Obedience training is a must for any dog. You can begin the process as soon as you bring your puppy home. However, certain behaviors are more difficult to learn at a younger age, including walking on the leash.
Enlisting a professional trainer is highly recommended. You can bring a private trainer to your home or attend a group class through your city or a training company. Even with a trainer, most of the work will fall on you and your family to practice the behaviors daily.
Finding a Trainer
Many larger pet shops offer weekly group classes in their community class schedule for canine training. These are more affordable options, but the quality of the trainer is harder to establish in advance. By going with a training academy or private trainer, you’re more likely to know the background and education of the trainer.
The Association of Professional Dog Trainers provides questions to ask before choosing a trainer, as well as a search feature to find the right one in your area. Your veterinarian and friends who have used trainers before are also excellent resources.
Choosing a Trainer
Select a trainer who uses positive reinforcement methods. Training through punishment is known to cause fear and aggression issues in dogs. Using rewards for proper behavior is a more effective and humane way to train. Rewards include verbal praise, petting, and food incentives.
Ask a potential trainer what equipment they use. Shock and choke collars are red flags, as they work by punishing the dog. Clicker training is a specialized method of positive reinforcement that substitutes food rewards with a clicking sound. It’s especially effective for dogs that aren’t motivated by food.
Ask where the trainer learned their trade. Although no standard certification process exists for dog trainers, graduation from a program like Animal Behavior College or Karen Pryor Academy shows commitment and a solid educational background. College and universities also offer certification programs in dog training.
Other trainers learn from experienced mentors or through showing dogs and working with shelter animals. Don’t be afraid to ask for references from previous clients.
When considering a group class, ask to observe a class before signing up. If you understand the trainer’s instructions and the class seems orderly and disciplined, chances are good that you’ll learn a lot from this instructor. Although group classes by nature offer less one-on-one time, you should still observe some individual interaction with each participant by the trainer. Understanding your role and responsibilities is a crucial part of training your dog. A first-week, no-dogs-allowed session to go over what is expected of you is a good sign for a group class.
When to Start Training
You don’t want to wait until your puppy has developed a behavioral problem to enroll him in training. By nature, dogs want to please their pack leader – you. Even though puppies are still learning the social hierarchy of your home, the sooner you begin teaching them to follow your instructions, the easier that education will be. The longer you allow your puppy to get away with inappropriate behavior, the harder it will be to train that behavior out of him.
Most training classes require your puppy to have all of his first-year vaccinations before you can enroll. For the youngest of eligible dogs, “puppy kindergarten” classes are a great first step. Not as hardcore as more advanced obedience classes, kindergarten socializes puppies and introduces them to the basics of training.
Contrary to the popular cliché, it’s never too late to train your puppy or dog. Higher level classes teach basic obedience, intermediate training and advanced behaviors. These will take your dog from the simplest “sit” command to tricks like “shake” and behaviors like “stop,” where your dog will discontinue whatever he is doing and lie down on your command.
The foundation of positive reinforcement training is rewards. The most effective reward for a majority of dogs is food. Luring your puppy into a behavior with food is a standard training method. For instance, holding a small treat in front of your puppy’s nose and moving it over his head lures him into following the treat with his eyes, resulting in his bottom hitting the ground. This “sit” earns him the treat.
Unless your puppy is not food-motivated, you’ll want him to be fairly hungry before each training session. He shouldn’t be so hungry that he can’t control himself, but he shouldn’t be full from a big meal just prior to starting either. Similarly, the treats should be small enough that he isn’t full from just a few.
NuVet Plus wafers are a great training tool. Pets love the “paddle dried” whole chicken liver flavor, and you will love the nutrient rich ingredients. NuVet Plus was created as an immune system supplement for pets, but many pet owners utilize the NuVet Plus wafers as a natural treat replacement. NuVet Plus canine supplement is a nutritious chewable wafer that dogs love.
The dog should be able to eat the treat quickly and continue on to the next command without delay. Save his favorite treats for training so your puppy is more motivated to earn the reward. As the commands get harder, increase the value of the treat. For example, if you’ve been using store-bought treats to successfully teach your puppy “sit,” switch to small pieces of cheese to teach him the more difficult “stay” command.
Everyone in your household must require your puppy to adhere to the same commands. If you don’t allow him to exit the house until you give him the go-ahead, no one else can allow him to do so either. Otherwise, your puppy will learn that he only needs to listen to you.
Be consistent with your training routine. If you only train your puppy once a week for an hour with the trainer, he’ll learn he only needs to obey the commands during that time. Commit at least 10 to 15 minutes a day to reviewing commands with your puppy. Even a 5 minute session teaches your dog that the behaviors are always expected.
Set Your Puppy Up for Success
Positive reinforcement of behaviors is possible only if your dog enjoys the training. If your puppy is losing interest in the session, he’s less likely to obey your commands. Shorter sessions more often throughout the day are better than longer sessions once a day. Similarly, if your puppy is tired, he’s less inclined to follow your commands.
Don’t make the behavior harder until your puppy has consistently shown his understanding of the command. For instance, if your dog has learned the hand movement for the sit command, don’t give him the verbal cue without the hand movement until he’s successfully responded to them together at least 10 times in a row. After that, if he misses the command with just the verbal cue, go back to doing both together until he once again is successful at least 10 times in a row.