The Ultimate Guide to Dog Training
Nowadays, having a dog is like having a child. People want to raise the best and happiest furry companion. The number of dog parents has increased even further since the COVID-19 pandemic. Some got a dog spontaneously, while others did some research before and had at least a vague idea of what to expect.
To most people’s surprise, dogs, even though they may seem like naughty children, especially when young, are different from humans, and this causes a lot of misunderstandings. Dogs don’t understand why they’re punished for peeing on the floor or why they can’t just run freely and play with everybody on the street. On the other hand, humans don’t understand why their fluffy baby misbehaves, thinking that they’re bad owners or their dog doesn't love them.
Even though our behaviors are naturally different, we, as a more intellectually sophisticated species, have all the opportunities to build a harmonious relationship with our dogs. Correct training will help us teach them (carefully and kindly) how our society works and what we expect from them.
The basics of training: how dogs learn and communicate & canine senses
Dogs learn through classical and operant conditioning. “Operant” means a certain kind of desired behavior, e.g., the “Sit” command. To “condition” or strengthen such behavior, you need to give your dog something they like: a treat, a toy, fuss, a release from the leash, etc., when they successfully perform it.
Classical conditioning is the association of good and bad consequences with other things present at the moment. If you shake the cookie bag before giving a cookie to your dog, after doing it a few times, your furry friend will get excited every time you shake that bag, anticipating the cookies.
Operant conditioning implies four kinds of consequences:
- Good things start (positive reinforcement) - e.g., a treat is given to the dog after they sit.
- Bad things end (negative reinforcement) - e.g., bladder relief after urinating.
- Bad things start (positive punishment) - e.g., the owner yells at the dog after they chew furniture (the word “positive” here does not mean anything good, it means that this way you “add” something bad).
- Good things end (negative punishment) - e.g., the owner gives the dog a time-out and takes away their freedom, interaction with them, and access to toys or food.
To raise a happy and confident dog and strengthen your relationship, you should always use positive reinforcement and negative punishment (if necessary).
Another crucial thing in dog training is communication. Proper communication leads to more effective and faster learning, while poor communication leads to frustration from your side and can even lead to aggression from your dog’s side. So, if you think that your furry friend is stubborn or wants to dominate you and do what they want, most probably, they just don’t understand what you’re asking. Teaching them a certain voice cue, hand gesture, or behavior takes time and patience. Thus, making your voice louder won’t help here.
One more thing that you need to know and respect about your dog is their senses. Dogs have much more accurate senses than we humans. While we live in a world of sight, dogs live in a world of scent. When dogs go for a walk, they sniff to know which dogs are in that area, their age, sexual status, and how long ago they passed by. “Nose work” is an enriching mental stimulation. Scent exercises are exceptionally beneficial for reactive or traumatized dogs.
The sense of hearing is also much more developed in dogs than in humans. Dogs have about eighteen muscles in the ear that move them in different directions to help them hear. Their ears can move independently of each other, and they can hear sounds at much higher frequencies than humans can. This is why they respond to supposedly “silent” dog whistles, which are only silent to us because they are beyond the frequency range of our hearing. Now you can imagine how sensitive your dog is when they hear you or someone else around - screaming :/
Noise phobias are very common in dogs as they are very sensitive to loud noises, such as fireworks, and that’s why it’s so important to implement noise desensitization in the puppy socialization period.
Top training tips
Below are some training tips to guide you through your first steps of training.
- Set your training goals: develop a plan and break the goals down into actionable steps. Too busy for that?
- Download the Woofz app, where you will have all the instructions ready and get reminders every time you need to train.
- Find the most effective reinforcer: food, playing with other dogs, going outdoors and sniffing new smells, playing with people, or any other enjoyable activity.
- Make time for training: to get good results, you should do several short training sessions throughout the day (e.g., three sessions with three commands).
- Incorporate training into your routine: when you take your dog for a walk, feed, or play with them.
- Use meals to train your dog (especially with puppies and dogs with low motivation): they will be much more motivated to do the task you’ve requested.
- Be consistent: consistency creates a habit. For instance, if you don’t let your dog on the couch, you should never let them sit there or even jump on it. If you fail for one day, the dog will be smart enough to know that “sometimes, it works,” and they will try to jump on that couch every day.
A new puppy: potty training, socialization, and house manners
When you welcome a puppy into your home, you have the possibility of making them the dog you’ve always wanted. House training, basic obedience, and socialization are a must for you to live in harmony with your dog.
First, you’ll need to house-train your puppy, as this reinforces that they should do their potty business outside. The best way would be to teach them a voice cue so that they can do it upon command. If your dog fails, don’t punish them, just mark this moment and redirect them to the right place. In the first few months, you should be able to supervise your furry friend and take them outside (or to their potty place) many times a day.
There are four moments in which puppies are most likely to pee: after eating, after sleeping, after drinking water, and after playing. You should set your pup up for success by taking them outside as much as you can (especially in those four moments). Learn their potty schedule (perhaps you could write in a notebook how many times a day your puppy does their business and when), and always supervise them
Don’t forget to praise and reward them every time they do their business outside! Remember that dogs don’t know they aren’t supposed to pee inside; you need to teach them right from wrong. If you see them doing their business inside, immediately mark the moment with “Ohh” (be careful not to scare them: they might start doing it secretly) and redirect them to the right place.
Another highly important topic here is socialization. The socialization period happens when the puppy is between 2.5-3 weeks to 9-13 weeks, peaking at 6-8 weeks. During this time, the puppy is particularly receptive to various stimuli, and they need to become familiar with many things and events that they’ll experience throughout their life. It’s vital to invest time and effort into socializing puppies with noises, textures, places, dogs, humans, other animals, objects, and handling because if it isn’t done in puppyhood, they may develop a defensive strategy to avoid or escape situations (that’s how things like excessive barking happen). To socialize your pup, you shouldn’t be afraid of exposing them to different stimuli (but they must be safe) and pair the stimuli with positive reinforcement (treats, toys, fuss).
Last but not least is home-alone training. Separation anxiety is a common problem that pet parents face. To avoid it and to teach your dog “house manners,” make sure that your fluffy friend is trained to spend time alone and has better entertainment (toys, TV, access to a window) than chewing on your shoes.
Behavior problems solved, from barking and begging to stealing and leah pulling
To solve any behavior problem your dog is showing, you need to think about what is reinforcing that behavior. If your dog barks excessively whenever they want attention, they keep doing it because you give them attention immediately after they bark. If your dog pulls on the leash because they want to get close to an exciting smell, they keep doing that because pulling works. If your dog steals food that’s on the counter, they keep doing it because they’ve managed to get food before. You need to stop reinforcing poor behavior, create and reinforce good habits instead, and think about ways to prevent the behavior from happening. Also, you can get them some mental stimulation games for when you can’t give them attention (but try your best to find that time yourself).
Now, if your dog is pulling, you should stop and call them or wait until they come back to you and then reinforce that behavior by continuing to walk and letting them get close to the scent. Also, you should reinforce the dog when the leash is loose so that they learn they should walk close to you and that whenever the leash is tense, they will be “punished” with the walk stopping.
However, if you notice that you alone can’t cope with a certain problem, it’s always better to either consult a dog trainer or download our Woofz app, which has various dog and puppy training programs (created alongside professional cynologists), including ones for problem behaviors.
Basic commands (Good dog, Name, Look at me, Come, Sit, Down, Stand, Place, Stay, No, Take it, Drop it, Leave it, Fetch, Heel, Off) are crucial to teaching your pooch the behavior you expect from them. And teaching them is simpler than you think!
To get the behavior you want, you can use luring, shaping, capturing, or modeling. The most common and easiest way is luring.
For instance, if you want to teach your dog to “Sit” on cue, you should: place a small treat between your thumb and fingers. With your palm facing up, allow the dog to sniff the treat. Move the treat slowly over their head so that they crane their neck to reach the treat and sit. If the dog jumps up to get the treat, you are probably holding the treat too far above their head. In that case, take the treat away and try again, this time with movement that won’t encourage jumping. If the dog shuffles back instead of sitting, do the same thing.
To get your dog showing the behavior reliably on cue, you should do several trials and then start adding distractions to the environment (dogs, people, sounds). Remember to have fun!
Fun tricks are a great way of building up your relationship with your dog. Also, it helps to have your dog responding more reliably to your commands as well as have them stimulated and relaxed to prevent digging, barking, chewing, and separation anxiety.
You can teach your dog almost anything, from “Spin” to “Get My Slippers” commands; there are hundreds of tricks. It’s important that you start with the basics and gradually increase the difficulty.
Sometimes, you need to be a bit inventive. For example, if you want your dog to learn “Kiss,” you can start putting some peanut butter on your cheek and ask your dog to “Kiss” you. Later on, you can ask them to “Kiss” before giving them peanut butter/treats, and with several repetitions, your furry buddy will start to “Kiss” you on a voice cue alone.
Advanced dog training
Advanced training is more than teaching commands. It’s a transition from the initial stage of training to the fluency stage, where you:
- Strive to have no prompts
- Stop reinforcing the dog every time they perform a command (intermittent reinforcement)
- Refine the form
- Increase reaction speed and (if applicable) the speed of commands
- Proof against three parameters: Distraction, Duration, and Distance. This is the final stage that will show you if your dog is responding to your commands in any environment, at any distance, for the period of time you asked for.
Let’s see it in an example: if you’ve finished the initial stage of training the “Sit” command, you should fade prompting (luring with the hand), then transition to intermittent reinforcement (reinforce only in some trials instead of in all trials), start to reinforce only if the dog responds within one second, or only if they sit right where they were when you requested them, and start training in a place with other dogs, people, or other types of distraction.
If the fluency stage of training is done with every command you taught your dog, they will respond to you in every situation, in every environment, or even when someone else is requesting them to do it. When you achieve this, the “trained dog” you once dreamed about will be your dog. Just don’t forget to revise this knowledge from time to time!
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