How to Start Training Your Dog
You may well wonder how entire books exist about dog training and obedience—whole shelves of books, actually, each purporting to hold the magic key to a well-behaved dog. Training your dog can seem overwhelming, but it’s pretty simple once you grasp a few concepts and apply them consistently. It’s sort of like all those diet books claiming to have secret formulas for weight loss, when it really boils down to fewer calories going in and more calories being burned up. You just have to stick with the program.
Like dieting, training your dog takes commitment and discipline (on your part), and while you may get faster results with some dogs than others, the results will always require some effort to maintain.
Dogs will repeat a response that brings them a reward—and they’ll be less likely to repeat anything that does not bring a reward. Embrace the simplicity of those two linked ideas and you’ll have everything you need. No need to buy books devoted entirely to dog training (and then give up halfway through because the theory bogs you down). No need to feel there’s something amiss with you or your dog because you can’t execute commands with military precision. Follow along with these ideas and discover how to start training your dog.
1. FIND A TRAINING CLASS FOR YOUR DOG
One of the best strategies to achieve a well-behaved dog is enrolling in a dog obedience class. But it’s important to evaluate those classes to be sure you’ll both be comfortable. The considerations that follow apply to any dog training you are evaluating—from puppy kindergarten to advanced agility training.
What is the dog training space like?
Is it safe? If it’s indoors, are there dangers to dogs like electrical cords or furniture in the way? If it’s held outside, is the area level and free of debris? Is there a designated “toilet area” for the dogs (with a trash can where people can deposit their dog's waste)? Is the place clean? Cool in summer, warm in winter? Is the space large enough? Crowding can create stress between dogs and lead to fights.
How do I choose the best dog trainer?
If possible, go watch the trainer before you sign up and bring your dog. That way, you can see whether you think it’ll be a good fit for you and your dog. The trainer’s method should feel comfortable and logical, even if there are ideas that are new to you. You should feel at ease with the trainer’s way of explaining things, of handling the dogs, and dealing with the owners. Get references for a trainer from your vet or the local shelter—someone who used the trainer and had a great experience and result. Decide for yourself whether that person’s dog behaves well.
How are dog trainees screened?
Based on questions asked of you, it will be clear whether all the practical aspects are considered. Are the sizes and ages of dogs matched up so that they are basically compatible? What about the vaccination policy? Even though some facilities require your puppy’s had two sets of shots, that rule should not be cut-and-dried because vets don’t all abide by the same vaccination schedule. Simply requiring a statement from clients that their puppy is under a vet’s care for overall health is a reasonable basis for inclusion.
How big is the dog training class?
Classes in cities tend to be larger. That is fine as long as the space accommodates the number of dogs, and the teacher has an assistant(s) so that all the participants get enough attention. A class generally shouldn’t be larger than fifteen students.
Is the class well organized?
Are all the “rules and regs” spelled out clearly so everyone knows what the classes will cost, what the cancellation policy is, and whether there is a refund or makeup policy for missed classes? Can other family members attend to learn what the puppy is learning? This is a good practice if they allow it.
WHAT KIND OF DOG TRAINING CLASS IS BEST FOR YOU?
Are group or private classes best for you, or should you consider sending your dog away for intensive training?
Choose a group dog training class if:
Choose private dog training lessons if:
Send your dog away for training if:
WHAT IS THE BEST AGE TO TRAIN A DOG?
There is now KPT—Kindergarten Puppy Training—because studies have shown that even a puppy as young as three weeks can have adult brain waves and can learn. KPT trainers will work with you and a puppy as young as two to three months old.
2. KNOW THE PRINCIPLES OF DOG TRAINING
WHAT TO DO IF YOUR DOG THREATENS YOU
A growl or glare is a serious threat, and a threatening dog is neither normal nor acceptable. Sharing your life with a dog is not supposed to be a contest—training is not about proving who is the boss. Do not ignore or try to justify a threatening attitude or behavior, but do not try to resolve it right then and there, either. Confrontation is dangerous, and you could get hurt. If you feel scared of your dog, trust your gut instincts and back off. Stop what you’re doing and get a professional to help.
3. MAKE DOG TRAINING AT HOME A HABIT
There is really no mystery about getting a dog to behave in ways that please you. Dog trainers teach two simple fundamentals: reward the behavior you want and ignore behavior you don’t. There’s no secret to success other than an owner’s commitment to sticking consistently with this simple plan.
Shaping your dog’s behavior isn’t something you do once and it’s over. Training is part of an ongoing “conversation” between you and your dog. Every day you reinforce what he already knows.
Training your dog effectively is finally about so much more than insisting on a prescribed, unyielding way for a dog to heel or come. It is instead about “civilizing” your dog so that living together is a pleasant experience on both sides and you’re able to develop a way of communicating.
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