Have you given up on training your rescue dog, thinking that he or she is simply untrainable or that you really can’t teach an old dog new tricks? Whether your dog is young or old, there are strategies you can use to optimize your training and get results that stick for the long term.
The following is a list of six effective training tips:
Decide on a name and stick with it.
Choosing a simple name is foundational to every step in training you’re about to take with your dog. If your dog isn’t a puppy, the previous owner will likely have chosen a name already. However, if your dog is from a shelter, the staff there may have assigned him or her a temporary name. Luckily, your dog can adapt to a new name.
When choosing a name, aim for something simple and short with a hard consonant. This will facilitate the training process, as your dog will be able to hear the name readily between commands.
Some experts recommend avoiding names that contain the sound “no,” such as Noel or Snowflake, as your dog may have difficulty distinguishing between his or her name and your use of “no” as a reprimand. Lastly, if you have more than one dog, avoid names that are too similar to each other. Even two names with a –y at the end can be confusing to dogs and can make training more difficult.
Draft a realistic behavior list.
Before gathering everything for training, draft a list of behaviors you’d like to see from your dog. As you go about creating this list, you might read about various behaviors that some dog owners or trainers consider vital to daily life. A short list of the most essential commands might include sit, stay, come, down, and leave it. Broader skills might include housetraining, walking on a leash, and staying home alone without wrecking the place.
You can find elaborate lists of behaviors mastered by some dogs, but it’s best to begin by narrowing these down to those you think your dog can master. If you get too ambitious, your dog may have trouble retaining basic commands. Remember that you can always incorporate more commands in the training as your dog makes progress.
Gather your treats and supplies.
Before you start training, gather all your supplies so you can begin training immediately and help your dog establish good habits. Try to find treats that your dog will love, such as those made with cheese, beef, chicken, or bacon. Other supplies include a decent collar and buckle, a bed, a six-foot leash, and wire tethers.
You may also want to purchase a clicker, which serves to reinforce desired behaviors. Every time your dog demonstrates a desired behavior, you click and immediately give your dog a treat. Another useful training item is a long line, which allows you to give your dog more freedom without unleashing him or her during training exercises that require more space, such as scent detection activities.
Train in short sessions.
As you train your dog, remember that canines have a short attention span. Instead of planning one or two long sessions per day, try using several daily sessions that last only two to three minutes each. You’ll usually find that your dog demonstrates more motivation and engagement during short, well-planned training sessions.
Reward your dog spontaneously.
In addition to rewarding your dog when he or she follows a command, offer treats for random positive behaviors. For example, if your dog remains still instead of chasing your cat, give him or her one of your best treats. Eventually, you can replace the food with other rewards, such as walks or play time. By observing your dog and rewarding desired behaviors when they occur spontaneously, you reinforce the behaviors until they become natural and require no reward.
Remember that dogs learn contextually.
As you train your dog, keep in mind that dogs learn skills in various contexts and environments. This means that if you teach a dog to follow a command in one room, you may have to teach the same command in another room. The difference may be something such as laying down on carpet versus tile, which is insignificant to humans, but requires new learning for dogs.
Similarly, if you give a command while standing, you may have to teach your dog to follow the same command while you are sitting. Keep this in mind to avoid becoming frustrated, which can be discouraging for your dog as he or she tries to learn commands across various contexts.
While the above six tips don’t guarantee instant success, they can expedite the training process considerably. As you devise a training plan, you might look into specific tips that have worked for other owners with a dog of the same breed. If you feel overwhelmed or like you’re not getting through to your dog, don’t be afraid to enlist the help of a professional. With a little research, patience, and consistency, you can implement a training program that is effective and rewarding for both you and your dog.