It’s Time – Train Your Dog!

By Laura DeMaio Roy

January is National Train Your Dog month! Winter is a great time to start training or get back to training your dog. Colder temperatures often mean being stuck inside, which means more time for training! You can teach your dog obedience, tricks and scent games, all in the comfort of your home, even in small spaces! It’s a great opportunity to connect with your dog and wear them out mentally and physically when outdoor exercise can be problematic. With more training under your belt, you’ll be ready to show your dog off to your neighbors when the weather warms up! Check out these five training tips to help you get started.

Reward the Good, Ignore the Undesirable

Using positive reinforcement is a fun and effective way to train your dog while building your relationship with them. The goal is to reward the desirable behaviors so that the dog is eager to repeat them.  By ignoring or preventing unwanted behaviors, they naturally extinguish over time due to lack of reinforcement. Always think about what is being rewarded. For example, if you pet your dog when they jump on you, the dog has learned that they get attention for jumping. If instead you treat your dog when they sit for attention and walk away when they jump, your dog will be sitting in no time!  Remember, dogs do what works.

Leave Them Wanting More

Training should be done in short bursts throughout the day and not in one long session. Keep your sessions under 5 minutes and even shorter for young puppies. Bring lots of energy to the training to make it fun and exciting, and most importantly, leave them wanting more. You want to finish a session on a good note before your dog becomes tired or distracted. Quit early and come back to training later in the day. If you keep sessions short and do multiple sessions throughout the day your dog will learn quickly and be more apt to offer good behaviors spontaneously for a reward!

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Set Them Up For Success

When training your dog, you want to start training in the least distracting environment possible. This sets the dog up for success. Just like it would be hard for you to learn calculus if you were at a party with music blaring and people dancing, it is hard for your dog to learn a new skill in a distracting environment. Instead, take them to a familiar room like your kitchen and minimize distractions so they can focus on the task at hand. Then once they understand the new skill well, move on to different rooms and eventually a more distracting environment.

Train the Dog in Front of You

Taking the time to truly understand your dog and build a relationship is more important than learning obedience at the outset. Many first-time trainers are eager to get commands down, and get them down fast! But slow is fast. Establish solid fundamentals and get your dog engaged in training. Just because your neighbor’s dog can do something, doesn’t mean you should teach your dog that same thing today. Each dog is an individual and you need to understand what motivates them, whether it be a yummy treat, belly rubs or playing tug. The pay-off for taking the time to understand your dog is that over the long term you will have more reliable obedience and a stronger bond!

Have Fun!

Training should be fun! If you’re frustrated, you can bet your dog is too. Look at training like a game you two are playing. Reward often and get excited. The more engaged you are, the more your dog will learn and the better behaved they will be.

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