This page covers everything you need to know to train your dog at home – click here to go straight into our best training tips!
Dog training can be described as the process of altering your dog’s behavior – preferably for the better! But did you know your dog doesn’t necessarily have to be “trained” to learn how to behave?
That’s right – they are practically always learning from you, whether you are making a conscious effort to teach them or not. If you become nervous when approaching another dog, your dog learns that other dogs are things to be feared. If you allow your dog’s unnecessary barking to go unchecked, they learn that it’s acceptable behavior to bark whenever they want.
The key is to shape your dog’s behavior into what you want it to be, and become aware of your own behavior that your dog may inadvertently be learning from. The concept of dog behavior training has been around for thousands of years, and records of training dogs in specific roles date at least as far back as Roman times. It’s quite likely though that dogs were trained in some way or another even earlier than this.
The accepted methods for dog training have changed quite a bit in the time since then. Even in the last 50 years or so, many popular methods have declined in favor as newer and more attractive ideas take their place. There was once a time where the common belief was that a dog’s spirit had to be broken to train them, but now the use of positive reinforcement is by far the most popular method.
Dogs are typically conditioned towards certain behavior based on repeat experience. If certain behavior leads to certain consequences, they can be more or less likely to continue that behavior depending on the desired result.
Due to their close association with humans, dogs have become highly capable of recognizing visual cues such as hand signals as well as spoken commands. They also understand more subtle behavior cues that most humans don’t even think about, so all this means that the surroundings of a dog can easily play a part in determining their behavior.
The Methods For Training A Dog
So how exactly do you train a dog? The most common techniques used in the modern day are:
- Positive Reinforcement Training – This is the most recognized and accepted method among modern-day dog trainers. It involves the use of positive rewards in a number of forms to shape behavior and for the most part ignores bad behavior.
- Clicker Training – This is an extension on positive reinforcement training that introduces the use of a clicker device. Using this delivers more precise timing to signal good behavior, and can allow a dog to learn more quickly and effectively.
- Electronic Training – This method generally involves the use of an electronic collar to shock a dog and correct them for unwanted behavior. It is the opposite of positive reinforcement in that it conditions a dog against certain behaviors, and many are opposed to this method.
- Dominance Training – This method has seen fame in recent times thanks to Cesar Millan’s Dog Whisperer television series. It also has its many critics, as it can result in an ongoing struggle for leadership or do serious psychological damage. This method relies on physical dominance to assert human leadership, based on the idea that every wolf pack has an alpha dog in charge.
More often than not, you will use either positive reinforcement or clicker training methods when you train your own dog at home. Once you set the ground rules with your dog at an early age, they can become a very effective way of shaping their behavior into what you need it to be.
The other methods should rarely be used, except maybe for dogs that have serious problems that positive reinforcement won’t fix or you’re training a dog for very specific purposes such as hunting. In these cases you’ll more than likely want to consult with a professional dog trainer.
The Process For Training A Dog
Training typically starts as soon as you bring your new puppy home. Remember what we said about them learning from you whether you choose to teach them or not? That is especially true while a puppy is young and impressionable. Here they go through the period known as socialization, which enables them to become accustomed to their surroundings.
If you want to have a well-behaved dog as an adult, you should make an effort to take your puppy to as many places and introduce them to as many people and other animals as possible. After all, who wouldn’t want to show off their new puppy while they’re so irresistibly cute?
Then there’s every new dog owner’s nightmare – toilet training! This is something you usually want to start as soon as you bring them home and there are a number of ways you can go about it. Check out these following articles if you need more help:
- How To Potty Train A Puppy – Everything you need to know about guidelines, methods and the process for successfully potty training a puppy.
- Crate Training A Puppy – A detailed guide on one popular method for potty training a puppy known as crate training that includes guidelines and a step-by-step process.
Once your puppy is house trained, basic obedience training is where you really begin to get serious about training them. Many decide to take their puppy to specialized obedience classes but you can also do this at home if you choose. Here are the basic things you’ll want your puppy to learn:
- Training Your Dog To Sit - This is quite an easy command for your puppy to learn and most will pick it up quickly. It can still be useful in a wide variety of situations.
- Training Your Dog To Lay Down – This is a command that establishes leadership and puts them in a vulnerable position, so it might be difficult at first for your puppy to become comfortable with.
- Training Your Dog To Stay – This is an extension of the previous two commands that has the dog staying in that position for a set time. It is useful for preventing your dog bolting out of the front door, but it may take some effort to master.
- Training Your Dog To Come When Called – This might be the most important command any dog can know, particularly for their safety, as it means they will be able to come back to you on your signal if they’re ever in a hazardous situation.
- Training Your Dog To Walk On The Leash – Every dog loves to walk, but they need to become accustomed to the collar and leash before they learn to love it.
- Training Your Dog To Heel – This is a slightly more advanced command that asks the dog to stay close to your side while on or off the leash.
- Training Your Dog To Fetch – This is a favorite game of many dogs, but they need to be taught how to play it before they can truly enjoy it.
Lastly, if your dog develops certain behavior problems there are also training methods you can use to solve them. Here are some articles to help you fix your dog’s behavior issues:
- Stop Your Dog With Separation Anxiety – If your puppy hasn’t experienced you being away from them for too long, they may experience separation anxiety when you leave the home and there are a number of steps to take to deal with it.
- Stop Your Dog Jumping On People – Many owners love being greeted by their dogs jumping all over them when they get home, but if you’re someone who doesn’t or you have a larger dog then it’s important to teach them to stop.
- Stop Your Dog Pulling On The Leash – This is among the most common problems that dog owners experience but it can easily be solved with the right training methods.
- Stop Your Dog Digging – This is a problem that can happen for a number of reasons and leave your yard in a mess – or worse yet, allow your dog to escape – but with some creativity it can be solved.
- Stop Your Puppy Biting – This is natural behavior that is generally harmless if you train your puppy to grow out of it before they get too large.
- Stop Dog Chewing Problems – There are many reasons dogs chew and depending on the cause you can stop this problem in a variety of ways.
- Stop Your Dog Barking – Excessive barking is easily the most annoying behavior problem dogs develop and depending on why it occurs there are a number of methods to stop it.
- Stop Your Dog Eating Poop – This would seem to many like a very strange habit to develop, and while dogs may eventually grow out of it there are also a number of techniques you can use to encourage them to stop depending on the cause.
It’s always a good idea to continue to train your dog – particularly if you have a more intelligent breed that needs a higher amount of mental stimulation. Some of the most enjoyable activities for dogs include agility or learning tricks – and chances are you’ll find them fun as well! These keep your dog mentally active and interested in life, and that goes a long way towards keeping them from developing any serious behavior problems.
Dog Training Aids You Might Use
There are many aids that can be useful for training your dog. Some of the most common ones are:
- Food Treats – These are almost always used in combination with positive reinforcement training. If your dog does something right, you give them a treat! But of course, the idea is to eventually phase out treats so you no longer rely on them.
- Clicker Devices – These are a small device that you can press to make a clicking sound any time that your dog does something right. It enables more precise timing to establish the connection between a dog’s actions and the desired behavior.
- Choke Collars – These resemble a metal chain that goes around a dog’s neck and can be tightened when pulled. It is a bit of an old-fashioned device that relies upon the trainer pulling on the lead and tightening the chain when the dog does something wrong.
- Prong Collars – These work similarly to choke collars, but instead of a simple chain these feature metal prongs that dig into a dog’s neck and simulate a bite when they do something wrong. There are many that consider the use of these devices cruel and a lot of modern dog trainers are opposed to them.
- Electronic Collars – These can come in a wide variety of forms that can be designed to shock a dog or spray them with a chemical such as citronella when they perform the wrong action. They might also be radio-controlled or work automatically. The modern versions aren’t quite as barbaric as those of yesteryear, but many dog trainers still consider the use of them to be cruel and inhumane.
- Martingale Collars – These were originally designed as Greyhound collars because their necks are larger than their head and such a collar was required to fit them. They are now also used as a training device and act as a slightly more advanced version of the choke collar. When a tug is given on the leash to issue a correction, only a small part of the collar is tightened.
- Head Halters – These resemble something that a horse would wear and are a form of collar that goes around the head to give a greater amount of control. They are mostly chosen for preventing a dog from pulling on the leash.
- No Pull Harnesses – These are another device to stop a dog pulling on the leash, but are instead worn around the body. It restricts the movement of a dog’s body so they are less likely to pull.
- Dog Whistles – These are one of the oldest dog training devices and are still quite popular today. They are also called the Galton whistle after their original creator, who discovered how dogs responded to different ultrasonic frequencies. Dog whistles can be silent or very noisy like a sports whistle, and many allow you to adjust the frequency for different training methods. Disagreeable frequencies might be used to discourage bad behavior, while other frequencies can cause a dog to come running.
- Ultrasonic Dog Deterrents – These are something like a modern version of the dog whistle that comes in an electronic form. Unlike the dog whistle, though, these are only designed to discourage bad behavior. When a dog does something wrong, a button can be pushed on the device to emit a tone that is designed to be annoying to them.
Should You Train Your Own Dog?
One of the decisions that every new dog owner seems to face is whether or not to train their own dog at home. But there actually isn’t much of a decision to make. The fact is, you will always be the one in charge of your dog’s training – even if you do choose to hire a professional dog trainer. A dog trainer doesn’t live with your dog, but you do. For this reason it’s very important to have an understanding of basic training techniques at the very least.
This is something that a professional dog trainer will generally inform you about if you do choose to hire one. They might train your dog on their own for a little while, but will almost always give you some ongoing tips about how you should maintain their behavior and continue to train them.
The same can be said of puppy obedience classes – they might give your dog a good starting point, but it will not mean you never need to train them again. For as long as you own a dog, you will always continue to train them in some way or another. This is one of the biggest aspects of owning a dog – so it’s a good idea to enjoy taking part in the process!