Whether you adopted a new puppy for the holidays, or made a resolution to finally teach your dog some manners, training your dog is the perfect way to ward off the winter blues. January is National Train Your Dog Month, so why not teach your pooch some new tricks instead of binging on a new Netflix series or building another jigsaw puzzle? In addition to giving you something fun to look forward to, knowing your pooch is well-trained pooch has many benefits. You can relax when guests visit, knowing your dog will not jump on them or bark excessively. Walking your dog will be more enjoyable if they don’t strain at the leash and lunge at every dog who passes by. And, you can feel secure knowing your dog will “Drop it” when they pick up something dangerous, or “Come” when they approach a busy street.
Before you begin, think about what you would like training your dog to accomplish. Do you want them to follow obediently by your side during daily walks? Greet guests quietly without barking and jumping? Or, simply add a few new tricks to your dog’s repertoire? Start with only one or two goals in mind, and then move on to new feats as your dog masters each one. The more your dog learns, the more confident and well-behaved they will become. To help you and your dog, our Scripps Ranch Veterinary Hospital team shares their tips for training success.
#1: Use positive training techniques with your dog
Training your dog should be a positive experience for you both, and can help strengthen your bond. Punishing your dog when they don’t do what you ask makes you feel bad, and may make your dog fearful of training sessions. Instead, reward your dog with praise and a small treat when they get it right, despite making only a little progress. Always end each training session on a positive note, although you may not have yet achieved the desired behavior. This way, your dog will look forward to the next training session, and you will have a better chance of reaching your goals.
#2: Keep your dog’s training sessions short
Did you know that you best remember what you study at the beginning and end of a session, and lose much of the middle material? Your pup will learn best in several five-minute sessions throughout the day, rather than a 30-minute marathon, which will likely leave you both exhausted and frustrated. Similar to a small child’s, your pup’s attention span will hold for only short periods, so limit your training sessions to 10 to 15 minutes to make the most of your time together.
#3: Consider clicker training your dog
Clicker training is a form of positive reinforcement that can help your dog recognize the desirable behaviors they should repeat. A clicker, which you can purchase at any pet store, simply makes a clicking sound when you depress the button. The method is easy—click immediately after your dog displays the desired behavior, and give them a small treat. Your dog already understands that the treat is a reward, and they will learn to associate the clicking sound with a positive outcome. In time, the clicker will replace the treats as the positive reinforcement. Clicker training is not only convenient and easy, but also prevents weight gain from too many training treats.
#4: Make training sessions fun for your dog
Your dog will more likely look forward to training sessions, and perform perfectly, if you make your time together fun. Mix things up by making a game out of your training, rather than using the same old routine. For instance, try the shadow game. Walk through your house, and reward your dog if they approach you from behind. If they walk in front of you, simply turn your back, and place a treat on the ground. While your pup eats their treat, walk ahead, and reward them again when they catch up to you. You can pair the word “Heel” with each treat so your dog learns that the command means to follow by your side. Before you know it, your pup will be walking beside you on your daily stroll, instead of tugging on their leash.
#5: Build your dog’s confidence through training
Pair training with socialization to help your dog form positive associations with new experiences and situations. Although your dog’s critical socialization period—3 to 14 weeks of age—has likely passed, proper socialization is lifelong, and can help your dog navigate life with confidence and ease, rather than fear. Expose your dog to as many new people, animals, and experiences as possible, rewarding them with praise and a treat each time. If your dog is fearful of new people, take them for a walk and ask each person you meet to offer your dog a treat. Before long, your dog will learn that new people mean yummy treats, and they will approach strangers eagerly and confidently. Always carry training treats to reward your dog when they greet new people calmly and do not hide behind you.
Are you ready to teach your dog a few new tricks, or correct problem behaviors? The next time you visit us at Scripps Ranch Veterinary Hospital, we would love your dog to demonstrate their new trick so we can give them a treat, and celebrate their accomplishment. Contact us to schedule an appointment for all your dog’s healthcare needs.