable being around the crate, start feeding her meals in there. While she’s eating, close the door. Let her enjoy her meal, and when she’s finished, let her out. With each meal, work on leaving her alone in the crate for longer periods of time. If she whines to be let out, be strong and wait for her to stop. If you let her out every time she cries, she’ll quickly learn to cry is the perfect way to get what she wants.
- Throughout the day, practice leaving your dog in the crate. Start with five minutes and gradually increase. Always reward her with a treat and praise when she walks into the crate but not when she comes out. If she seems nervous, sit quietly next to the crate while she’s inside.
- Repeat this process several times a day until your pup can sit in her crate quietly for one hour. At this point, you’re ready to leave her home alone in her crate.
Tip: Never use the crate for punishment. No matter how mad you get, the crate needs to be a safe place. If she thinks it’s punishment for bad behavior, she won’t like to go in.
Most people think of puppies that need to be house trained, but many adult dogs spend years in shelters because no one bothered to house train them when they were puppies. We’re here to bust the myth that adult dogs can’t be housetrained. House training is easy as long as you’re consistent.
- When you first bring your dog home, set up her routine. Feed her at the same time every day, and take note of what times she needs to go potty. Getting her on a schedule will make your life a lot easier. Once you both know the schedule, you can set up specific “potty times.”
Tip: Puppies and senior dogs can’t hold their bladders for as long as adult dogs. They’ll need to be let out more often, and the youngest puppies might need to be let outside every hour.
- When you take your dog outside for her scheduled potty time, lead her on to the grass and say something like, “go potty” or “go pee.” Whatever signal you choose, make sure you say the exact same phrase for every potty break.
- When she goes to the bathroom in the grass (or whatever designated potty area you’ve chosen), give her huge amounts of praise. Give her a yummy treat, and make sure she knows she just did the best thing ever.
Tip: If she doesn’t go to the bathroom right away, you’ll need to wait her out. Walk around the yard with her, but make sure she knows you’re not there to play; you mean business. If she’s being particularly stubborn, going on a walk can sometimes get things moving.
- You’ll hate to hear it, but indoor potty accidents are going to happen. No dog is perfect. The last thing you want to do when your dog pees or poops inside is get angry and rub her face in her mess. This will only confuse and scare her. Next time, she’ll be sneakier and relieve herself in the back of your closet where you won’t notice it until it really stinks. Instead, when you see her squatting, clap your hands or make a loud sound to get her attention. Hold on to her collar and take her outside to her potty spot. She might not have to go anymore, but if she does, praise her as you’ve never praised her before. This way, you’re actively showing her what you want her to do, and you’re not punishing her for something she doesn’t understand.
Tip: Unfortunately, this only works if you catch your pup in the act. If you find her mess after the deed is done, you have no choice but to channel your frustration into cleaning up. Dogs don’t have the memory capabilities to connect past deeds with present punishments. It’s a good idea to always keep your un-house-trained dog close by, so you can always stop her mid squat.
Going on walks runs, and hikes are one of the best perks of having a dog. That fun outing, however, turns disastrous when your pup pulls so hard on the leash, she nearly dislocates your shoulder. Leash manners are an essential step in all dog training. You’ll enjoy your relationship so much more when you can calmly go out in public together.
- Before you even think about heading out the door, make sure your dog has a no-pull harness. You should also have your sturdy leash on hand.
- The process of training a dog to walk nicely on leash actually starts before you put the leash on. You want the experience to start off on the right paw, and that doesn’t include your dog jumping and going crazy with excitement. Make her sit and be relatively calm before you put on her harness. If your pup is especially exuberant, this might take several minutes.
- Once you’re all clicked in and ready to go, head out the door. Your goal is to teach your dog that pulling will never get her where she wants to go. When she pulls, immediately stop walking. Call her back to you (use a treat for encouragement), and have her stand parallel to you. Take a step forward and as long as her step stays in line with yours, give her a reward. For some dogs, simply continuing the walk is enough of a reward. For others, you’ll need to use treats.
- Every time you feel the tension on the leash, stop walking. There have to be no exceptions, or else your dog will start to think, “Well sometimes pulling works, so I better try that first.” Don’t start walking again until the leash is slack.
Tip: Instead of planning your walks by distance, go on time. At first, trying to walk your dog with a loose leash will be an extremely frustrating endeavor. You might spend 20 minutes and only take 3 steps. But no matter how stubborn and excited your dog is, don’t give in. It will be well worth it when you can head out the door without worry.
Socialization is one of the most underrated aspects of dog training. We sometimes expect our dogs to be as comfortable and as used to things as we are, but that is rarely the case. For puppies, everything is new. Even adult dogs (especially rescues and formerly neglected dogs) need to be properly introduced to certain stimuli. Unsocialized dogs are the ones that react aggressively (usually out of fear) toward other dogs or tremble in fear when they hear an unfamiliar sound. Socialization is the only way for your dog to grow and thrive with confidence.
- Whether you realize it or not, socialization starts as soon as you bring your dog home. Every person, object, noise, and environment you introduce her to is part of her socialization. The trouble is, many pup parents stop socializing at their front door. Give your pup the tools she needs to live confidently by purposefully introducing her to new things. Make a list of things your dog doesn’t regularly see at your house. Things could include, people in wheelchairs, open umbrellas, stairs, kids, other dogs…the list is literally endless. Focus on the things your dog will most likely encounter when you bring her into the world outside your house.
- Every time your dog experiences something new, it should be a positive interaction. Whether it’s the neighbor’s dog or hearing the blender for the first time, end the encounter with plenty of praise, pets, and treats.
- Many of the things on your socialization list will be scary for a dog who’s never seen or heard such a thing before. It’s important to understand how your dog is feeling, and never punish her for showing fear. Fear can be expressed by trembling and cowering, but some dogs choose to defend themselves from the perceived threat. Whatever your dog’s fearful reaction, it’s a sign you went too far too fast. Take a few steps away from the “scary thing” and find the line where your dog is more comfortable than afraid. Praise her from this point and gradually try getting closer again. Complete confidence might not come right away. For especially fearful dogs, it might take months, or even years, to conquer their fears.
Now it’s time for the fun stuff. Trick training is about more than impressing your friends. Learning new skills and tricks keeps a dog mentally stimulated, and it cements your bond. It’s quality time you can spend together just the two of you, and keeping your dog’s brain working will help her learn to focus and impulse control. There are countless dog tricks you can teach your dog, but we’ll go over just a few. Just like any other kind of dog training, keep sessions short and always end on a positive note.
- Get your dog’s attention by saying her name or waving a treat in front of her.
- Say the word “sit.” While you say the word, use one hand to move the treat back over your dog’s head between her ears.
- Slowly move the treat farther back over your dog’s head until she’s forced to turn her nose upward to keep it in sight. At a certain point, she will have to sit if she wants to keep looking at it.
- As soon as her bottom is on the floor, give her the treat and say something like “Yes! Good girl!”
- If she chooses to back up instead of sitting, try again while keeping a wall behind her to prevent her from moving backward.
- To start this trick, your dog should already know “sit.” Have her sit and show her you have a treat.
- Hold the treat level with her face and slowly drop your hand to the ground while saying the words “lie down.” From there, move the treat away from your dog while staying close to the floor. This movement encourages the dog to get low and flat to follow the treat.
- Wait until her elbows and belly are completely on the ground before giving her the treat and offering your praise.
Weave Between Your Legs
- This trick is for the pups ready to move on from the basics and really impress people. To start, have your dog stand on your left side.
- Stand with your legs at least shoulder-width apart. (They’ll need to be wider apart if you have a big dog.)
- Use a treat and lure your dog through your legs going from front to back. With half of the weave complete, continue to lure your dog around your right leg and back between your legs. She should end up back where she started facing forward on your left side.
- As soon as the weave is complete, give her a treat and praise.
- Moving forward, gradually decrease your dog’s dependence on the lure. Guide her if she gets confused, but otherwise, say the word “weave,” give a quick hand gesture pointing between your legs, and let her do the rest. Once she gets that down, you can start taking a step forward as she weaves to build up to her weaving while you walk.
Dog training is meant to be a fun, worthwhile experience for both ends of the leash. If you feel yourself or your dog getting frustrated, take a break. Training sessions should be kept at no more than 10 minutes, and for young puppies, they should be even shorter. If you’re committed to seeing results, try to train at least twice a day. With commitment and patience, it won’t be long until your dog is pulling tricks and showing good manners without your prompting.