Dog training is an art and a science. But what are the dog training basics to get one started on the right paw so to speak?
First and most importantly, before basic obedience is taught to your dog; you need to establish a loving and engaging relationship with your dog. It’s a given that everyone loves their dog.Â But not everyone is engaged with their dog and vice versa.Â To be engaging with our dogs is to attract their attention and interest as well as to be able to maintain that attention despite distractions in the environment. Many times this is very challenging. The environment offers many high value distractions such as other dogs, strangers, birds, squirrels, vehicles, bikes, and children, to name a few. How is it that we can compete with those distractions? It starts with becoming everything to your dog.
You want to become your dog’s “everything”.
1. Train your dog with his everyday kibble. Instead of feeding your dog it’s food for free out of a bowl, place the portion in a zip lock bag and use it for training.Â This way your dog will be dependent upon you for its food, will learn to work with you to obtain its food and you don’t have to buy as much expensive treats to use for training. Plus it’s healthier for your dog.Â You can save the tasty treats when competing with stronger distractions. Additionally, if you are interrupted from training and your spouse your child comes home and sees there is still food in the Monday zip lock bag, they can continue the training with your dog.
2. Teach your dog “eye attention”. Everyone wants their dog to pay attention to them but if there’s no reward in that, they’ll look away to other things in their environment.Â Start in a room with no distractions.Â Place some of your dog’s kibble in your fist. Move the fist toward your dog’s nose and bring your fist up in front of your face. Be sure to stand straight and tall or sit up straight in a chair when doing this so you aren’t bending over your dog and unintentionally pushing them backwards. Smile at your dog and when he looks at your face, mark it by saying “yes” and give him the kibble. Repeat several times.Â At first, reward upon his first glance at your face. Later, mark with the word “yes” after he’s held the stare at your face for five, ten or fifteen seconds. It doesn’t matter if he’s sitting, standing or laying down for this exercise.Â All that matters is that he looks up at your face. It also teaches him that people staring at him is a good thing because it results in obtaining his food.
3. Teach your dog to chase and touch your hand. Place the kibble in one hand and extend an open hand to your dog.Â Place the open hand right next to his muzzle.Â When he turns his head to investigate and touches your open hand, mark it by saying, “yes” and deliver some kibble to him from the other hand. All he has to do is twist his head to touch your hand. As he gets more insistent on touching your hand, challenge him by moving the hand further away from him.Â Note, it’s helpful if he is standing for this exercise as some dogs who are sitting or laying down will think, “I can’t reach your hand because I’m on a sit stay.” When he moves toward your hand and touches it again with his snout, mark the behavior with the word “yes” as before and give some kibble from the other hand.
As your dog’s confidence increases with this exercise, move your hand from one side in front of you to the other so that he begins to chase the hand. Make him miss the hand by taking the hand back the other direction. This will motivate him to speed up and chase your hand with more enthusiasm. As he catches the hand, mark and deliver the food as before. Now you have made the obtaining food to be a fun chase game instead of simply being given food for free. You can also use this new skill as a way to direct your dog into some position. For example, say your dog comes to you but not close enough for you to put his leash on his collar.Â If he knows the “touch” game, you can say touch and have him come all the way into you allowing you to place the leash on his collar. It is also helpful when you want to turn your dog’s head away from the Veterinarian during a health exam.
4. Teach your dog to fetch balls and toys. If your dog isn’t a natural retriever, place the ball or toy on a rope and entice him to chase the moving object. Upon him catching the prey object, play a little tug with him (note playing tug does not teach aggression contrary to what most people believe as long as it’s played correctly at a low intensity) and let him win.Â If he drops the item, snatch it away and the fun chase game begins again.Â If he wants to hang onto the toy, offer a trade such as a tasty treat with the paired command to “out” or “give”. If your dog has no interest in the toy on a rope, pet stores sell toys that you can stuff tasty treats inside that will entice him to chase so that he can catch and eat his tasty treat. However, if your dog loves chasing balls but wants to turn it into a keep away game, play with two balls.Â Introduce one ball for him to chase. As he picks it up, show him you have a second ball (exact same kind) and entice him to come get it which you then throw behind you for him to chase. He will probably drop the first ball on his way to you to go chase the second moving ball.Â Then you can pick up the first ball and start the game all over again. This way your dog learns that coming toward you, instead of away from you, results in fun games of fetch.
5. Run away from your dog. Make it a fun game for your dog to chase you to get tasty treats, balls, or massages upon him catching you.Â If he gets loose outside, don’t chase him. You’ll never catch him. Instead, get his attention and run away from him. He’ll instantly think wow, mom/dad wants to play and he’ll chase you down. Remember, you’re competing with strong distractions outdoors so don’t be afraid to run away and fall on the ground. Your dog will come running to you to pounce on you.
6. Get your dog to walk into your space. When I want to move my dog, I get him to move into my space. It’s much less threatening for him than me moving into his space. By moving away from my dog for him to obtain what he wants, I can influence and control his movements.
7. Don’t get a second dog to entertain your first dog. If you’re looking to get a second dog, don’t get it to act as a baby sitter for the first dog. Its true friendly dogs love to play with each other and it might offer you a relief from having to entertain your dog during the day. However, you don’t want the two dogs to bond so close to each other that they would prefer to spend time with each other rather than with you. You want each dog to prefer engaging with you because you’re their everything.Â So if you’re looking to get a second dog, be sure its for you and not for your dog. Upon getting the second dog, be sure to still spend quality and frequent time with each individually as well as with them together. You also want to make sure the first dog is trained to your satisfaction prior to adding the second dog. Otherwise, you’ll end up with two untrained dogs.
Socialization is Key
Properly socialize your dog with other dogs, people, and environments. Pair fun things for your dog to do such as eating tasty treats or playing tug while encountering new experiences. You want him to learn that fun things happen when he sees these potential triggers.Â While doing this, be mindful of his space (distance) to the triggers.Â Distance is your friend. Its ok for your dog to be challenged but not overwhelmed by the new experience. Enroll your puppy in a Puppy Basic Manners or Puppy Basic Obedience class so you can learn the right way to socialize your puppy or dog.
Most dogs’ ability to learn is only limited by the owner’s time and imagination. Dogs pick up on our movements and remember patterns. So be careful in not only what you teach your dog but also what you don’t intend to teach them. For example, as a K9 Police Officer, my dog liked to jump up on the high school metal door bars to open the door for us. And, because it was cute, I let her. However, one day when she was running downstairs to the basement in my home, I suddenly realized what was about to happen.Â The basement wood door was closed and yes, K9 Draco removed it from its hinges in one quick jump. Another example of what not to do is when she was a 13 week old puppy. Draco liked to climbed up my legs and body and sit on my shoulder much like a parrot. Again, it was cute until the day when she was about 65lbs and tried to accomplish the same feat. A 65lb Belgian Malinois with claws trying to sit on my shoulder was not what I had in mind when she was a cute little puppy. So be careful what you teach them to do without realizing it.
Every family dog should be trained to be a good companion. To that end, the American Kennel Club has two great programs called the Canine Good Citizen test and the Advanced Canine Good Citizen test. The first encompasses intermediate dog obedience skills such as walking on a loose leash, sitting, laying down, staying in place, accepting petting from a friendly stranger, etc. The second evaluation takes those skills to the next level and has the dog perform them in community settings such as taking a walk in a park, passing other dogs in a crowded hallway, staying in place in close proximity to other dogs, etc. To start your dog’s education, teach him to sit, come when called, walk on a loose leash, to lay down and to sit-stay and/or down-stay.
Â (Note, the CGC and CGCA are now titles instead of certificates and some of the rules have changed since making of this video)
Training a dog isn’t easy and it doesn’t come natural for most folks. It is an art and a science. That is why most people benefit from working with a professional dog trainer like those found at Michigan Dog Training in Plymouth, Michigan. They can help you train your dog to become an ideal companion. They will help you practice and learn the three basic dog training principles:
- Become your dog’s “everything” – be engaging to your dog.
- Socialization is key so you can take your dog to more exciting places.
- Teach your dog basic and advanced obedience so he can become your ideal companion.
Here is a video explaining the Advanced Canine Good Citizen program by the American Kennel Club.