Our canine friends are natural people pleasers and eager to learn a new behavior or skill. In fact, every interaction is an opportunity for your dog to learn a skill and improve their manners, which will help them thrive in every aspect of life. Dogs use body language to communicate with each other and their humans, and understanding their basic communication tools will help ensure that their training is a positive learning experience. Training your dog should be lifelong, and our Animal Medical Hospital of Naples veterinary team has compiled some basic principles to help ensure you and your dog enjoy a successful training experience. 

Benefits of dog training

Training your dog is more than teaching them to hold a treat on their nose or bark on command. Training involves teaching your pup to behave appropriately and safely in all situations, and its numerous benefits include:

  • Life skills —Training establishes a common language between you and your dog and will help them navigate their world. 
  • Freedom A well-trained dog is easily accepted at more places by more people, which allows them to travel and join you on more adventures. 
  • Peace of mind — Well-behaved dogs are less likely to charge the door when you return home, or injure your hand by dragging you down the street. Teaching your dog basic home skills will also help prevent accidents and the stress of a missing pet. 
  • Bonding The time you spend together during training sessions will strengthen the bond between you and your dog.
  • Mental health In addition to physical exercise and good health, dogs require mental stimulation to maintain brain health. Training your dog new skills will decrease bad behavior because they are bored. 

Dog training tool kit

Before training a new skill or behavior, ensure that you have the needed tools for a successful outcome. Your training toolkit should include:

  •  Collar or harness
  •  Fixed-length leash between four feet and six feet
  •  Training clicker
  •  Ample treats

A crate is also useful, especially for potty training or times when your dog is unsupervised. A crate should be a safe, comfortable place for your dog to rest or sleep, and should never be used as punishment. 

Reward-based dog training

Positive reinforcement training is the most effective, humane dog-training method. Determine your dog’s favorite foods, treats, and toys, and use those as rewards when your pet achieves the desired behavior. Belly rubs and petting may also be used as rewards, although they can be distracting when your dog is first learning a new skill. Additionally, use low-calorie treats that your dog can eat quickly without much chewing, such as freeze-dried liver, skinless boneless chicken, and semi-moist dogs treats. Use only tiny pieces so your dog does not get full quickly and feel less motivated to learn. For small dogs, reward treats should be the size of a lentil, while for large dogs, treats should be Cheerio-sized. Also, use a training clicker and verbal cues such as “Sit” and “Stay” in conjunction with the food rewards. General guidelines for rewarding behaviors include:

  • Difficult behaviors Use higher value rewards, such as hot-dog pieces, for more difficult behaviors. Examples of difficult behaviors include teaching them not to bark or jump up on visitors.
  • Continuous reinforcement Give your dog low calorie treats when first learning a new behavior, ensuring they receive a treat every time they behave correctly. 
  • Intermittent reinforcement — Once your dog is performing a new behavior 80% to 90% of the time, switch to intermittent reinforcement so they don’t expect a reward every time, which will increase their motivation to perform the behavior. 
  • Immediate reinforcement — Timing is crucial to reinforce your dog’s desired behavior. Present treats or rewards immediately, so your dog understands what they did correctly. If you wait too long to reinforce a behavior, your dog may become confused and frustrated.

Basic dog training techniques

You can use various training methods, depending on the complexity of the behavior you are trying to teach your dog. The following are the three most common training techniques:

  • Capturing Reward your dog when they behave naturally, such as lying quietly at your feet when you’re working at your desk. Training clickers or verbal cues are especially useful for capturing behaviors, because they let your dog know a food reward is on the way. Eventually, your dog will learn to behave the same way in other locations when you use the clicker or verbal cue. 
  • Luring This technique involves teaching your dog to follow an object. For example, to teach your pet to sit, hold a treat above their nose and move it toward their tail while also using a verbal cue. Your dog will likely follow the treat with their eyes, causing them to lift their neck and lower their bottom, and sit. 
  • Shaping — Reward small steps toward a final behavior like agility training. Shaping may combine capturing and luring techniques, especially for more complicated behaviors such as tipping over a teeter-totter. 

Training your dog should be fun and rewarding for you and your beloved companion. If you are becoming frustrated, or your dog starts to behave aggressively, consider hiring a professional dog trainer. Also, contact our Animal Medical Hospital of Naples office with any training questions, or concerns about your dog’s behavior.