Obedience training is essential for every dog, no matter what his age, breed or temperament. Not only will you teach your dog to obey you in every situation, but you will also stimulate his mind by giving him a job to do. One of the best benefits of obedience training is that it will strengthen the bond between you and your dog and teach him that you’re the boss.
Punishment & Negative Reinforcement
Punishment and negative reinforcement are completely different training techniques and should not be confused with one another.
Although traditional training methods involve punishing your dog for bad behavior, like rubbing his nose in it when he eliminates in the house, whacking him on the nose or hitting him, punishment doesn’t work. In fact, it can have the opposite effect.
When you punish your dog for something he did wrong, you’re teaching him fear, especially if you punish him physically. Dogs aren’t good at defining cause and effect, so if you punish him after he does something inappropriate, he probably won’t even know why he’s being punished.
Negative reinforcement, however, involves training your dog to associate an unpleasant sound or other harmless experience with unwanted behavior. For example, you might shake a can of pennies or make a loud noise or a squirt with a water bottle when your dog acts out.
Most dog trainers and behaviorists agree that the best kind of training you can give your dog is based on positive reinforcement. According to this training model, you reward your dog for good behavior and ignore him when he does something he isn’t supposed to do.
The theory behind positive reinforcement training is that dogs act out primarily for attention. It doesn’t matter if you scold or praise them—they’ll still be getting a response from you. By only acknowledging his appropriate behavior, you teach your dog that the only way to get attention is to act like a good dog, which involves doing what you want him to do when you want him to do it.
Positive training is simple to incorporate into your daily life. Keep a jar of small treats handy, and reward your dog when he does something right, such as going outside to potty, walking nicely on a leash and sitting quietly when someone knocks on the door. He’ll soon realize that whenever he behaves nicely, he’ll get a yummy snack.
Often used in conjunction with positive reinforcement training, clicker training is useful for weaning your dog from performing for treats. When you issue a command that your dog obeys, immediately click the clicker, and then give him a treat. He’ll come to associate the sound of the clicker with tasty treats, which he’ll associate with performing on command.
As your training progresses, slowly replace the treats with affection and praise. Soon he’ll respond to the clicker even if there isn’t a training treat at the end of it. You can find clickers from most pet stores or from Amazon.
Nothing in Life is Free
NILIF (“Nothing in Life is Free”) training teaches your dog that whenever he wants something, like food, belly rubs or a cozy lap, he has to perform a simple task, like sitting or lying down. The trick to this technique is firmness and consistency. You must make him perform the task every single time you ask until he complies every time.
Not only does NILIF teach your dog positive behaviors in a clear, understandable way, but it also helps build his self-esteem. When you praise him for being a good dog, you’re actually teaching him his status in the pack, namely that you are in charge. When a dog realizes he doesn’t have to make tough decisions, he’s generally better behaved.
NILIF can be annoying for you, given how frequently you’ll need to respond to his good behavior, but it usually only takes a day or two to work. You may need to give him a refresher course from time to time.
Obedience classes are essential if you’d like a calm, well-behaved dog. If you adopt your dog as a puppy, enroll him in a six-week puppy class, where he’ll learn basic commands and receive socialization with people and other dogs.
If you adopt your dog as an adult, take him to a basic obedience class, usually a six to eight-week course that utilizes different training methods to help you train your dog. If he does well in basic obedience, he might enjoy advanced classes, even obedience competition.
Once your dog has mastered obedience classes then you might want to also consider agility training, which builds on the obedience classes and incorporates exercise for your dog, and also you, if you want.
Whether you enroll your dog in obedience classes or teach him at home, it’s important he learns a few basic commands.
Look at Me: The foundation for all other training, “look at me” is the first thing you should teach your dog. Basically, you’re requiring him to stop whatever he’s doing and look you in the eye. Teaching him this trick is simple: Hold a treat next to your eye as you issue the command. He’ll quickly learn that when he looks at where the treat is, he’ll get to eat it.
Come: This command teaches your dog recall, which means that when you tell him to come, he must return to you immediately. This skill is essential because if your dog tries to run away, especially when he’s headed toward traffic, you need to be sure he’ll stop in his tracks and come back to you.
Sit: A simple command to learn and perform, “sit” is useful when you need your dog to calm down and be still. This command is easy to build on and should be used as the basis for more advanced commands.
Stay: When your dog knows how to sit, he should next learn to sit in place until you release him. Start slowly and work up to a count of 10 seconds or more.
Down: This command should only have one meaning: Lie flat on the ground. Don’t use this command when you want him to get off the furniture or stop jumping on you; he’ll only become confused.
Off: Use this command only when you want to stop your dog from jumping on people. “Down” means lie down, so don’t confuse the two.
After your dog learns these basic commands, you can teach him more advanced lessons, such as “roll over,” “sit pretty,” “dance,” “shake” and whatever else tickles your fancy.
When you are teaching your dog something for the first time, be patient. Some dogs might excel at a few basic commands, but struggle with others. Don’t lose your temper or yell at your dog. You’re both learning a new skill, and it will take time and effort to perfect it.
Use the appropriate rewards, namely stinky treats. Although you’ll want to train your dog to respond to your commands because he wants to please you, treats will initially be a strong motivating factor in enticing your dog to learn.
Be consistent with your commands. Your dog isn’t a mind reader. In order for him to behave well, you’ll need to use the same command every time so that he knows exactly what you want him to do.
Work within your dog’s abilities. Most dogs respond best to short, frequent training sessions, ideally 10 to 15 minutes once a day. If your dog is struggling or has a short attention span, break his training into smaller, more frequent sessions, perhaps five minutes twice a day. One tip for training dogs with huge amounts of energy is to do the training after you have taken them for a long walk. This will help to ensure that they’re not feeling restless and will help them focus on the training that you’re doing.
Make sure you and your dog are both having a good time. Training won’t be fun for either of you if you don’t make it a pleasant experience. Be sure to load on the praise for good behavior, and stop the training session if your dog is growing frustrated.