Which do you like better? A dog that is trained to have good manners or one that hasn’t a clue that tackling you like a NFL linebacker is a bad thing? Certainly you’d agree that it’s great fun to be dazzled by a pooch that displays a variety of tricks simply for your entertainment. And, we’ve all been mesmerized by those agility dogs effortlessly running the course – they make it look so easy!
Maybe you have no desire to be on the Agility World Team but you can train your dog to do whatever you want if you follow these five training tips.
1. Figure out what it is you want your dog to do (sit, for example) and mark the desired behavior with either a clicker or verbally. The key here is to be consistent with marking the behavior. So, as soon as your dog’s backside hits the floor, click or say something like “Yes!” or “Good!” Don’t bother telling him to “sit” until he learns that sitting on his own results in a positive response from you.
2. When you’re training a new behavior, be generous with the treats – reinforce with food often and more than you think you should. Treats are a great motivator and hold the dog’s attention better. The right food (what trainers refer to as a high value treat) is very powerful. Science has found that using food enhances muscle memory and helps to build strong neuropathways toward acquiring new behavior. That means when the dog is under stress, he is more likely to use the newly acquired behavior because he’s learned it so well.
3. Keep the training sessions short, about 5 to 15 minutes, depending on the dog’s age and abilities. Short training sessions help the dog retain the information better and it also prevents the dog from becoming bored.
4. Once your dog is showing the behavior you want consistently, add a cue and say the cue ONLY ONCE. Dogs, like people, stop listening when you keep repeating the same thing over and over.
5. Don’t phone it in. If you expect your dog to give you his best effort and undivided attention, you need to do that as well. If you are not feeling up to the task, it is better not to train that day. After all, training is suppose to be fun for both of you!