5 Pet Training Rules

A person and a dog in a field

Ready to get started? Keep in mind these five simple rules for positive, fun, and successful dog training. These will help you train your pet the way you want them to be.

1. Focus on behavior you want.

A person and a dog on a leash

Decide exactly what you want your dog to do when the doorbell rings, or when you are eating dinner. There are thousands of “wrong ways” for your dog to behave during these events. If you want your dog to go to his bed when the doorbell rings, train that behavior chain.

A dog looking at the camera

2. Use force-free methods.

Use positive reinforcement to shape and increase behaviors you want. Punishment does not teach more appropriate behaviors, and can result in fear or an increase in aggression.

3. Reinforce good behavior.

Catch your dog doing something right! Find ways to reinforce behavior you like throughout the day, when it occurs. Use a verbal marker “Yes!” and reinforce with life rewards if the clicker and treats are not available. Your dog is always learning, so you always have opportunities for reinforcement.

4. Set up training for success.

Break new behaviors down into baby steps, so your dog can be successful and you can reinforce more often. When you are training a new behavior or working in a distracting environment, keep the rate of clicks and treats high—10 clicks/treats per minute is not too much!

5. Teach your dog self-control.

Realize that your dog ultimately controls his own behavior. You can sometimes control the environment and you can give consequences if you are on the spot. Teach your dog that calm, controlled behavior will get him what he wants.

Some Important Rules to Remember

Training should be an enjoyable experience for you and your dog. If you are not in the right mood for training, don’t even start. Keep training sessions short, on the order of 5-10 minutes, to maintain your dog’s motivation.

If your dog doesn’t respond appropriately to a command after several attempts, don’t reward him. Resume training a few seconds later using a simpler command. Return to the more complex task later.

Always end training on a positive note. Ask your dog to respond to a command you know he will obey. Then reward him for a job well done and issue a finish command such as “free” or “release.” Avoid common words such as “okay.” Following a training session, both owner and dog should be left with a feeling of accomplishment.

Every dog should be familiar with the basic obedience commands, including come, heel, sit, down and stay. Teaching your dog to sit-stay and down-stay off leash is also a valuable lesson. Additional commands that are useful include: leave it, give it, stop it, and enough or cease.

Keep in mind that a dog’s motivation to respond to a command decreases as the complexity of the task increases. The odds of success, hinge not only on the degree of sophistication of the task but also your dog’s motivation to respond. From a dog’s perspective the question is, which is more rewarding, chasing the squirrel or returning to the owner? Understanding this aspect will increase your patience and chances for success.

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