Dog Training Commandments
By Honor Tarpenning, NextDayPets.com Staff
1. Thou Shalt be Consistent.
Every time you vary your rules, you are leaving your dog at a loss. Dogs do not have a grasp of a concept as complex as “sometimes.” So if you scold him for jumping up when you are wearing your nice clothes, but encourage it when you’re in jeans and a t-shirt, you are doing both of you a great disservice. You can’t stop dog begging if your kids still sneak him snacks under the table; you can’t teach him a proper recall (coming to you when he’s called) if you don’t make sure he comes to you every single time.
2. Thou Shalt be Patient.
The second you get frustrated or irritated, your dog knows it. Animals, especially dogs, are extremely sensitive to emotions. Your frustration will certainly change the training dynamic. Also, when you are unhappy, you won’t be making the training session fun for you or your dog. Keeping training sessions light, short, and enjoyable is a huge key to success. You might also change your tone in frustration, which changes how your dog hears your commands.
3. Thou Shalt Stop While It Is Still Fun.
If your dog is having a hard time getting the hang of whatever you’re teaching him, don’t let him get frustrated either. After a few minutes, if he’s still just not getting it, go back to a trick or behavior that he has down, command him to perform this behavior, reward him for success, then stop the training session. Nothing gets accomplished if you try to continue with a frustrated pooch.
4. Thou Shalt Socialize.
From early, early puppyhood, socialize your dog to adults, children, and other dogs. If your dog is completely comfortable with those three social groups, you are a step ahead of the game when it comes to training in many ways.
5. Thou Shalt Ensure That Reward timing Corresponds With Desired Action.
Make sure you never reward the wrong behavior. If you are teaching your dog a down command, be sure he gets the treat before he starts to get back up, or you will be inadvertently rewarding standing up, rather than lying down. Likewise with the Stay command, if he’s standing up when you give him the treat, it will not cement the right behavior.
6. Thou Shalt Not “Approve” Undesirable Behavior.
If your dog has a problem with jumping up when you come in the front door, and the first thing you do is take him outside, you’re praising poor behavior. You are effectively rewarding his jumping up with a walk. Wait until your dog is calm, and preferably sitting, before providing any positive attention, whether this be petting, a walk, playtime, or dinner.
7. Thou Shalt Not Associate Commands With Unpleasant Actions
Never use a recall command to bring your dog to you for a bath or to get his nails clipped. Also, never punish your dog when he has just responded to your recall command. If your dog associates any command you issue with negative consequences, he’s significantly more likely to ignore it.
8. Thou Shalt Hand Feed Sporadically
One way to make sure your dog remembers that you control the food, and to make sure no food aggression develops, is to hand feed your dog sporadically. This is a nice way to spend time with your dog, and has many great training benefits.
9. Thou Shalt Play With Thy Dog Regularly.
The time you spend with your dog shouldn’t all be regimented training time. Be sure to make time to just run around with your dog, or play some fetch. Bonding with your dog through play is a great way to improve your relationship. Furthermore, exercise is wonderful for you and your dog; a well exercised dog is a happy dog.
10. Thou Shalt not be Afraid to Seek Professional Help.
There is absolutely NO shame in seeking professional help with your dog’s training. If you and your dog are constantly at odds, and you just feel like you can’t teach him anything, take him to an obedience class or call a dog behavior specialist. You absolutely must contact a professional if your dog is displaying dangerous aggressive behavior. You or someone in your family could get hurt if you try to solve the problem of an overly aggressive dog without expert assistance.
11. Thou Shalt Remember That Commands Are Just Sounds to Dogs.
We all know that dogs do not speak English, but sometimes we forget to consider this fact when we are choosing commands. Each command we teach our dogs is just a series of noises to them, so make sure all your commands are discernable from one another, your dog’s name, and common commands in the dog training world.
12. Thou Shalt Use Small Soft Treats.
The right training treats can be extremely beneficial. If you give your dog a milkbone every time he completes a desired behavior, not only will he be fat as a pig by the time he’s done training; it will also take him a significant amount of time for him to chew it up and eat it, so he’ll forget what he was doing right, and you lose your training momentum. Small, soft, easy to eat treats that your dog can munch quickly are most desirable for dog training.
13. Thou Shalt Take Baby Steps.
When you want to teach your dog a new behavior, break it down into a series of actions. Like if you want your dog to roll over, he starts by sitting, then he lies down, then he rolls over. Or if you’re teaching your dog to stay, first he sits, then he stays for a second, then he stays for two seconds, then three, then five, then ten. When your dog seems to be having trouble with a step in training, just go back. Chances are, you moved on too fast and he needs more time on the prior step to really get it.
14. Thou Shalt Walk Thy Dog.
Walk your dog at least twice a day until he is tired. Getting that energy out is a huge step towards a better-behaved dog. When you walk your dog, make sure you make him sit before his leash is put on or taken off, that he never walks through doors ahead of you, and that he walks at your side, not out in front.
15. Thou Shalt Clean Up Thoroughly.
One of the number one reasons some dogs have so much trouble with housetraining is that they have messed in the house and it has not been properly cleaned up. The scent of urine or feces still in the carpet or in cracks in the floors will encourage your dog to use that spot over and over again. Discourage this by keeping a clean house and using an enzyme-based cleaner to take care of doggy accidents.