Dog Training: One Step At A Time

Whether you are bringing home a new puppy, a new-to-you older dog or just want to improve your dog’s behavior, training is a key step in helping your pet fit comfortably into your home and your lifestyle.

Dogs can be taught an amazing number of behaviors from walking quietly at your side and asking to be let outside, to fetching and “speaking.”

A good start is to enroll your dog in obedience classes or to enroll your child and dog in the Dog Club at the Fayette County 4-H.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has the following tips to make training your dog go smoothly.

Keep It Short and Sweet
Just as with children, dogs don’t have long attention spans, so keep each session to no more than 15 minutes.

Work on one skill or switch between a few different skills. Try doing five to 15 repetitions of one behavior and then doing five to 15 repetitions of another behavior.

Don’t limit your training to just one session a day and carry the training over into every day activities. For example, before giving your dog a new treat or chew bone, ask him to sit or lie down to earn it.

English Is a Second Language
Dogs are not born understanding your language. They have to learn the meaning of each command you give them such as “sit,” “treat” and “down.”

Keep your commands simple so your dog doesn’t get confused. For example, when asking Fido to sit, say “Fido, sit!” every time.

Don’t confuse him by alternating that command with “Sit down, Fido!” Make sure your whole family understands which phrase to use for each cue or command you want to teach your pet.

One Step at a Time – When teaching your dog a new skill, begin with one easy step first and slowly add more steps. For example, if you are training your dog to stay start by asking the dog to stay for just 3 seconds and then reward him. After he has mastered that short stay, add more seconds gradually. Make sure he has mastered each length of time before adding more seconds. Eventually, you can train your dog to stay for several minutes, but you have to start with a short stay first.

Teach Just One Part of a Skill at a Time
For more advanced skills, such as a solid sit-stay, you’ll want to break the skill down into parts.

Begin with teaching your dog to stay in a sitting position until you’ve worked her up to the duration you are happy with.

Then move on to teaching her to sit-stay as you move away from her. After she has mastered that you can begin to teach her to maintain the sit-stay in the face of noises or other distractions.

If you try to teach all three parts of the skill at once, you will both become frustrated.

If you work on each of the parts of a complex skill separately before putting them together, you’ll find you are more successful and your dog will comply happily.

Practice, Practice, Practice
Your dog will need to practice his new skills everywhere he goes. Just because he has learned to sit in your house doesn’t mean he will understand that skill in the park.

So be prepared to practice newly learned skills everywhere you go and with every family member.

Use Good Rewards
Be sure to reward your dog with things she truly finds rewarding.  Training with dry kibble may work in some situations, but you may need to up the ante to something more delicious like bits of chicken, cheese or hot dogs.

Distracting locations like the park may require more rewarding treats as well.

Remember that your dog may not respond as well to food treats right after a meal.

At those times, a good scratch behind the ears or a favorite toy may be more rewarding to her.
Fayette County 4-H Dog Club Tips

  • Wear something with an easily accessed pocket when training, like a hoodie. Keep your treats in easy reach inside the pockets. Don’t use a plastic baggies that might make it harder to reach.
  • Hot dogs and Purina Carvers make good treats for rewarding your dog. Cut the hot dogs into very small pieces.
  • When working outside keep your dog on a 4- to 6-foot flat lead, preferably non-slip leather, but canvas will work. Do not use the adjustable length Flexi leads or chains.
  • The best time to work with your dog is after he’s been separated from you for a while, and he’s happy to see you and wants to please you. Do not train if you are in a bad mood or angry.