Top tips for puppy and dog training

Advice to help you successfully teach your pup or dog any command.

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February 15, 2023

Top tips for training your puppy or dog

Do you want to learn how to train your new puppy, stubborn teenage pup or even adult dog?

Dogs are truly our best friends, and they intuitively want to do the right thing and make us happy - it’s an incredibly special relationship. But you need to communicate to your dog in a way they understand to be able to train them, and training them will help them live happily and safely with us in our human world.

Here I’ve put together my top tips for puppy and dog training that will help you no matter what you’re trying to teach your pup or dog, whether it’s to stop jumping up, come when called or simply “sit”.

1. Non Verbal Signals are Important

  • Dogs are significantly non-verbal - gestures and postures mean more to them than spoken words, at least initially
  • This means that hand signals are important
  • Verbal signals (the actual word command such as Sit) are secondary to the hand signal
  • Whistling (if you can) is a great tool to use for long distance communication
  • When you are teaching a new command, start by using a food lure that becomes a hand signal. When your dog is performing consistently with the food lure and hand signal, you can introduce the spoken command on top of the hand signal. This limits the number of things that might confuse your dog when they are starting out on a new command
  • Using a clicker with food will make it much faster and more accurate for your dog to learn

2. Word Commands Should be  Simple

  • Commands should be single syllable or simple
  • Keep them simple and don’t change them e.g. try not to use both “come” and “come here”. Just use “come”
  • Don’t mix meanings - one command should have one meaning only

3. Your Dog's Name is Not a Command

  • Only use your dog’s name to orient your dog to you
  • Keep names short - ideally one syllable (or use a nickname)
  • Don’t use your dog’s name as a command e.g. yelling “Spot!” when you want Spot to come to you. Instead say “Spot. Come!”
  • The name just tells your dog who you’re talking to (especially if you have other dogs); the command tells your dog what you want it to do once you’ve taught it
Body language for drawing commands like Come
Body language for fixed commands like Stay

4. Your Body Language is Important

For drawing commands (asking your dog to come toward you or be with you) e.g. Come or Heel

  • Your body language should be inviting and non-threatening
  • Use happy tones when speaking
  • Your body shouldn’t be in a front-on posture, instead turn slightly sideways to your dog
  • Bending or squatting down to lower your body can help
  • No staring, smile and be encouraging

For fixed commands (when you want your dog to stay in one place) e.g. Sit, Down, Wait, Stay

  • Use a slightly firmer tone of voice
  • Have your body square on and make some eye contact
  • Increase this as you get firmer
  • As your dog succeeds, ease the pressure
  • Different dogs vary in sensitivity so pay attention to how yours responds to you and adjust accordingly

5. My Golden Rules for Training Sessions

  • Don’t feed your dog too much before training sessions, particularly if they aren’t super food motivated, cut down their dinner by 20% or skip breakfast when you’re going to do training (you’ll make up for the lost food amount with training treats)
  • Keep the environment simple
  • Start in a quiet, indoors, distraction-free situation before moving outside to more challenging areas to proof the behaviour in places where there are more distractions
  • Teach one thing at a time
  • Use clear, consistent commands, know what you are training
  • Be patient, don’t rush
  • Have a calm, confident attitude - your dog will take their signals from you
  • Keep commands short
  • Remember the importance of contrast in training, this can be as simple as tone of voice - a high pitched friendly tone to encourage, a lower firmer tone of voice to discourage
  • Always finish on a good note (a successful command ideally, then clap your hands and release your dog - throwing a toy is a good way to break the tension of the training session)
  • Use high value food rewards such as cheese or small pieces of cooked chicken when first teaching a new command, or proofing in a distracting place
  • You are training all the time, so watch how you interact with your dog on a daily basis to be careful you don't accidentally reward undesirable behaviours
  • Use the clicker to speed up the training process
  • Give your dog rest directly after a training session to consolidate the learning

Good luck with your training!

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